In recent years, kitchen islands have become something of a trendy statement piece, emblematic of the trend towards larger, more open kitchens. But a good island isn’t just a fancy centerpiece, it’s an opportunity to make up for any of your kitchen’s shortcomings. Kitchen islands can act as pure surface space, sure, but they can also house all variety of storage features, seating, and accessories. Building a kitchen island that will work well is all about finding what the rest of your kitchen is missing – or what you always wished it had – and finding a way to incorporate that into the design.
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So what all can a kitchen island do? One of the simplest and most common features is added seating. If you want to entertain in your kitchen, and particularly if you’d like to use your kitchen island as an informal kitchen table, the primary features you want are a surface that’s large enough for people to sit and eat at, with plenty of room for seating on one or two sides. The size and number of seats you’ll need to accommodate for will depend on the size of your family (and the size of your kitchen!), but often islands offer a great way to gather the family in one space for dinner prep and meal time.
Kitchen islands are also great for building an informal breakfast area. If your family primarily eats at a kitchen or dining table, it can still be worth adding room for a chair or two to a kitchen island. This type of seating is nice for simply spending time in the kitchen – sitting down to a leisurely breakfast, having a chat with someone while they’re cooking, or even sitting down while waiting for something to come out of the oven or double checking a recipe. This type of seating also works great as a homework station if you want to keep an eye on your kids while you’re cooking.
Then there are kitchen islands that are all about increasing storage space. Often that means duplicating your existing kitchen cabinets in island form, but that doesn’t have to be the case. Unlike kitchen cabinets, which are generally pretty uniform, kitchen islands can be totally customized to fill the gaps in whatever type of storage your kitchen happens to be lacking. Often, that means more cabinets, but it can also mean deep drawers, built in spice racks, wine racks, bookshelves, or even an open shelf at the bottom for easy access to pots and pans, bulky mixing bowls, or pantry items. Whatever the rest of your kitchen can’t accommodate, you can build your kitchen island to store properly.
If you don’t need traditional storage – drawers, shelves, or cabinets – kitchen islands are the perfect spot to install a few extra appliances. That can mean traditional appliances – like a microwave, oven, dishwasher, or even a range top – or something a little more specialized, like a wine cooler or mini fridge, a trash compactor or composter, or an ice maker. Putting appliances in your island rather than elsewhere in the kitchen lets you prioritize what goes where, optimizing the accessibility both of your appliances and your storage.
One of the greatest benefits of having a kitchen island is the added surface space. More counter tops means more usable prep area, and this is one of the things that kitchen islands do best. That said, incorporating a sink – either your main kitchen sink, a secondary sink, or a petite prep sink – doubles up on the usefulness of these extra counters. Building a sink into the island can improve your work triangle, or allow multiple people to do cooking prep work without competing for sink space. Some homeowners even choose to install an entire separate baking station, complete with marble work surface and a small sink to keep the kitchen better organized and cut down on trips back and forth across the kitchen.
The best thing about kitchen islands, though, is that they can fill many or even all of these functions at once if you design them well. An island doesn’t have to be all seating or all storage, and even on relatively small kitchen islands there’s a lot of room to customize. Plus, they can be designed in any size or shape to fit your kitchen like a glove.
Think of kitchen islands not as decoration but as modular problem solvers: they can be exactly what you need them to be, and should be used as a tool to fill in the gaps that make your current kitchen less than ideal.