Expand Your Kitchen Counter Space with an Island

Expand Your Kitchen Counter Space

A great way to increase your kitchen counter space is by adding an island. Its versatility has made it extremely popular, and according to a survey by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), 76 percent of recent and prospective home buyers want a center island in their kitchen.

An island can be used for different purposes: cooking, food preparation, cleaning, eating, and storage. Before including an island in your kitchen you need to decide how you want to use it. Your decision will affect the island’s size and design, especially if you want appliances installed in the island.

Kitchen Island Sizing

As a general rule, your island shouldn’t take up more than 10 percent of the kitchen’s total square footage. If your island is larger than that, your kitchen is going to feel cramped. The size requirements increase the more functions you add — for example, you would need an island at least 7 feet long to accommodate both a cooktop and a sink.

At a minimum, your island needs to be 4 feet by 2 feet to be useful, but ideally at least 3 feet deep. A standard height for an island is 36 inches. Some professionals recommend a 42- to 48-inch height if the island will be used mainly for seating or eating.

As well, you’ll require 36 to 48 inches of clearance all the way around for traffic flow and if appliances are close to the island, there has to be enough unimpeded space when the fridge, oven, or dishwasher doors are open.

A built-in island isn’t recommended for kitchens that are less than 13 feet wide. Instead, use a mobile butcher block island for extra prep and storage space.

Kitchen Islands for Cooking

Many people add a cooktop to their island because they enjoy chatting with family and guests seated at the island. The island cooktop is either paired with a wall oven or is a secondary appliance to the primary stove located in the perimeter countertop area. A licensed professional should install a new electric or gas line to the island.

You’ll need at least 18 inches of space on either side of the cooktop, and at least 9 inches of counter behind the cooktop for safety. If you want a seating area, consider a raised one to ensure family and friends don’t get splattered when you’re cooking.

Because you’ll be using hot pots and pans, it’s important to have a heat-resistant island countertop made of stone, stainless steel, or tile. For proper ventilation for cooking smoke and odors, you can install an overhead vent hood or downdraft fan, with a second exhaust fan in the ceiling.

As well, plan storage for items you’ll need close at hand, such as pots, pans, cooking utensils, spices, etc. The space under cooktops can be ideal for deep drawers. 

Kitchen Islands for Food Preparation

To use the island as a food preparation area, add a sink and a butcher’s block. If the island is only to be used for food prep, consider installing a butcher block countertop. You’ll also need outlets for small kitchen appliances like mixers and food processors, and easy access to a compost bin or garbage disposal.

Add drawers and cabinets to store the appliances, kitchen utensils, plates, bowls, etc. You can hide the compost bin in a sliding pull-out drawer or on the back of a cabinet door.

Kitchen Islands for Cleaning

You may want to use your island mainly as a cleaning area. For this purpose, the island should have the following:

  • A dishwasher (with hookups and electricity), and enough room for the door to fully open
  • A sink for rinsing and washing dishes
  • Compost and pull-out garbage bins next to the sink
  • Easy access to storage for silverware, plates, bowls, etc.
  • Storage for dish soap, brushes, towels, etc.

You may also want to consider the “trick” of using dual-height counters to hide dirty dishes from view.

Kitchen Islands for Informal Dining

Islands with breakfast bars are great for informal family dining, and for entertaining guests. Some people prefer a dual-height island, where one side is used for eating, and the other side is used for preparing food at standing level. The type of seating you need is determined by the counter height:

  • For a 28- to 30-inch counter, use regular chairs
  • For a standard 36-inch counter, use low stools
  • For a 42- to 48-inch counter, use bar stools

For knee space when seated, allow a minimum of 15 inches with a standard height island, and 12 inches for a counter 42 or more inches high. Each person will need at least 24 inches of space when eating to prevent elbow collisions. Make sure there’s two or three feet of clearance for the chairs or stools to pull out comfortably.

You can store serving items such as dishware, cutlery, platters, and napkins by installing shallow cabinets on the seating side of the island that are back-to-back to deeper cabinets on the food prep side.

Maximizing Kitchen Island Storage

Storage should be geared to the main functions of the island. You’ll have a much smaller area for storage if the island houses appliances, a sink, or a downdraft fan for a cooktop.

You can maximize your storage by using shallow drawers, shelving in cabinets, and platforms that swing out from behind a door in the island base. Open shelving or a shallow cabinet can usually be placed at the island end, and round ends are ideal for a lazy Susan. 

Another way to add storage space to your built-in island is to pair it with a freestanding rolling island. You can either match the height or go with a split-level look. If the rolling island has a butcher block top, you’ve also added an extra food prep surface.

Kitchen Island Lighting

You’ll need dedicated lighting to illuminate the island workspace. Recessed lighting is a common choice if you have standard-height ceilings. However, if the distance from countertop to the ceiling is more than 6 feet, you’ll need to install fixtures or bulbs designed to project light straight down onto the island.

Pendant lights that hang from the ceiling directly over the island are another option. Be careful to hang them at the correct height so they don’t block your view, or blind you by shining directly into your eyes.

Whichever type of lighting you choose, make sure it’s dimmable if you use the island for eating — good lighting for cooking or prep work is too bright when you sit down to eat.

Your major appliances are an important part of your kitchen.  When your appliances are in need of professional attention, you can trust the trained, experienced technicians at C&W Appliance Service for all your appliance repair and maintenance needs. Call us at (855) 358-1496 or submit our online service request form for prompt, reliable service.

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