11 Ways to Squeeze an Island into a Small Kitchen

updated Dec 8, 2022
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(Image credit: Melanie Rieders)

For many city-dwellers, space is fantasy. The idea of a large primary bedroom with an ensuite bathroom, and especially a gourmet kitchen with a jaw-dropping kitchen island often exist strictly in the realm of fantasy. With the kitchen being considered as the heart of your home, it can be a drawback when it does not meet the size (large) requirement in a small apartment

However,  just because your kitchen feels plucked from a dollhouse doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice the glorious benefits of a kitchen island. (You deserve extra prep space, extra storage, and additional seating, too!) These 10 small-space kitchen island solutions help your kitchen feel a little more dreamy and functional.

1. Match your island to the countertops.

If it’s possible, try adding a kitchen island with a top that matches your countertop. This visual trick allows your eye to move from one surface to the other, which can make a small kitchen seem larger. We love this look from @thekitchendesigngroup

Credit: @fehudesign

2. Incorporate ample storage.

Storage is crucial in a small kitchen, which is why we love this small kitchen island by @fehudesign. There’s plenty of space to stow a basket and several cookbooks on the bottom row, while the middle row can be kept clear, or used to store small appliances that aren’t used everyday. 

(Image credit: Anna Spaller)

3. Mimic a long, narrow countertop.

When adding more furniture to your already squished kitchen is simply out of the question, add an “island” with a countertop feel. In this Providence condo, a floating countertop runs along the length of one wall. The minimal under-countertop cabinetry makes this DIY update less cumbersome—but you’ll still get the benefit of extra flat space. For renters, adding a single skinny countertop isn’t a difficult update, as long as you have permission to screw into the studs.

(Image credit: Wayfair)

4. Double-up with a bar cart.

Accommodating both a bar cart and an island in a small apartment can be a tall order. You need the extra chopping space—but you want somewhere to store your growing wine collection, too. Pick an island that does double-duty, like this Belmont Kitchn Cart ($94). There’s plenty of room for bottles and glasses down below, and the 36-inch counter makes dinner prep less cramped.

(Image credit: Celeste Noche)

5. Give your kitchen table two jobs.

A four-person dining table can work two jobs: as a place to eat and a place to work. Consider getting a counter-height table, but there’s no reason a standard dining table can’t get the job done, too. (Although you may need to sit down when chopping your veggies.) In this San Francisco home, a kitchen island provides enough sit-down room for a family dinner—and adds precious counter space to a small kitchen.

Credit: Overstock

6. Put the island on wheels.

For a tiny kitchen, there’s nothing more valuable than flexibility. Perhaps you can fit an island into your space—but things get tight once friends join you for dinner. Consider a kitchen cart, instead, which can roll against the wall to accommodate more guests. Many of these models give off a sweet industrial vibe, like the TRINITY PRO Bamboo Kitchen Cart ($132).

(Image credit: Marie-Lyne Quirion)

7. Go ahead and fill the space.

Some kitchens are made for cooking and entertaining. Other kitchens need to do just one job, and do it well. If you love crafting elaborate four-course dinners, don’t shy away from stuffing an oversized island into your space. (Just make sure there’s enough room to walk around.) In this renovated Montreal duplex, a sizable IKEA VADHOLMA ($569) commands attention.

(Image credit: Cortney and Tyler Moore)

8. Put it off to the side.

If your itsy-bitsy apartment is super-squished, wasting precious space on an island may be an impossible ask. The added furniture may make navigating your kitchen difficult or impede an important home thruway. If a pre-bought island doesn’t work jutting out across the floor, push it up against a wall to get it out of the way, and extend your counter space, like in this colorful Los Angeles rental kitchen. Refresh an IKEA STENSTORP ($229) to add chic color and counter space to your kitchen.

Credit: West Elm

9. Add extra seating.

No room to stuff a full-fledged kitchen table into your space? Mimic a true island by adding a small selection of under the counter-height seating. West Elm’s Fram Kitchen Console – Butcher Block, is the perfect dual-use island. Its butcher table top is an ideal material for prepping your meals.

(Image credit: Federico Paul)

10. Rehab a vintage table.

Want to add a country-chic vibe to your kitchen—and increase your usable counter space? Head to your favorite vintage shop and pick up an old wooden table, like the one used in this countryside Buenos Aires home. Vintage tables come in all shapes and sizes, however, so take time to search for exactly what you need for your space. Here, the wide, square tabletop is ideal for chopping veggies, and the additional seating is essential when you’re on the go and don’t want to muss up your full-sized dining table.

(Image credit: CB2)

11. Go minimal.

Small kitchens can feel extra-cramped when stuffed with heavy, blocky furniture. Instead, choose a streamlined, high-top table to serve as your kitchen island. This marble-topped table ($3999) from CB2 has no shelving or storage—just four beautiful, streamlined iron legs. Taking the minimal approach promises to make your space feel expansive.