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Kitchen Islands Check List – Is A New Kitchen Island Right For You?

If you spend any amount of time watching home design shows, it probably seems like everyone and their mother is installing a kitchen island right dab in the middle of their huge, open kitchen. And it’s not without reason – kitchen islands are a great tool for a larger space, and are a great asset when it comes to bringing guests into your kitchen. But before you chalk a custom built kitchen island up as a must-have, there are a few things you should consider – from the size of your kitchen to all the various types of kitchen islands – before you take the plunge.

How Big Is Your Kitchen?

A La Carte Kitchen Island With Wine Rack And Open Storage From Kaco
A La Carte Kitchen Island With Wine Rack And Open Storage From Kaco

The very first and most important thing you need to take into account when considering a new kitchen island is quite simple: How big is your kitchen? This might seem obvious, but it’s no idle question – big kitchen islands in too-small kitchens can be far more trouble than they’re worth, and a too-small island made to accommodate the space you have will hardly be worth the money. Even if you have a large kitchen, you need to figure out how much of your space to fill. Think this doesn’t apply to you? Think again. It’s recommended that you have, ideally, 11×14 feet of spare space, and no less than 11×11 feet to comfortably accommodate new kitchen islands – and that’s a whole lot of kitchen. Even smaller islands like this A’La Carte Island need a pretty decent sized kitchen to fit comfortably.

Browse Kitchen Islands by Kaco:

Antique White Traditional Kitchen Island From Hardware Resources
Antique White Traditional Kitchen Island From Hardware Resources

Why so much space? Because you need room not only to put your new kitchen island, but also enough room to be able to comfortably move around it. One of the biggest problems people run into with overly ambitious kitchen islands is winding up with barely enough space to open an oven without knocking your island, and that’s both awkward and unsafe. But 11×14? That number comes from assuming a larger island, of course, but you should figure that, at the very least, you’ll need room for an island that’s at least 4 feet long and between 2 and 5 feet deep, like this Antique White Island, and still have a minimum of 3.5 feet of open space between all counters, so you can move comfortably and access the drawers, shelves, and spice racks on all four sides of the island. Ideally, you should be able to open the cabinets on your island and your oven door or regular cabinets at the same time without them touching.

What Will It Do To Your Work Triangle?

Distressed Black Kitchen Island With Wine Rack From Hardware Resources
Distressed Black Kitchen Island With Wine Rack From Hardware Resources

The concept of the work triangle is that you be able to move in a simple triangle between your refrigerator, range, and prep area. Some kitchens are already better designed than others, and require you to move almost not at all between the three, but some are much more spread out. So you need to consider your existing setup and ask yourself: will adding a kitchen island impair your ability to get to one or more of the three “points” of the triangle? Or can you make the triangle easier to navigate by adding a kitchen island? Kitchen islands with either an additional range built in, or one like this Distressed Black Island with a built in butcher block and wine storage are a great solution for kitchens that are too spread out, as it can bring your prep and/or cooking area closer to your sink, fridge, or stove.

Browse Kitchen Islands by Hardware Resources:

A La Carte Kitchen Island With Open Storage Shelves From Caco (in Black)
A La Carte Kitchen Island With Open Storage Shelves From Caco (in Black)

A quick note on this: kitchen islands meant to act as prep stations are probably the single best way to add functionality to a kitchen with a big, open space in the middle. Something like this A La Carte Island has a beautiful birch butcher block for food preparation, plus towel racks, storage on both sides, and even a built in wine rack, making the absolute most of a fairly small amount of space. But if you want to add a range, wine cooler, or prep sink, you have to factor in the cost of bringing plumbing, electricity, gas, and even ventilation for a range hood out to the center of your kitchen, which is a much, much bigger job than buying a simple premade station.

Why Do You Want One, Really?

Modern Black Kitchen Island With Glass Doors From Hardware Resources
Modern Black Kitchen Island With Glass Doors From Hardware Resources

This is the real reckoning: do you want a kitchen island because you think it would substantially improve your kitchen experience, or are you drawn to it because you want to keep up with the Joneses? Needing a more centralized range, extra seating, more storage, a prep space, or room for more appliances – like a wine cooler, trash compactor, or dishwasher – are all really good reasons to opt for a kitchen island. Doing it just for the look – or just because it’s popular – probably shouldn’t come into it unless you’re planning on reselling your home within the next five or so years, and your kitchen is badly in need of a full-scale renovation. Even then, it’s important to weigh the cost against the returns, both in terms of the use you’ll get out of it and the change in the value of your home, even if you opt for a less expensive pre-made island like this Modern Black Kitchen Island rather than a custom, built in version.

What Are Your Options?

Aqua Green Kitchen Island From Hardware Resources With Optional Maple Butcher Block
Aqua Green Kitchen Island From Hardware Resources With Optional Maple Butcher Block

Broadly, “kitchen islands” can mean anything from a simple kitchen cart that might cost you a couple hundred bucks to a full workstation and seating area, with many multiple appliances and fixtures that will cost you tens of thousands of dollars. The size of your space and the size of your budget are likely to be the main limiting factors, and adding appliances and fixtures is the best way to use up both, fast. So for a smaller kitchen (or a smaller budget), if you don’t absolutely need that second range, bar sink, or wine cooler, skip it! Pre-made kitchen islands are a great alternative, offering all the prep, seating, and storage utility you need at a much, much lower cost, and often with a slightly smaller footprint. Some, like this Aqua Green Island from Hardware Resources, can even be purchased without the standard maple butcher block so you can install your own granite counter for a personalized look without the custom-built price.

R.S.V.P. Cherry Kitchen Island From Kaco
R.S.V.P. Cherry Kitchen Island From Kaco

And if your kitchen is really small, and you really need a kitchen island for the extra storage and counter space, but don’t really have the room for one, there are kitchen islands out there for you, too. I personally love this RSVP Island from Kaco -it’s small enough to be unobtrusive even in the smallest kitchens, rounded so you won’t bump your hips on the corners, and comes with four full sized drawers, a storage shelf, and a thick birch butcher block on top so it can be used as a cutting board (it even has a rim around the edge to prevent spillage).

Shannon Antique Irish Kitchen Island From Kaco
Shannon Antique Irish Kitchen Island From Kaco

Very small kitchen islands like this Shannon Island are really the perfect solution for small or mid-sized kitchens because they don’t take up a whole lot of space, but they add immense functionality, and even a little cottage style charm. So if you’re extra desperate for a little extra counter space and happen to have a blank empty spot in the center of your kitchen, look for a compact kitchen island or even a kitchen cart to fill the space – you definitely won’t regret it.

In almost any kitchen, you end up with some empty space in the middle that goes to waste. And, as everyone knows, no matter how big your kitchen is, you never have quite enough counter or cabinet space. So why not make use of that wasted space? No matter how big or small your kitchen, there are kitchen islands and carts out there to help you make the most of your kitchen. What are you looking for in a kitchen island? What are your space restrictions? What do you really need, and what would you love for your kitchen island to have?