How to make the most of your kitchen island design

Striking in its design and highly practical, the kitchen island is a real centrepiece. It’s the place where entertaining happens, conversations run into the early hours and the best food is made and devoured.

Serving as the heart of any great kitchen space, the kitchen island can transform an otherwise redundant area into a versatile area for all the family to use.

Let’s imagine for a moment that you’re a family of four. You get up in the morning, make and eat breakfast at your kitchen island, prepare pack-ups before setting off on the school run. You return home, sort and fold freshly cleaned clothes at your kitchen island as your laptop loads for a day’s work.  You finish work, swing by to pick the kids up and nestle around your island as you and your partner help with homework while preparing the evening dinner and tomorrow’s pack-ups. Once the little ones are in bed, you both take an island seat and unwind with a cup of tea.

You see, the kitchen island is quite the hive of activity, which is why it’s so important to get your design right.

Things to consider for the perfect kitchen island

Is there enough space?

While it pains us to say, kitchen islands are not always possible for every space. Your room needs to be the right size and shape to accommodate one, with ideally at least a 1 meter space all the way around.

The reason why having space is so important is that you need enough room for people to pass by without bumping into one another. You’ll also want to maximise the practical advantages of having a kitchen island. You must have enough room to comfortably use your kitchen island storage. There’s nothing worse than struggling to reach into a cupboard.

Is your kitchen island in proportion?

One of the reasons kitchen islands are so popular is that they provide extra seating, storage and countertop space. However, bigger is not always better.

You may have a generous sized kitchen now, but if your kitchen island is too big, it can compromise the rest of the room. For instance, if you have a narrow or a U-shaped kitchen, you may need to think a little more creatively about your island design.

For example, observe the proportions of the kitchen island of the Georgian Rectory pictured below. It’s a more than ample countertop but fits the space just perfectly.  

Handmade kitchen with island and aga

How do you plan on using your island?

We know this sounds like an obvious consideration, but you’d be surprised how many people do not stop to explore how they’ll use their kitchen island.

Typically speaking, kitchen islands serve one or more of the following functions: food prep, storage, cooking, serving, dining and washing up. Before you settle on a design, you need to think about which of those functions you see your island performing.

As an example, the kitchen island at Four Bridges Farm below is a social cooking and family space that doubles-up as a storage area. Notice how the brass cupped pan drawers are positioned just under the hob as guests sit opposite while you cook. There’s also an electric point at the far end for other cooking appliances.

Handmade kitchen island with 6 pan drawers

How much seating will you require?

For many homeowners, the appeal of a kitchen island centres on how it can be used as a breakfast bar. If having a seated area is a priority for you, you need to carefully consider how many people you’ll want to seat.

To answer this question, there are a few things to ask yourself. Is it the only seating in your kitchen? Will it seat guests or is it simply for the family to grab a quick breakfast at? Will you be working there – or only ever enjoying a quick coffee break?

A family of four, for example, may want the option of all sitting down together of an evening, in which case you’ll need space for everyone. Of course, bar stools now come in quite a selection of sizes but as a general rule-of-thumb, it’s best to allow at least 25 inches of space for each person. After all, too close and everyone will be bumping elbows.

Large Blue kitchen island with wooden stools

If you’re including seating, you’ll also need to think about where you position your storage. For example, it may not be a good idea to have open storage near people’s feet. Likewise, positioning seating in front of a regularly used storage cupboard or drawer is not the best idea. Moving bar stools out of the way each time you need a pan can be a real nuisance.  

What if I just want to use my kitchen island for cooking?

You may already have a large dining table and other areas for guests to relax. Or perhaps you just like your own space as you busy yourself in cooking. Either way, having a kitchen island that’s primarily used for food prep is a great idea.

The owners of this beautiful handcrafted kitchen (below) love to bake. They wanted an expansive area where they could prepare meals for friends and family. Notice how the open shelving at either end makes it easy to grab serving platters, colanders, salad bowels and more. There’s certainly no scouring around in a cupboard. Nestled above each shelf is a drawer with all the utensils they need (one for baking and the other for cooking).

The pans also sit neatly within the deep pan drawers, again, for easy access.

Handmade kitchen with large central island and falcon range cooker

What different design options are there?

Well, the beauty of having a bespoke kitchen island as opposed to a fixed design is that you have complete flexibility when it comes to functionality, size, finish and colour.

It’s very easy to make your kitchen island a standout design feature too. Very popular at the moment is having an island hand painted in a different colour to the rest of the cupboards, as shown below:

Handmade white painted kitchen with light blue island and antique mirror

See how the owners of the striking early 20th Century beachside home have chosen a wonderfully bright Cobalt Blue to complement the York White cupboards. Even the worktop is a contrasting colour and material (walnut).

You also have lots of subtle design features to choose from too, that are equally as important. You can have soft round cornices (as pictured below) or opt for a more traditional squared finish.

Take the beautifully elegant kitchen island of the Aldeburgh Kitchen which takes a curved form, complete with undercounter lighting to accentuate this design feature. There are, quite literally, hundreds of design possibilities.

Aldeburgh kitchen with curved oak island

What lighting should you choose?

Lighting is a very personal interior design choice. The most popular lights to hang above kitchen islands, though, are pendant lights. Just be sure to not hang them too low, however, as they can obscure line-of-sight and cause the odd bumped head.

Another option to think about is making your lights dimmable so that you turn them up for cooking and dim them to create an evening ambiance.

Final thoughts

The key takeaway is to focus on creating a kitchen island design that suits the needs of everyone in your home. To help you do just this, a big part of our kitchen design service is getting to know you and how you wish to use your space.

To find out more about our approach, please feel free to visit us at our workshop. We’d be more than happy to explore your options with you. Just remember to book an appointment first as we can get quite busy and like to have enough time for you.