Giovanni Valle is a licensed architect and LEED-accredited professional and is certified by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB). He is the author and managing editor of various digital publications, including BuilderSpace, Your Own Architect, and Interiors Place.
Summary: Kitchen islands have become a necessity in the modern kitchen and are more than just a temporary trend. Islands provide much-needed additional work space and storage in the kitchen.
The kitchen is one of the areas in your home where you spend the most time working. You need enough space to chop vegetables, cook food, and wash dishes. For this reason, islands have been a popular fixture in kitchens for years.
In this article, I’ll explore kitchen islands and their many benefits. Keep reading for insights to help you decide whether a kitchen island is right for you and your home.
How Long Have Kitchen Islands Been in Style?
Kitchen islands have been in style since the 1980s. At this time, the kitchen was evolving into a hub of activity in the home rather than just an area for preparing and eating food.
Kitchen islands initially grew in popularity in the 1950s, right after World War II. At this time, popular home design began to evolve from closed-plan to open-plan living. Kitchen islands are extremely compatible with open-plan living because they create separation between spaces without using walls.
Open-plan interior designs have many obvious benefits. However, the removal of walls also created a lack of storage space and work surfaces. The kitchen island provided people with a solution to these.
What Is Open-Plan Living?
Open-plan living is an architectural design concept that has the aim of creating a more open, sociable space.
Common areas, like the living room, kitchen, and dining area are not separated by walls. Instead, they are only defined with elements like furniture, change in flooring material, or change in elevation.
Benefits of an open plan layout can include the following:
- Light and air can move through the space. This makes your space look and feel wider and brighter.
- Perfect for family gatherings and parties. With open-plan living, people can see each other and communicate with each other because they aren’t separated by walls and other solid barriers.
- Open plans make it easy to watch the kids. You can be cooking in the kitchen and easily look over to check on your kids who might be spending their time in the living room.
Because they provide necessary storage and workspace, kitchen islands are a great way to make open-plan layouts more convenient in everyday life.
The Advantages of Kitchen Islands
If you’re still on the fence about getting a kitchen island installed in your home, here are some benefits you can get from its addition:
Islands Provide Additional Storage Space
The mass of your kitchen island doesn’t have to be a counter with four solid sides. Installing an island an opportunity to add more storage space in various ways:
- Drawers: For utensils, supplies, or even a catch-all space for your plastic bags, batteries, spare bulbs, among other miscellaneous items.
- Shelves: For your plates, cups, glasses, or any knick-knacks you want to display.
- Cabinets: If you don’t have enough cabinets above or below your other kitchen counters, you can incorporate a few for cooking ingredients, cleaning supplies, and bigger dishware.
Islands Create Additional Work Surface
When prepping for parties or a big gathering, there might not be enough space on your kitchen counters for all of the tasks you need to complete.
A kitchen island gives you more space to work. It allows for more people to pitch in and help with the cooking. Islands also provide a space to place the food that is ready to be served. It can be a central workspace in your kitchen where you can turn cooking into an opportunity to bond with your family and friends.
Islands Can Function As Dining Areas
When you’re in a rush in the morning and don’t have time to set up the whole dining table for breakfast, you can turn your kitchen island into an informal dining area. All you need are a couple of bar stools for seating.
Your kitchen island can also be a place for you to have a snack and exchange stories with friends, or a place for kids to do their homework.
Space To Store Appliances
With a kitchen island, you can incorporate a built-in countertop appliance or one built into the side of it. You can have a built-in stove, sink, oven, chiller or mini-fridge, or your dishwasher.
If you incorporate any of these appliances into your kitchen island, be sure to check what additional requirements are. That includes plumbing, gas lines, or particular electrical work you might need to have done. Consider the space that opening an oven or dishwasher will need and if the distance between your island and counter is enough.
Separate Different Areas Without Using a Wall
When it comes to open-plan living, kitchen islands are a great way to create separation between spaces while still keeping them somewhat connected. The kitchen island serves as a solid partial barrier that keeps the room visually open, bright, and airy.
You can be cooking on your kitchen island while talking with people in the dining area and even watching your kids who might be hanging out in the living room.
Ideas To Spruce Up Your Kitchen Island
You may already have a kitchen island, or you may be thinking of getting one installed. Read on for some design ideas for your kitchen island that you can try.
Create a Sleek Design With Waterfall Islands
A kitchen island usually incorporates a material like granite, quartz, or tile for its countertop.
Where traditional island countertops have that material restricted to only the top, a waterfall kitchen island has a countertop that extends over the sides of the island and at a 90-degree angle, all the way down to the floor.
Extend Counter Space With an Overhang
On one side of the counter, or both sides, where extra seating is to be placed, the counter extends or creates an overhang.
This overhang creates a recessed space that is enough for the knees to tuck under the counter like they would at a table. This way, a person can sit comfortably at the kitchen island without having to awkwardly lean forward to perform tasks.
Use Extra Space as a Creative Display
Use your kitchen island for extra display shelves. Instead of stacking different pans or dishes, why not display a few knick-knacks to show off some personality?
You can also decide to paint one side of your kitchen island to inject a bit of color into your space. Using tiles to decorate the sides of your kitchen island can also add a different texture or visual dynamic to it.
Are All Homes Suited for Kitchen Islands?
Not all homes are suited for kitchen islands. Factors like kitchen size, expense, and the traffic flow of the home can influence a home’s compatibility with kitchen islands.
Small Kitchens Aren’t Compatible With Islands
The standard size for a kitchen island is around 2 feet by 4 feet (60 cm x 120 cm). You need to have enough space around your kitchen island to move around and work comfortably, not just pass through.
The National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA) recommends at least 42 inches (107 cm) of clearance or space between the island and counter on each side.
Consider the size of a kitchen island, the clearance space, and the other countertops in your kitchen. A safe measurement to use as a basis is that your kitchen should at least be 10 feet by 12 feet big (300 cm x 365 cm).
Island Installation Is Often Expensive
Getting a kitchen island installed in your kitchen will likely involve the following expenses:
- Additional cabinets
- Countertop material (usually a slab of marble or granite)
- New appliances
- Labor costs
A tight budget may not allow for the addition of a kitchen island to your cooking space. Incorporating additional appliances may also require the installation of special outlets, wiring, venting, and plumbing.
Islands Can Disrupt Kitchen Workflow
The workflow in your kitchen is key to efficient food preparation. The kitchen triangle is a good example of this workflow. The triangle considers the main appliances in cooking: the stove, the sink, and the refrigerator in the process of food preparation. Installing a kitchen island may disrupt that workflow.
In the long run, additional counter space isn’t worth sacrificing a smooth workflow in your kitchen.
Installing a Kitchen Island
Adding a kitchen island to your cooking space can have a price tag that ranges from $1000 to $5000. In some cases, this expense is even higher, depending on materials, labor, and additional features incorporated. Many people include an island in their kitchen while they’re initially building the home. However, adding one to an existing kitchen is also possible.
Here is the general process you have to go through if you’re planning to have a kitchen island installed:
- Measure your space.
- Set your budget.
- Schedule your installation.
1. Measure Your Space
Before anything else, measure the space of your kitchen. The room needs to be big enough for your kitchen island, while still providing room to walk between counters and the island. That gap will need to be wider if you plan to add additional drawers or appliances. Keep this in mind when evaluating your kitchen’s compatibility with an island.
2. Set Your Budget
By preparing your budget ahead of time, you can set aside the money for your kitchen addition. A budget sets your limits and helps you make financial decisions throughout the process. For example, a budget can help you determine where you might need to make adjustments for your kitchen island, whether it be related to materials, size, features, or appliances.
3. Schedule Your Installation
Installation of your kitchen island will need both time and space. A professional install can take a day or less. Doing it alone can take longer, depending on your experience and how many people will work on your kitchen island.
You won’t be able to use the entirety of your kitchen during installation. So, you don’t want to schedule it simultaneously with a party or dinner you’re going to host.
Professionals Can Help With Difficult Installations
You may need the help of a professional in installing your kitchen island. Professional help is especially beneficial when you have additional appliances or don’t plan to install them on your own. Depending on your individual needs, it may be worth the extra money to have a professional install your island. Look into installers around your area and find out if their fee fits your budget.
Material Availability Can Differ Based on Location
Material prices for kitchen islands can differ for everyone. This is because you have to factor in accessibility, shipping, and whether material is local to the area.
What happens if the material isn’t locally available? You can order online, but shipping can push the price out of your budget range. Look into the necessary materials and their prices ahead of time so you know what to expect for your island installation.
Kitchen Island Alternatives
Not everyone’s home is compatible with kitchen islands. If you can’t incorporate an island into your own kitchen, you can still reap some of the island’s benefits with the following alternative routes.
Kitchen Tables Provide Extra Workspace
A kitchen table provides you with an extra surface to work with. You can prepare food, eat meals, and use this table for other activities.
A kitchen table provides an additional advantage in that it can be pushed to one side, against the wall, or out of the kitchen entirely if the space is needed. An island, on the other hand, is a permanent fixture.
Kitchen Carts Extend Kitchen Storage
Carts give you an additional work surface like the kitchen table. What’s even more advantageous about a kitchen cart is that it can also give you extra storage space.
A cart can easily be wheeled around to adjust its position as needed. This is especially helpful when you’re working and moving around in the kitchen.
Kitchen Peninsulas Allow Smooth Workflow
A kitchen island is a freestanding fixture. On the other hand, a kitchen peninsula has one end that connects with a wall of the kitchen. This can create an L-shaped or U-shaped kitchen.
A peninsula’s form has less of a possibility of disrupting the workflow in the kitchen.
A kitchen peninsula can be scaled to fit different-sized kitchens and offers almost the same benefits as a kitchen island.
Kitchen islands aren’t a passing trend—they’re here to stay. Over the decades, islands have shown themselves to be a valuable asset in the kitchen, providing more counter space and storage space.
You can add style to your kitchen island with different design choices, like incorporating a waterfall kitchen island or using decorative materials.
However, not every kitchen is suited for a kitchen island. An island’s compatibility relies heavily on the user’s kitchen habits, needs, and available budget.
- Apartment Therapy: A Brief History of The Kitchen Island
- The Kitchn: Why You Want a Kitchen Island Now (but Didn’t 100 Years Ago)
- Houzz: 2017 US Houzz Kitchen Trends Study
- Interior: Are Kitchen Islands Out of Style?
- Real Simple: Are Kitchen Islands Really That Great? We Asked an Expert
- Francini Inc.: Pros and Cons of Having a Kitchen Island
- WF Cabinetry: Kitchen Island or Not?
- The Wood Works: Kitchen Island vs Kitchen Table
- Wren Kitchens: How To Design a Peninsula Kitchen
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