Gone are the June Cleaver days of disappearing into the kitchen to cook and magically re-appearing with a meal of meat and potato perfection. The kitchen has become the center of all family life and our kitchen designs have blessedly come to reflect this. The best modern addition that accommodates how we use our kitchens today is definitely the kitchen island. But the virtually endless array of options regarding this feature make it pretty tricky to get it right. Sure, you could hire a designer to handle the process for you, but for those of us who prefer to take a more hands-on approach, we’re here to help. To simplify things a bit for you, here are 5 excellent questions to ask yourself at the beginning of the design process.
- How do you need your island to function?
Do you need more storage in your kitchen? Then you’ll want to incorporate shelves or cabinets underneath the counter. Do you plan on using it for food prep? You may want to integrate a sink and a spot for waste disposal on your island and having an integrated chopping block may turn out to be a luxury you never knew you couldn’t live without. Love to bake? In that case, you may want to include a section of marble in the countertop for rolling out dough and choose a heat-resistant material like stone or metal for the rest of the countertop. Many folks use the kitchen island as an informal dining spot. If that’s true for you, then you definitely will want to plan on space to tuck in stools. Do you love to entertain? How about working in a wine rack or bar? If you know you’re going to use your island for crafts and household projects, you’ll want to make sure your surface is appropriate for that.
- What appliances do you rely on in your kitchen and which ones would you like incorporated into your island?
This is important because you’ll clearly need to plan on the space each appliance will need. But you’ll also want to consider if any of the appliances being integrated into your island work in conjunction with other appliances. For example, if your main sink will be in your island, you’ll probably want your dishwasher next to it. And which side of the sink would be most comfortable for you to place the dishwasher? These two additions will need plumbing, so you’ll need to keep that in mind. If your sink and dishwasher are on your island, then there’s also a good chance that you’ll want your garbage receptacle there, too, which leads to the question of recycling and compost. If you plan to include an oven or range on your island, then you’ll need to plan on a hood for exhaust, too. If your island will be your main food prep area and your refrigerator isn’t right nearby, you might think about having a small capacity under-counter refrigerator. Many kitchen appliances require power, so plan on adding some convenient outlets and maybe a charging station for devices.
- What do you plan to store on or in your island?
Most folks use the kitchen island for some level of storage. You’ll want to consider just what you need to store in your kitchen and which of these items will be housed on your island. If your island is your main food prep area, maybe you’ll decide to store your cutting boards, food processor, and blender there for example. You’ll almost certainly want to plan on a spot for utensils. If you have tons of storage elsewhere in your kitchen, then maybe storage isn’t the first priority. If you decide to have your main sink on the island, then you’ll need to plan around that and include a plan for dish soap, towels, and cleaning sponges and brushes.
- What height would function best in your kitchen?
Typically, there are two basic heights that people settle on- bar height, which is generally around 42” high or counter height, which is generally 36” high. Clearly since it’s your design, you can make your counter any height that feels most comfortable, but if like most folks you plan on have seating at your island, we would recommend that you browse through bar and counter stools available through a couple of different sellers to help you get an understanding of the height options out there. You can always go bi-level, too, so one tier is counter height and one is bar height so you get both a space for food prep and for seating. And be sure to consider how deep the overhang should be for a comfortable seating. Most folks find that 15” to 18” is good, but don’t go below 12”.
- How is your island going to fit into your kitchen layout?
Kitchen islands typically are between 2’ and 3’ wide and anywhere between 4’ – 7’ long depending on just how you’ll need your island to perform. You’ll need to plan on being comfortable moving around the island, so you’ll want to plan on a cushion of empty space that’s at least 42” wide around the working areas. On the ends, where folks usually aren’t working, you can probably get away with a 36” cushion. When planning your island, think about how it relates to the kitchen layout; for example, can you use it to complete a triangle or if you decide on a bi-level design, which side makes the most sense facing the kitchen.
The island is part of the overall kitchen design and should function seamlessly with the kitchen workflow. The key to designing the perfect island for you is to think about the ways in which you use your kitchen and then delegate specific purposes to specific areas of your kitchen. This will help you figure out how you need your island to perform. Once you have a good understanding of this, then you can get down to the fun of designing the island on paper or screen.