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Kitchen Island Designs

kitchen island design

This page provides planning ideas for kitchen island designs for those remodeling or designing a new home.

For other kitchen topics see Kitchen Design Ideas.

Planning an Island—Consider Your Floor Plan First

Most kitchen layouts could include an island but some layouts will become awkward if an island is simply plunked down into the middle of them.

The floor plans that work best with kitchen islands are the L-shaped and straight (or one-wall) kitchen.

L-Shaped Kitchen Design with Island

In L-shaped designs (see image below), the stove can either be on a counter run or the island. Likewise the sink could also be on the island or there could be two sinks—one on the L and one on the island.

In the picture below, the island is used exclusively for food preparation and seating. Depending on the adjacent rooms, this island could work equally well if it lay on the diagonal across this open side of the kitchen.

L-shaped kitchen island design

L-shaped kitchen island design

Straight or One-Wall Kitchen Island Design

galley kitchen islands design

Photo: Nancy Hugo

In the one-wall kitchen design shown above, the sink and stove top could be either on the counter run or the island. The image above shows a design where the island is used as the food prep counter and also contains the dish washing sink and dishwasher. The stove top is on the counter along with two wall ovens at the end of the counter.

The floor plan below shows the reverse of this with the stove top on the island.

one-wall kitchen islands design

Rules of Thumb

Your design should allow for an efficient work triangle—the imaginary work triangle formed between the sink, fridge and stove top.

If you're starting from scratch with either a new home design or an extensive remodel check out our Design Your Own Kitchen tutorial for doing a complete kitchen design.

When designing a kitchen, consider the island as another counter or work surface and decide how it will be a part of (or not a part of) the kitchen work triangle.

Many designers suggest a separation distance of three feet from the island to any other counter top. Others suggest 3 1/2 or 4 feet. My belief is that the distance really depends on the layout and how the kitchen is used. In my opinion, even a distance of 5 feet can be appropriate for some designs. The decision for the distance between the counter and the island should consider the number of cooks using the kitchen and the location of appliances. If a refrigerator or an oven door will swing into the space between the island and counter, ensure that there is adequate space for someone to get between the door and the counter.

For a one-wall kitchen (as pictured above), adding an island essentially turns it into a galley kitchen layout.

L-shaped kitchen island designs can improve traffic flow by allowing for two ways of entering and exiting the kitchen space.

Kitchen Island Design Ideas for Incorporating Dining

The nice thing about both the L-shaped and one-wall kitchen island designs is that they allow for counter seating on the non-kitchen side of the island. This can help keep those not helping with food prep out of the kitchen work triangle but still in the company of those in the kitchen.

The other side of the island is also a wonderful place for the dining room table. Many designers are now opting for eliminating the two tables (kitchen and formal dining) employed in many homes, and choosing instead for a dining table on the non-kitchen side of the island. This table area can still be as formal or as casual as you choose. A careful interior design with appropriate lighting and perhaps an area rug in this location can create the ambiance you are looking for.

Some also choose to put a raised backsplash on the "dining room" side of the island to reduce sight lines into a potentially messy kitchen area.

Island Design for U and G-Shaped Kitchens

Other layouts such as U and G-shaped kitchens can also support an island but are generally not for the faint of space. Considering a minimum spacing of 3 feet between counters and an average counter depth of two feet it's easy to see that the minimum width for these layouts with a small (2 foot wide) island would be 12 feet. But that said, a 12 foot wide U or G-shaped kitchen would have a very cramped work area and the island could just end up being an obstacle.

To incorporate an island in this kind of design, the traditional work triangle should not require walking around the island. Ideally the two sides of the island would have different functions. For example, meal preparation on one side and perhaps the other side for simply making coffee, tea and preparing light snacks that do not require the stove. Some may also want to have a kitchen desk and communication area with telephone and a computer on the non-food prep side of the island.

The biggest difficulty with kitchen island designs for a U or G-shaped layout is that the existence of an island invites people into the kitchen to hang out. If the island does not have adequate aisle space around it (more than four feet) to accommodate those extra people, it will be impossible to cook in this kitchen. This type of layout requires a fair amount of space to avoid traffic congestion.

Often a homeowner or designer puts in a kitchen island merely since they feel a quality kitchen should have one. This is not necessarily true. A U-shaped floor plan can create the same effect as a kitchen island does by using one arm of the U as a peninsula with seating on the non-kitchen side (as shown in the image below).

kitchen peninsula design

Traffic Flow for Kitchen Island Designs

No matter what your kitchen floor plan, it is imperative to consider traffic flow. Ideally traffic will not flow through the work triangle. Some kitchen island designs can create a very awkward traffic pattern. Walk through various kitchen use scenarios to test each kitchen design you are playing with. Consider as many scenarios as possible. Think about setting the table, serving the meal, and cleaning up afterwards. If you find that a given design has you running a marathon for a daily use scenario it's time to re-jig the design or perhaps start all over.

Sizing Kitchen Islands

Determining the best size for the actual island depends on the space available and how you will use the island. The minimum width for usability is two feet. This size of island works well with a one wall kitchen where there will be no seating on the opposite side (or at least not plates while the counter is being used on the kitchen side). A dining table can be placed on the non-kitchen side of the island.

For a very small home this small island could also serve as the eating area and the living room could be on the non-kitchen side of the island. This creates a comfortable open floor plan with the feeling of separation between the kitchen and seating areas. Alternatively an open hallway can be created by the island to access rooms beyond the kitchen while also allowing for those not helping in the kitchen to socialize with those in it.

For most kitchen island designs, if there will be seating at the island, you'll want to have a minimum width of three feet. The counter top can overhang the cabinet legs to allow for leg room. With this type of cantilevered counter top it is usually best to have some kind of braces supporting the counter overhang. It is not always necessary to do this for structural support reasons but if the counter top overhangs the kitchen island cabinets by more than half a foot it usually looks awkward without the appearance of some kind of support for it.

The island cabinet can also be made like a piece of furniture on raised legs positioned at the four corners of the counter top but with the actual cabinet a foot or less deep than the counter top. (The cabinet side walls will generally extend from the front legs to the back legs, framing in the overhang.)

The maximum width of the island depends on the available space but going beyond a width of four feet makes cleaning the counter top difficult. The decision for island shape depends from which other work surfaces you wish to access it. If you look at the drawing of the L-shaped kitchen kitchen island design you'll see that this island is accessed from both the oven and the sink. One or both of these sides of the island could be used for food preparation. (The drawback of this particular layout is a slightly awkward work triangle with the island in the way of the path to the fridge.)

Designing the Island Itself

By now you should have a pretty good idea as to what your kitchen layout will be and the size of your island. You should also have decided exactly how the island will be used. That is, will it be a prep counter? A place for the stove top? Light dining counter? A place for washing vegetables? Form should follow function—that is the design of the island should facilitate the island's intended use. If you're still unsure about how you'll use the island, go back again to the Design Your Own Kitchen page and finalize these details.

At its very simplest, the island can be a table with or without drawers around the skirt edge. These styles of kitchen island designs look great in a country style kitchen and keep the whole room looking lighter and more homey. If you will be cutting and chopping at this table you'll most likely want it higher than a standard table height.

For including drop-in ranges or stove tops, make sure you have adequate space on either side of the stove top for transferring items to and from the stove or oven.

If you'll have a sink in the kitchen island, it can either be the sole kitchen sink or a second one. If it is a second one consider carefully how the two sinks will be used. Is one for washing dishes and the other for washing vegetables? Some families try to choose one that will be used primarily for cold water and the other for hot since in many households a lot of water is wasted when running water waiting to get it to the right temperature.

Based on what the sink will be used for, you can determine the best size for it and where on the island it should be situated. In the middle of the island for access on either side? To one side to keep it out of the main kitchen traffic flow?

Electrical and Plumbing Requirements for Kitchen Island Designs

With kitchen island designs don't forget to consider where you will need electrical plug outlets, plumbing drains and water lines as well as kitchen vents.

If this is a new home design, it will be easy to include electrical outlets where you need them and to properly route the plumbing pipes. Keep in mind however that any sinks and associated plumbing will take up cabinet space in your kitchen island. Take a look under any standard sink to see the space required for the sink basin itself and the pipes. This space will be unusable space in your island. This point alone made us decide to forgo the luxury of a second sink since we already had limited cabinet space in our kitchen.

Electrical wires take up very little space but do need to be installed to your local electrical code. Generally they need to be within a shielded cable if they will run exposed inside the cabinetry. If the island is on raised legs, the electrical wires can either run out of sight on the inside corner of a leg or alternatively through a hole drilled right through the middle of the leg. If you will have pendant or track lights right above the island, consider putting the switch for these lights in a convenient place somewhere on the island just below the counter top.

Kitchen vent hoods for stove tops need to be vented to the outside. Ideally, the duct work run should be as short with as few bends as possible. Any extra distance or bends in the duct work reduces the efficiency of the fan. The duct work can run through the ceiling straight up and through the roof if the top of the roof is close. Alternatively, the duct work can run into the ceiling above the vent and then bend to head for the nearest outside wall. For a house remodel, the difficulty of re-running vent ducts for a kitchen island design can sometimes eliminate the possibility of an island stove top. If you are unsure about this, you can check with a structural engineer or architect to find out if you can run the duct work through your existing structure.

Before finalizing your kitchen island design, do a quick shopping search online or locally for all electrical, plumbing, appliances and hardware items for your design. Look for the available sizes and item prices. If your kitchen island design includes an island stove top, you will find that stand-alone fan hoods are significantly more expensive than the standard wall mount kitchen vent hoods.

For links to more kitchen design information and topics see our Kitchen Design Ideas page.

For images of some great kitchen island designs see:

Houzz Kitchen Design Photos


Better Homes and Gardens: Kitchen Islands.

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