Kitchen Island 101: Everything You Need To Know
Kitchen Island 101: Everything You Need To Know

Kitchen Island 101: Everything You Need To Know

Any good interior designer will tell you islands aren’t just for larger kitchens – smaller spaces can also benefit from this stylish and practical addition. But where should it sit? What are the best materials? And how should it be lit, and the seating arranged? After asking a range of kitchen designers and interiors experts, we learnt one size certainly does not fit all….
By Georgina Blaskey

What Does A Kitchen Island Add To A Space?

“While a kitchen island adds a practical additional work surface and storage space, for many people, the true value comes from its ability to transform it from a functional food prep space to a relaxed social space. For many, an island allows the kitchen to become the heart of the home where people enjoy each other’s company while preparing meals.” – Oana Sandu, lead designer at Blakes London 

“An island often works as a central focal point, and it can offer valuable storage and hide a host of integrated appliances. But we agree – we love them most for their convivial nature. They’re a great place for people to gather and, with the addition of comfy bar stools, they’re a good place for an informal family meal.” – Kate Cox, HÁM Interiors 

“A kitchen island will definitely anchor a design and draw the eye to where the action takes place. Often a homely and personal area of the kitchen, it’s also an area in which to display flowers, arrange your favourite cookbooks, as well as entertain and cook.” – Al Bruce, founder of Olive & Barr

Specifically, How Can It Make A Space More Sociable & Hospitable?

“An island acts as a barrier between the guest and the cook. We don’t really buy into the concept of the breakfast bar – they can tend to look a bit tacky – but seating at an island is definitely something to consider.” – Andrew Petherrick, Artichoke 

“Just like the traditional dining table, the kitchen island is designed to be an engaging area. Facing your guests while cooking means you can host and enjoy being part of the conversation. An island is a catalyst for discussion and offers a relaxed alternative to formal seating. People typically overlook the open spaces within a kitchen, but these are equally important. Remember to allow for space around your island – being able to pull up another stall, spread out and not feel limited is key to creating a relaxed atmosphere.” – Al

“You can ensure kitchen islands work as both a cooking and entertaining space by changing the work surface materials to suit each area specifically. Make the ‘entertaining’ section slightly higher than the cooking and preparation area, and bear in mind to keep a safe distance from any hobs or hot taps when designing your kitchen. Also, create an L-shape seating area to ensure stools are not in one long line as this makes chatting to each other a neck-cricking exercise.” – Alex Main, director of The Main Company 

What Kind Of Aesthetic Works Best For An Island?

“This depends entirely on the architecture of the house and the design of the joinery. Tables work well in larger spaces where storage is not at a premium. For smaller spaces a full island works best, but again, treating it as a separate piece of joinery will lend it better to the design.” Andrew

“At Blakes London we like to use the island to make a statement, using a different colour or more commonly a different material or style of door or drawer finish for maximum impact. A slim framed painted shaker kitchen can be made to look more considered and interesting by adding a kitchen island with raw timber flat fronted furniture for a striking contrast.” – Oana

“Visual appeal will always be key within any room. Yes, we want functional kitchens, but we also want kitchens that look the part. When designing a kitchen island, you need to think about what material to use on the counter – do you want to maintain a level of cohesion, selecting a material that will match the rest of the kitchen run? Or do you want to make a statement with a reclaimed wood raised bar or statement marble?” – Alex

“You can choose to create a cohesive look by opting for the same materials for both wall cabinets and the island. This is a timeless approach but doesn’t mean the kitchen will look samey. Playing with two main textures and colours provides a strong base for adding additional interesting elements – for example, upholstered stools, unique art and custom-made shelving. That said, the kitchen island is a chance to get creative. Consider contrasting colours and play with texture by adding wooden shelving and a contrasting work surface.” – Al

A New Day Design Studio

Arent & Pyke

What Material Works Best For A Worktop?

“To truly relax, you need to create a space where spillages aren’t a concern. So, think carefully about your flooring, cabinet finishes and worktops, all of which play a role when entertaining. We recommend choosing materials that are both durable and easy to clean, such as quartz. It’s available in an array of beautiful finishes and will add a seamless and sophisticated look.” – Al

“While you might instinctively gravitate towards the beauty of natural materials like marble, they do take more maintenance and are more susceptible to staining. For some people there is value in that, but it's not for everyone. To combat some of those concerns we often use different worksurfaces within a kitchen. We might introduce a manmade silestone on one surface where the majority of food prep is done and use a contrasting natural stone on another surface that sees less traffic.” – Oana

“Porcelain is another option. If you don’t use your island for cooking, then use this as an opportunity to splash out and find a piece of marble you love.” – William Durrant, owner of Herringbone Kitchens 

“In a recent project we collaborated on a custom-built island made from Carrara marble, sycamore and copper. The aesthetic drew inspiration from Georgian prep tables and the idea that work surfaces can be made of two differing materials. Ours are mainly made from wood with a smaller end section made from marble.” – Kate

What Can You Have On An Island?

“The magic of the kitchen island is really that anything goes, so long as it's planned early on. We have built islands on legs to give the illusion of more space; islands on wheels so that they can be moved around the kitchen; islands with integrated herb troughs and ice buckets; and fixed islands with overhead hanging shelves that get used as cocktail bars. There really is no limit to the amount of fun you can have with an island design.” – Oana

“Prep sinks are very handy for cooking but can be a little messier. Induction hobs like the Bora hob with the downward draft extractor are perfect, too. Seating transforms an island and allows for a more casual space, while drawers, a wine fridge, or open book cases on the rear of the island look great. We would refrain from having a range cooker on the island as they fit better against a wall.” – William

What Appliances Are Best Suited?

“This will depend on where and how your island is situated. Those who are planning on having appliances like a dishwasher need enough clearance to comfortably pull it out – that’s usually one metre between the island and kitchen cabinets. Those who aren’t planning on appliances can get away with a slightly tighter space of 800mm. This is ideal for those lusting after a kitchen island but thought it wasn’t possible because of their compact or awkward-shaped kitchen.” – Al

“An induction hob is the safest type of hob compared to gas and electric options, as it reduces the risk of burning as the hob itself doesn’t get hot making it a good option for families with young children. As there’s no naked flame it also prevents a risk of fires in the home.” – Alex


What Functional Or Decorative Features Are Worth Considering? 

“A kitchen island is a multi-functional piece and should provide both extra workspace and storage. Depending on the orientation of your island, consider using both sides, adding either deep shelving for cookbooks or drawers for hiding away crockery and small appliances. A built-in chopping board storage is a key piece to incorporate, as you will use this often. For a decorative look, consider glass-fronted cabinets. Use it to display your finest glassware. Shelving can also be decorative. For a uniform and aesthetically pleasing island shelf, decanter your dried food items into mason jars and use jute or woven baskets to hide any possible clutter.” – Al

“Sockets on the front where you’re cooking for small plug-in appliances and sockets on the rear for phone and laptops.” – William

More and more people are increasingly requesting wine storage solutions to be included in their kitchen design. For instance, the centre of a wide kitchen island (which would normally be dead space) is the ideal way to incorporate additional wine storage. By integrating clever storage like open shelving into the design you can create additional space for everyday kitchen essentials along with adding more valuable countertop space for preparing food or dining.” – Alex

What Kind Of Lighting Works Best Over An Island?

“It's key to ensure that your island has both task and mood lighting. Spotlights work well for the former while pendant lights are a popular option for mood lighting. If this is your preference, then we would suggest hanging an odd number of pendants. We also like the slightly more unusual approach of a bold statement pendant hung to one side of the island or in more contemporary spaces track lighting is very on point.” – Oana

“Pendant lighting works best above the kitchen island, not only because it adds personality to the space, but also because it creates a more intimate feel. If you’re looking for something that won’t date, keep it simple with a row of clear glass or white pendants. Those looking for a bolder statement may consider large industrial-style pendants that will add depth and a contemporary contrast.” – Al

Finally, What Free-Standing Furniture Makes A Good Alternative To An Island?

“Putting a marble top onto an antique such as an old dressing table can work well, but you have to be sure that the legs are robust enough to take the weight of the stone.” – Andrew

“Good kitchen tables shouldn't be overlooked – they’re so often the stalwart centrepiece of a kitchen. Butcher’s blocks are an obvious alternative too, or even a long narrow bookcase can work well.” – Oana

“A harvest table is a great option for those who are tight on space and can be easily painted to add warmth and contrast. Another alternative is using reclaimed wood as a table; it instantly gives you that lived-in and relaxed feel.” – Al


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