Creating the perfect kitchen island for you can seem overwhelming — until you notice the one obvious question to rule them all.
And that question, every designer agrees because it’s designing 101, is this: How will your kitchen island be used?
Do you want to eat there? Entertain? Do you want to sit on kitchen stools or in chairs? Who will use it? Adults only? Children? So take some time first to write out, on paper, the basic purposes you want this kitchen island to fulfill in your life.
Do you want one level? Or two?
Do you want one level for your kitchen island or two levels? If you’ll be doing cooking prep at the island, you’ll want a counter height level. For seating that would require stools, not chairs. But designers can accommodate both needs at once — on one side, counter height for prep, and on the dining side, table height so guests can sit more comfortably in chairs.
A two-level solution is especially important for toddlers who can so easily fall off of kitchen stools.
Do you really want a stovetop and sink?
In imagination, it’s alluring: you’re cooking while talking with friends seated just across from you at the kitchen island. What could be more charming? But reality often differs from imagination.
In reality, cooking can splatter. And there’s heat involved. Consider the advantages (and enormous cost savings) of using your existing stovetop to cook on, while turning around to chat with your guests at the kitchen island. Most food doesn’t require absolutely constant attention, anyway. And those that do — stir fry, for example — no guest wants to be seated near, at eye level, dodging the steam and the spatter.
Sink splashes are less painful than hot grease but can be just as much of a buzzkill for friendly conversation.
For these reasons, many designers recommend not mixing cooking, cleaning, and conversation in the same eye-level space. It can be done, of course, but the island needs to be quite large for it to work comfortably.
How much space to leave
The rule of thumb you’ll hear from any designer is to leave at least three feet of space around any kitchen island. The island must accommodate a person seated, room to pass behind the person, and any wall art or side tables. Since some people can be quite large, and since everyone likes at times to have room to move while seated, planning for at least three feet of space is the minimum. You’ll avoid cramped quarters for your guests.
To be 100% sure you choose the right size of kitchen island for your kitchen, first make detailed floor plan drawings of it. It’s not difficult with graph paper, letting one square be equal to one foot of space. Imagination alone can help you to see if a design works in the space you have.
But for really making sure it will work, there’s no substitute for creating a cardboard mockup using clean moving boxes from a home supplies store. Cut and tape the mockup together, and live with it for a week. You’ll then know with certainty whether the design fits you and your kitchen, or needs some tweaking. All for less than $10, you’ve saved potentially thousands later.
Keep the function always in your mind, and choosing details will be much easier and more effective. You’ll end up with an awesome kitchen island your family will love for years to come.