Why have a kitchen island?
A kitchen island can have several valuable purposes in your kitchen. The first is that it provides ample storage space in the base of the unit; a valuable addition to a kitchen where you don’t have lots of wall cabinets.
Many people also double up their kitchen island as a breakfast bar, by placing a row of stools on one length of the island. An island breakfast bar encourages use of the kitchen as a social space, as those who aren’t cooking have somewhere to sit without getting in the way.
If you have an open plan space, you may also find a kitchen island useful as a natural separator between your kitchen and living/dining area. This can also be made social, as someone in the kitchen can prepare food on the island while looking out over the rest of the room.
Planning your kitchen island
Before you start styling, you need to plan the dimensions and placement of your kitchen island to ensure it’s suitable for the size of your space.
What is the best size for a kitchen island?
There is no one-size-fits-all perfect kitchen island; what’s important is that you find a size and shape that works for your kitchen.
If you have a large kitchen then the world is your oyster; a big island will fill an otherwise empty expanse of floor space and enables you to position your key appliances closer to each other by installing a sink or hob on your island.
If you have a smaller space, around 6ft x 3ft is a comfortable size for an island. If you have to go any smaller than 4ft x 2 ft then it’s advisable to avoid an island altogether, as it will probably be more of a drawback than a useful addition to your kitchen.
How much overhang do you need for a kitchen island?
Most islands require a slight counter overhang to ensure diners have plenty of legroom when seated. 12 inches is the ideal rough size for an overhang, but the clearance around the island is your first priority.
This means your first task should be to measure the space around your planned island, to ensure you have enough space between your island and counters to maintain open walkways. You should always leave at least 4 feet between your counters and island, even if this means having a smaller island overhang.
Small kitchen island ideas
If you have limited space but don’t want to give up your dream of an island, here are a few tips for effortlessly fitting one into a small kitchen.
A slimline island
Start by sizing down the size of your island; you won’t have room for a dining space, but a ‘butchers block’ style kitchen island with no overhanging counter will give you the extra food prep surface you’re looking for without requiring as much floor space.
A drop leaf island
In a small space, flexibility is key. An island with an extra counter section on a hinge can be lifted up and folded down as needed, depending on whether you need more worktop or walkway space.
When it comes to choosing colours, you have slightly more freedom with your kitchen island than the cabinets due to the simple fact that they aren’t as dominant in your kitchen. While you’ll still be partly led by the colour scheme in the rest of your kitchen, there is potential to be a little more imaginative with your island.
Matching cupboard units
If you want to keep it simple, matching your kitchen island to your cabinets and worktop is the obvious choice. This way everything coordinates, and you’re left with a clean, classic look that fits seamlessly.
This is particularly well suited to small kitchens, where consistent use of light, neutral colours will help to open up the space and make it feel airier.
If you have different coloured upper and lower cabinets, keep it consistent my matching a dark colour on your base cabinets and kitchen islands, while keeping a light colour on your upper cabinets.
Contrasting cupboard units
If you want some more variation in your kitchen colour scheme, try contracting your island with the other cupboards. This works particularly well with monochrome, where you can play with black, white and grey across counters and units to make a big impact.
You could also contrast the colour of your cupboard units, with a lighter or darker shade of the same colour on your kitchen island, or play with texture by introducing a wooden island.
In a neutral modern kitchen, an island is the ideal opportunity to add in a splash of statement colour. Think mustard yellow, bright blue, emerald green - the possibilities are endless! Bring the look together with matching splashes of colour around the kitchen; well-placed touches like toasters, splashbacks or vases can all be used to accessorise a statement coloured island.
A common use of a good-sized kitchen island is to take advantage of the base unit for extra cupboard space. This is easiest if you’re not also trying to use your island as a breakfast bar, but if you do have a dining section, simply split the two areas.
The most practical approach is to use one side, usually the side of the kitchen where you do most work, for storage, and the other side as a breakfast bar. You could also install cupboard doors on the ends of your units, or curving elegantly around the corners of the island.
Drawers can also be installed all the way around your kitchen island, remembering to leave space for legroom if you’ve chosen to add seating.
A slim set of drawers installed below the counter overhang on a breakfast bar also provides a useful storage place for dining utensils. This means diners can have easy access to cutlery and napkins, without having to get up and enter the rest of the kitchen.
Open shelving doubles as a handy storage solution and an imaginative styling tactic. Alcoves for shelves cut into the island are an eye-catching feature, and can be used to neatly store kitchen items, or decorate with vases, cookbooks and ornaments.
One of our favourite kitchen island ideas is to install a second small fridge, especially in a large kitchen where you may find yourself making too many trips to the main fridge.
It’s perfect for commonly-used ingredients like fresh produce and salad, or if you have a breakfast bar you could use it for storing quick breakfast and lunch snacks. Or if you love entertaining, this would be the perfect place for a wine fridge.
Lighting up the island
Pendant lights over your kitchen island are a gorgeous way to illuminate your space; choose from one single pendant in the centre or a set to illuminate different points along the worktop.
Pendants can conveniently double up as functional task lights to spotlight key areas, and decorative elements to make a feature of your kitchen island. Your lighting can really define your kitchen style, so don’t be afraid to go bold with statement colours or materials.
Under counter lights
In a contemporary kitchen designed for hosting, LED strips or track lights under the island counter are a show-stopping look. An elegant line of under counter lighting creates a border around your island and is particularly effective beneath a glass counter to suit a modern or industrial style.
If your style is more classic or particularly opulent, a chandelier adds a focal point that’s guaranteed to draw the eye! Glass chandeliers reflect light beautifully to brighten the island, but are also subtle enough to blend in when turned off.
Your kitchen island breakfast bar is an opportunity to add a splash of character to your island with some fun seating!
Stools are the most compact kitchen island seating idea, as they slide neatly under the counter without a back protruding into the walkway.
But even a simple stool has so much potential for customisation! Choose from natural wood for a classic and minimalist look, or make it more contemporary with metal frames or a plastic seat.
Chairs require more space around the island, but can also be more comfy and luxurious. Make a feature of them with industrial style iron frames and wooden seats and back, or choose fully upholstered chairs for a breakfast bar that feels more like a proper dining space.
If you have quite a neutral colour scheme, introduce some colour with brightly painted bar chairs, which can easily be repainted if you want a change.