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Upgrading to a New Kitchen Island? Read This First!

Adding a island is one of the most popular kitchen renovations, at the top of the to-do list for just about any large-scale remodel. After all, it’s a key part of having an open kitchen, not to mention a great way to add seating, surface space, and storage to a kitchen of almost any size. A simple bank of cabinets and a counter are all you technically need to add an island to your kitchen. But if your new kitchen island is part of a larger project? There’s no reason not to load it with more features and functionality. These upgrades will boost the price tag, but can turn your island into the heart of your kitchen.

Wine Refrigerators And Beverage Coolers

An image of a gray and white kitchen with a half-circular-shaped island. There is a wine refrigerator on the visible end of the island
If you plan to use your new kitchen island to entertain, adding a beverage cooler or wine refrigerator can make serving drinks a snap (by Shalford Interiors)

The simplest way to get more mileage out of a new kitchen island is to incorporate appliances into the design. How many or what kind of appliances you want will depend on the layout of your kitchen. But there are more options out there than you might think. The most common ones are probably no surprise: beverage coolers and wine refrigerators. These are meant to hold and chill drinks (or wine bottles specifically), keeping them at an ideal drinking temperature, and close at hand for your island seating. This is a great option if you want to use your island as a dining or gathering space, or even if you’d just rather not clutter up your main refrigerator with cans and bottles (or snacks!). The best part? They install perfectly underneath your countertop, usually in the space of a single cabinet box or less.

Island-Specific Appliances

An image of a modern, slate-gray kitchen looking out on a picture window. There are a variety of appliances built into the visible face of the kitchen island
If you’re looking for a new home for any of your kitchen appliances, an upgraded kitchen island might be the answer (by Gentry Construction, Inc.)

Don’t think your options are limited to upscale mini-fridges, though. While compact appliances are still a bit of a high-end option, you can find almost any appliance you might want in a convenient, under-counter size. That includes some obvious ones (like a dishwasher, ice maker, or trash compactor) and ones you might not expect, like microwaves or even drawer-style freezers or refrigerator units. All of these will require more in-depth installation – ensuring proper electrical and/or water hookups, in particular. But relocating your appliances to your new kitchen island can help clear up your countertops, save space in your main refrigerator, or even alter and improve your kitchen’s work triangle.

Consider A Standalone Cooktop

An image of a sunny, mediterranean kitchen iwth a gas cooktop in the center of the island
Adding a cooktop to your kitchen island can let you customize your cooking options… and put on a show for your guests (by MMI Design)

Another popular kitchen island upgrade involves replacing a traditional range with a standalone cooktop and one or more separate ovens. The ovens can be either built into the island or located elsewhere in the kitchen, but you’ll install the cooktop itself directly onto the island. This gives you more room to be picky about your cooking fuel. Whether you want a gas, propane, or induction cooktop, you can get one that’s a size and layout that meets your needs – without having to worry about the oven that comes with it. You can also mix and match your cooking fuels (like for a more efficient electric convection oven!) and tweak that aforementioned work triangle. Bonus: cooking directly in front of your guests, hibachi style, to add a little extra flair to your evening. Just keep in mind, you’ll need an island range hood to go with it.

Adding A Second Kitchen Island Sink

A small, beachy cottage kitchen. There is a round bar sink at one corner of the kitchen island.
Choose an island sink that matches the size and layout of your kitchen, whether that means adding a second full sized basin or a smaller prep sink (by Hayley Bridges Design)

You can also install a sink into your kitchen island – either as your primary sink or as a supplementary one. This is another upgrade you’ll want to consider in the early stages of your kitchen remodel; it will involve a good amount of plumbing work once your old fixtures are removed. But an island sink can be well worth the effort and expense. A small bar or prep sink will save you time in a large kitchen, enabling you to do your prep work closer to your stove; no trips back and forth to your main sink. They’re also great for holding or serving drinks to guests (especially trough sinks), or as a supplement for a baking or coffee station. Even if you don’t need an extra sink, added plumbing is worth considering if you want a dishwasher or ice maker, or to add a pot filler or water dispenser.

Make The Most Of Your Electrical Work

An image of a transitional kitchen. A black-on-black built-in power strip is visible along the upper edge of the cabinet.
Adding outlets to your kitchen island is simple as part of a larger project, and great for both electronics and small appliances alike (by Le Gourmet Kitchen Ltd.)

Similarly, if you’re going to add any features to your island that require electrical work, it’s worth adding a few smaller upgrades at the same time. Plan to have people sitting at your island? Consider installing a power strip on, in, or underneath the counter. These range from a USB port or two to a full bar of outlets, and invite people to come in, sit down, and plug in their electronics – either to charge while you chat, or as an easy place to come do a little work. Built-in undercabinet lighting is great for adding a luxurious feel to your kitchen, and is a snap to install if you’re already adding an appliance.

Customizing The Island Itself

An image of an industrial farmhouse kitchen wit an antique filter. The island is two-tiered, with a small prep area topped with a butcher block.
The size, shape, and layout of your kitchen island are all flexible, so be sure to consider and prioritize the features that make the most sense for you and your family (by Stonington Cabinetry & Designs)

That said, not all kitchen island upgrades have to be high-tech or professionally installed. Really, the most important “upgrade” is simply good planning. While it can be easy to say a kitchen island is little more than a rectangle of cabinets with a slab of stone on top, it’s very much worth thinking about what else you can do with the layout – and the space. Specialized cabinets (like dinnerware drawers or pull-out cabinets) can help keep your kitchen more organized while cutting down on clutter. Have a big collection of cookbooks or antique cookware? Add shelving on the side to let you display it. Want a better place to bake, or do kitchen prep? Add a built-in butcher block or baker’s slab to the design.

The real key to getting a kitchen island you love is to think about how you want to use it. If there’s something you don’t like about your current kitchen in terms of layout, equipment, or convenience? Consider a new kitchen island as an opportunity to fix it. Don’t add an island to your kitchen just because it’s the thing to do; do it because it’ll make your kitchen better to use!