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A kitchen island is a great addition to any kitchen that provides style, efficiency, and added convenience. But there is a lot of planning that goes into finding the correct size to fit the space you’re working with. We’ll be diving into everything you need to know about the size and implantation of your kitchen island.
How big should a kitchen island be? A standard kitchen island will be around 4 feet long and 3 feet deep. This allows it to be sturdy and useful, but cozy for a smaller kitchen. To function properly, the island needs to be 30 inches away from your counter space.
To determine the size of a kitchen island, factor in the size of the kitchen, what its main purpose will be, and the overall layout of the kitchen. As you plan and dream up your perfect kitchen, determining the ideal size of your island can be a little tricky. The key will be finding the perfect fit so it meets your needs while not taking over your whole kitchen.
Planning for Your Kitchen Island
Kitchens and the appliances they house have evolved immensely over the years. The kitchen has modernized itself inside and out from the electronics and appliances to the built-in structures and overall layout.
Kitchen islands are highly functional and make a beautiful focal point for your kitchen aesthetically. The accessibility factor, alone, makes for an appealing reason to have an island in your kitchen.
Having a counter space with four accessible sides is a huge benefit whether you are baking by yourself, cooking with a group, or getting ready for a neighborhood potluck.
As you begin your plans for a kitchen island, you will want to consider the main reason, or reasons, that you want it there.
Things a Kitchen Island Can be Used For
Consider each function and how you may plan to use it. All this brainstorming and imagining will help ensure you pick the right size and style island.
If your counter is being taken up by serving dishes or food waiting to be prepared, it’s great to have the extra space on the island. You can also consider having electrical outlets installed so you can use smaller appliances on the island while the counter is being used otherwise.
You may also consider getting an island with a built-in cutting board on top of purchasing that large cutting board you’ve had your eye on, but haven’t had space for. Kitchen islands make for a great way to have extra space for all food prep needs.
So, when debating on sizes, think about how much space you have on your counters now, and how much more would be helpful for your daily tasks.
Kitchen islands are sometimes pictured as a small structure that offers some extra counter space but not much else. These islands can function as a full kitchen on their own. You can opt for an oven to be built in, sinks, a mini-fridge underneath, or any other appliance that will fit within the space of the island.
If you plan to use the island for additional cooking tasks, you will need to consider the size of the stove you want to have installed. The height will be another consideration because you will also want to have a vent built-in above the stove.
Cleaning After the Meal:
Sometimes it’s nice to keep everything separate after a big meal. Kitchen islands are a great spot to stash all the dirty dishes before rinsing and loading them into the dishwasher if your counters are taken up by leftovers waiting to cool.
The four sides of accessibility also make the island ideal for cleaning as it will be convenient for your trash, garbage disposal, and sink. If you’re planning on this mainly being an additional space to help with tasks like this
Dining and Entertaining:
Depending on the height you choose, this may also provide an additional eating space. And the accessibility of a kitchen island is perfect for a “serve yourself” potluck or large gathering. These layouts will require plenty of space around them, so guests can move freely and serve themselves. Ideally, you will want the counter to extend past the island so people can sit comfortably.
For people who love to entertain, kitchen islands can be a huge perk and add a lot of value to your kitchen.
Different Sizes of Kitchen Islands
Once you decide the key functions you want out of your kitchen island, you will better be able to plan for the size. Floorplan and square footage are key to those plans.
If your kitchen isn’t at least around 12-13 feet wide, a built-in kitchen island may not be in the cards. It will be difficult to fit a proper structure in that space while allowing yourself enough space to move around it. In which case, a portable island may be the perfect answer. We’ll get more into portable islands a bit later.
An average kitchen island size is around 3 x 6 feet. This can, of course, become larger or smaller based on the space you’re working with. But that size typically offers the structural size you need from your island, while not being obstructive to the kitchen and its flow.
Leaving Room Between the Island and Counters
You want to have a minimum of 30 inches in between your kitchen island and your counters or kitchen walls. Ideally, this should be more like 40 inches, but 30 can at least be doable. Always check with any building codes in your area and guidelines on kitchen safety when doing any remodeling or additions this big.
Remember, you don’t just want to consider having enough space to walk around the island. You want to be able to function.
If there is typically more than one cook in the kitchen, you want to make sure you can pass each other easily and without getting to close to any hot appliances that may sit on either side of you.
Yes, kitchen islands are often considered for their aesthetic appeal, but remember that this is a functional piece of your kitchen. And the size and how much room you leave around its edges will either help make your life easier or more difficult in the kitchen.
A huge design flaw that can be committed when designing and installing kitchen islands can be not leaving enough space for things to open. Consider your refrigerator doors, dishwasher, and any other appliances that have doors that will need space to open.
The last thing you want is to have your beautiful new island installed, only to realize that you can only open your dishwasher halfway.
One of the best answers to give regarding how big a kitchen island can be will always have to do with how much space you leave around it. Your kitchen island can technically be as large as you would like if you can provide a minimum of 30 inches of free space on all sides of it, and you can open all doors and appliances.
Kitchen Island Height
Standard kitchen islands are typically around 36 inches tall. If you plan to use the island for dining purposes, you will want to consider boosting that up to more like 42-45 inches. And it can even get higher than that if you’d like to have it serve as a sort of breakfast bar as well, with higher stools to accompany it.
If you plan to have hanging kitchen lights that drop down in the center of your kitchen, you will also want to consider how those will look with the chosen height of the island. This will purely be for aesthetic purposes, but it can look a bit off if the height is too disproportionate.
For safety purposes, if you are planning on adding an oven, you will also want to research how large of a kitchen hood or exhaust hood you will need..
Kitchen Island Height vs. Counter Height
One thing that is often overlooked is the congruity of the kitchen. It may not seem like a big deal, but having your kitchen island match the height of your countertops can be especially pleasing to the eye, as well as make for easy transitions of food and supplies from counter to counter.
If you intend to use the island for dining, the height of the two may not match up, as you will need a higher top for the island. But when you can keep the island the same height as the countertops, it adds a nice sense of uniform to the kitchen.
Other times, you may be looking for a statement piece. If you want this island to stand out as the focal point of the kitchen, it is common to purposely go taller than the counter with the island to draw the attention there.
Different Styles of Kitchen Islands
There are many different types and styles of kitchen islands to choose from. The type will also directly affect the size you ultimately choose. Here are a few popular options to consider while shopping and researching.
Kitchen Island with Built-In Cutting Boards
Kitchen islands that can double as a slicing and dicing station are great for a compact kitchen. If your main purpose for the island is to help with efficiency and you love to chop up fresh produce with every meal, this is an ideal style.
These islands will typically be half cutting board, half counter space. The board will be removable for cleaning purposes, but it is nice to have it sturdily in place and ready for action.
Kitchen Island with Full Electricity and Water Capabilities
If you plan to go all-out with your island and have additional appliances installed within it, you will need a lot of space. These will typically need to be large and will need lots of space around them.
You will also need to be ready for some hefty electric and water bills if you plan to double up the sinks and/or any electrical appliances in the island.
For a kitchen that has the space, and for homeowners who love to cook elaborate meals, this is perfect. It essentially acts as a second kitchen to your normal appliances. You will also get some additional counter space out of this option, but this will mainly be best for those with some serious cooking needs.
If you opt for this, you will also want to consider where on the island you have certain appliances. Consider the space around your kitchen and where appliances already exist and plan accordingly from there. According to Bob Vila,
“Your island will need to be at least nine feet long to comfortably accommodate both a sink and a cooking range. Seven feet is needed for either a cooktop or a sink area. If you have adequate space, you can even install a dishwasher next to the sink, to maximize efficiency when cleaning.”
Double Tiered Kitchen Island
As mentioned earlier, you may desire to have your kitchen island act as another dining area. The fun workaround to figuring out what height will be good to function as both a food prep area as well as a dining area is to have a double-tiered kitchen island installed.
You can still have your shorter countertop area for all your cooking, prep, and cleaning needs, while you also have a raise second-tier available for dining with a couple of bar stools to accompany it.
These not only serve a dual purpose; they also look stunning. It is a beautiful centerpiece to your kitchen that will offer a multitude of uses. These are great for medium-sized kitchens that would like the additional features, but not take up too much space.
Many will also provide additional storage or cabinets underneath, making it great for a kitchen that has the floor space, but may require some additional functionality and storage.
Another dimension you will want to consider with this style is how much the counter hangs over the dining area.
The minimum amount of overhang you will want for this type of seating area will be around 8 inches. Anywhere from 8-10 inches seems to be standard. You don’t want to go over 12 inches of overhang; otherwise, you will need to install some additional supports.
Cabinets and Countertops
For smaller kitchens, some great compact islands offer additional cabinets and storage underneath, with a simple, clean countertop. These can fit in just about any kitchen while also offering a huge added value of space.
If you don’t have a ton of space to work with, and you’re also sorely in need of additional storage space, these little islands are a perfect fit.
You will have a nice clear space on top that is perfect for food prep without taking up a surplus of unnecessary space. These tend to come in a wide variety of sizes that should be able to accommodate most kitchen spaces.
Portable Kitchen Islands
Some people love the idea and look of a kitchen island but may not be ready to take the plunge into the construction of a built-in model. This is where portable kitchen islands come into play. They also tend to be on the smaller side, since they are meant to be portable.
So, smaller kitchens, and people who are unable to commit to the construction of a permanent kitchen island, will love a solid little portable island. These are the happy medium between a basic kitchen cart and a built-in kitchen island.
Many still offer great features like additional storage, shelves, cutting board options, and nice countertop options.
Some will have wheels, like a cart that you can lock in and have for easy access to move about the kitchen. Others will stand as if it was a table in the center of the kitchen, with many of the same looks and functions as a kitchen island, but the added benefit of being able to move it.
Fun Tip: Kitchens that use the “work triangle” layout will always be the most efficient. This means that your sink, refrigerator, and oven are all in a triangle shape and easy to bop back and forth between. You want just enough space for it to be safe and offer enough room for doors to open and room to move around. Consider implementing this when you install your full electricity and/or water kitchen island.
Finding the Best Size Kitchen Island for Your Kitchen
To discover the best size kitchen island for your kitchen, you will need to do more than measure. Consider the things you want to use it for, the look you’re going for in your kitchen, and, most importantly, how much space you’re working with.
A kitchen island is a great way to save space and make your kitchen more functional and efficient, but it does need to have enough space around it so that you can use all four sides.
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Giovanni Valle is an architect, designer, internet entrepreneur, and the managing editor of various digital publications including BuilderSpace, Your Own Architect, and Interiors Place. He is the founder of BuilderSpace LLC.