Placed at the heart of the cook space, these multipurpose units can enhance a kitchen’s utility and appearance.
Topping the list of must-haves in most kitchen renovations, an island is the perfect value-added improvement, one that transforms the way you use and enjoy the busiest room in your house.
At a minimum, an island adds counter and storage space just where you need them: at the pivot point between your kitchen’s cooking, cleaning, and food-prep zones. And outfitted with fixtures and appliances, such as a sink and cooktop, or bar stools for dining, an island itself can become the hub of activity. Such utility is the reason builders and designers say that adding an island offers more bang for your buck than just about any other kitchen upgrade.
The first kitchen islands in America date to the colonial era. These simple worktables, situated near the hearth of the home, were where families prepped meals and then sat down to break bread. Even after the advent of built-in cabinetry, and well into the first half of the 20th century, the island remained a freestanding piece of furniture, often with a look and style all its own. The tradition continues today, as islands often integrate materials, colors, and design flourishes that are different from those of the surrounding wall cabinets, making them the focal point of the space.
On the following pages you’ll find all the information and inspiration you need to create a kitchen island that’s right for you—from the critical clearances for good traffic and workflow to the many ways you can customize it to suit your particular space and the way you cook and entertain.
A handcrafted island made of reclaimed chestnut stands apart from the painted wall cabinets.
Shown: Custom kitchen island, $15,000 (not including the countertop, sink, or faucet); Crown Point Cabinetry.
What’s it cost?
Freestanding worktables or rolling carts can be had for as little as $200. Basic built-in islands made with stock cabinetry and butcher-block or stainless-steel counters start at about $600. More features, larger sizes, and costly materials can easily push the price above $5,000.
DIY or hire a pro?
Anyone can put in a worktable or cart. An island assembled from cabinetry is more of a challenge but doable for handy homeowners. Call in the pros for custom configurations if you plan to have plumbing fixtures and electric appliances or if you want a stone countertop.
An island ought to have enough counter space to meet your needs, look proportional within the kitchen, and have ample pathways around its perimeter. For smaller kitchens, a worktable or rolling cart may be a better choice than a built-in.
Where to Put Your Island
Be sure to leave enough space on all sides to permit the free flow of traffic all around it and between the key activity zones centered around the stove, sink, and fridge.