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So you want a kitchen island?

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Here’s what to consider first

An all-white island anchors the kitchen of this California wine country dream home.
Photo by Aubrie Pick

Kitchen islands have been rising in popularity over the last decade and for good reason. If the space allows it, an island can be an effective way to add surface area and storage while creating a modern family room of sorts for daily living and entertaining.

But an island isn’t exactly an one-size-fits-all solution. There are plenty of factors, not to mention alternatives, to consider when planning for a kitchen island. Read on for insight and tips from industry pros.

Islands make the kitchen a social hub

If you put in an island, get ready for the kitchen to get rowdy. “Islands tend to become the gathering spot in the kitchen, especially if there is seating,” says Portland, Oregon-based architect and interior designer Risa Boyer Leritz. “For families, the island can also be a spot where kids can do their homework while the parents are cooking or prepping for a meal, so it can help keep the family engaged and connected.”

Pro-tip: “Keeping the counter at the seating area ‘counter height’ makes the kitchen feel more open,” says Boyer Leritz.

Custom-built islands can address special needs

This island was custom made by ABD Studio to be slightly lower in height allowing a shorter client to cook and prep comfortably.
Photo by Suzanna Scott Photography courtesy of ABD Studio

If you’re custom-building an island this is your chance to think beyond just storage and design for specific needs. “Custom island fabrication allows for complete control over layout, design, and functionality of an island,” says San Francisco-based interior designer Brittany Haines of ABD Studio. “In our project Sonoma Valley Modern Farmhouse, the island was custom made to be slightly lower in height on the sink side to allow a shorter client to cook and prep comfortably.”

Haines also loves the custom wood and steel worktables from March, which are intended as an “alternative to the monolithic kitchen island.”

A small kitchen can benefit from a small island

“Even if a kitchen is small and cannot fit a larger island with seating, an island can still work well for prep and staging of food during cooking or a party,” says Boyer Leritz, “Islands also can serve as buffet tables in party situations.”

According to Haines, an island also creates additional space to house kitchen plumbing and appliances: sinks, a refrigerator drawer, warming drawer, dishwasher, wine refrigerators, or microwave.

Just make sure to leave enough space for moving around the island when cooking.

Consider power and built-ins

If you’re hoping to add prep space with an island, be sure to make it count. Adding power to your custom-built kitchen island is “not only a code requirement,” says Boyer Leritz, but also “incredibly handy for using mixers or blenders.”

“Power can be a simple outlet at one end of the island on the cabinet or it could be a pop-up outlet on the countertop,” she says.

Boyer Leritz built in both a prep sink and microwave for this Portland renovation.
Photo courtesy of Risa Boyer Architecture

“If you want to hide a microwave, just an open cubby with power will do,” says Boyer Leritz. “You can also step it up and build in a microwave into the island with a trim kit for a more finished look.”

Boyer Leritz also suggests considering putting in a prep sink. “Prep sinks work well in kitchen islands and conveniently provide a second washing/prep station,” she says.

Store-bought islands can also do the trick

We don’t all have the budget for a custom-built island. If that’s the case, “many retail stores carry durably constructed kitchen islands in various size options that are much less expensive than custom fabricating an island,” says Haines. A few of her favorites are the Travis Kitchen Island from Williams Sonoma, and the French Kitchen Large Kitchen Island from Crate & Barrel.

The Compass Kitchen Island from West Elm and Stenstorp kitchen island from Ikea are particularly small-space friendly, as are movable stainless tables on wheels.