Planning a Kitchen Upgrade? Secrets to the Perfect Island

Planning a Kitchen Upgrade? Secrets to the Perfect Island

Nancy Mitchell
Oct 7, 2017
A custom kitchen island is at the heart of this kitchen by Studio McGee.
(Image credit: Studio McGee)

The kitchen is the heart of the home, and the island is the heart of the kitchen. If you're thinking about adding an island to your existing kitchen, or to a new one that you're planning, read this post first. We've combed through hundreds of kitchen designs and come up with the most important considerations for making your island both useful and beautiful.


First, let's talk dimensions — the practical stuff. If you're adding an island to an existing kitchen, or planning a new one, this kitchen guide from BHG recommends leaving at least 42 inches between the island and the countertop to allow room to work. For two cooks, allow 48 inches.

An antique island is the perfect touch in this kitchen from KK Living.
(Image credit: KK Living)

If you're searching for an antique piece to re-purpose as an island, keep in mind that the standard American countertop height is 36 inches. Depending on how tall you are, you may be comfortable working at a surface that is slightly lower or slightly higher — but this also means that your island will be a different height than the rest of your kitchen. (In the past, people outfitted kitchens with work surfaces of all different heights, so it is certainly possible to work this way.)

A sink with built-in drainboards occupies most of the right side of the oversized island in this kitchen from Architectural Digest.
(Image credit: Architectural Digest)


One thing to consider when laying out your kitchen is the so-called work triangle. The notion of the work triangle is that, in order to minimize back and forth movement, the sink, refrigerator, and primary cooking surface should be placed in a triangle, with each individual leg measuring between between four and nine feet and the whole triangle no more than 26 feet. Depending on the layout of your kitchen this may point you to a 'working' island — one that includes a sink or cooktop.

The trend in kitchens these days is towards kitchens that are open to the main living areas of the house. Often this results in an island (like the ones in a lot of these photos) that forms the boundary between the kitchen and the rest of the space. Placing the sink or cooktop in the island, facing the living room, means that the cook can see and interact with people in other parts of the home while working.

Now for the fun part! Of course, this isn't the limit of your design considerations, but if you're planning an island these are three very helpful questions to ask.

This kitchen from Matchbook Mag via Simplified Bee has a classic French kitchen island, which provides a spot for displaying attractive cookware, and also a nice contrast to the rest of the kitchen's closed cabinetry.
(Image credit: Matchbook Mag)
In this kitchen from House & Home, closed cabinetry in the island makes for a more streamlined look.
(Image credit: House & Home)

Open vs. Cl