McClurg's Home Remodeling Blog

Kitchen Islands: The Centerpiece of a Functional Kitchen

Posted by Brian Ciota on Wed, Mar 9, 2011

Two-Tiered IslandKitchen islands are often the most important “work station” in a modern kitchen. Islands evolved from the standard kitchen table.  In homes today, islands serve a variety of functions and add style to a kitchen. Kitchen islands can be stationary fixtures or mobile work stations where a cook can prepare a meal or store kitchen essentials.  

If you are remodeling a kitchen and thinking about adding an island there will be many decisions to make. First, consider the space of your kitchen. Islands won’t work in all kitchens, in most cases, islands require 100 square feet of kitchen floor space. Second, determine how you would want to use the island. Most people will use an island for food prep and storage but other uses include dining, cooking, clean up and entertaining.

In planning an island, explore the following options to maximize the work space in your kitchen:

Built-in/Stationary Islands. Creating a built-in island requires attention to details of function and design. The island is formed by base cabinets and can accommodate cooking appliances, including a cooktop, oven or microwave; a sink and dishwasher and an area for informal dining. You will want to work with a design/build contractor or kitchen designer to assure that the island of your dreams doesn’t become a nightmare. In talking with your contractor discuss the following:

  • Butcher Block IslandFunction. How do you plan to use the island? Will you be cooking on the island or will it serve primarily for dining, food prep and storage?  Here are some guidelines in addressing the primary ways islands are used:

    • Cooking. If you plan to install a cooktop you may want a heat-resistant countertop on the island. There should be at least 18 inches of space on either side of the cooktop. You may also want to install a vent hood or a downdraft fan. If you are installing an oven on the island, be sure there is ample room for door clearance in the open position. The eating area should be out of range of splatters. In a limited space, consider a raised area on the island for dining.

    • Food Prep. The island should be located close to a sink, refrigerator and cooktop/range/ovens. A prep sink may be installed on an island for supplying water for cooking and cleaning vegetables. There should be outlets on the island for small appliances. The counter surface should be suitable for cutting and preparing food for baking.

    • Informal Dining. The island should be between 36 inches (counter height) to 42 inches (bar stool height) depending on your chairs or stools. The width allowance to accommodate standard size chairs or stools should be a minimum of 20 inches for each seat.

    • Cleanup. If you are installing a dishwasher on the island, you will need to assure adequate clearance for the door in open position. The island should be located near a sink or should include a sink. There should also be easy access to the drawers and cupboards where you store silverware and dishes. On the island, you may want to include storage for soap, scrubbers and towels.

    • Storage. Undercounter storage will be limited on islands that include an oven, dishwasher, sink or cooktop with a downdraft. If your install these items, your best bet for storage is on the ends of the island. You can include open shelving, shallow cabinets or, if the space permits, a lazy Susan. If you don’t have these obstacles, you will have more storage options. Consider using drawers and shelving with full extension glides for easy access to items stored. Also think about pop-up shelves for storing a mixer or other small appliances and “pull-outs” for items like oils and spices.

  • Design. Minimally, a built-in island should be about four feet long and two feet wide. Height can vary depending on the function and can range from 28 to 48 inches. Work with your designer to determine lighting and aesthetics. Again, think outside “the box”. While islands are often rectangular, curves and other geometric shapes such are hexagons and trapezoids may help to maximize the surface of the island. To optimize function, consider “tiers” or multilevel counters. These configurations will also create architectural interest within your kitchen.

Work Table Islands. The “original” kitchen island was most likely a large table that was used for a variety of functions, including food prep and dining. The advantage of a work table island is seating.

Kitchen work tables are made in two heights, the traditional 30 inch height for dining or “counter height” which is 36 inches. Counter height tables are great for food prep and are “space savers” in a kitchen because you can purchase stools for them that can be stored under the table when not in use.

Work tables are made in many finishes; you should be able to find one that will complement the cabinetry in your kitchen. Tabletops that are the best for food prep include Formica, butcher block, tile, glass and granite. Be sure that the table surface is waterproof, scratch resistant and easy to clean. Keep in mind that work tables come in a variety of shapes and sizes so “think outside the box”, when choosing one to fit your space. These tables also may have built-in storage in the form of drawers, shelves and extensions or flip-up leaves.

If you are considering a “work table” for your kitchen, check out Pottery Barn and Dining Furniture Centre for ideas.

Portable Islands. Portable islands include simple carts or cabinets on wheels. You can find portable islands in many sizes and they provide a good option if you have limited space in your kitchen.

The advantage of a portable island is that it can be moved around if you have a small kitchen to make space when you are entertaining guests or cleaning up. When you move, it is a piece that you can take with you or sell.

Portable islands can be custom built to fit your space. Kitchen carts and mobile islands are also sold by popular retailers such as J.C. Penney, Target, and Sears and may be a more affordable option, but may require assembly.

What are your thoughts about the advantages and disadvantages of kitchen islands?

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Topics: Kitchens, Kitchen Design, Countertops, Storage, Appliances