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Choosing the right island for your kitchen.

I finally found a kitchen island that suited my kitchen’s style and wasted no time purchasing, assembling, and using it!

My new kitchen island and green stools
My new kitchen island and green stools

I’ve always wanted an island! It’s just one of those things! I’ve spent about a year in my kitchen and as the months past I’ve learned a little more about my needs and what would work for my situation. I don’t think islands are for everyone (or every kitchen). And there are TONS of islands to choose from, so there are a lot of factors that go into purchasing (or making) one.

Once I started thinking about an island or peninsula, I did what I always do: Create a Pinboard for it.  I pinned kitchen islands from online stores as well as photos of kitchens with islands I liked. I even found a couple DIY tutorials on how to make my own island, and pinned those too. I finished the board off with all different types of stools that I loved.


Islands (and peninsulas) have many functions. You’ll have to decide what your needs are:

  • Cleaning up: Will you use items such as pull out garbage or recycling components?  How about a dual-height island so that messy dishes can be hidden from the view of your dinner guests? Maybe putting a sink in your island will help with your kitchen’s workflow?
  • Preparing food: Do you need outlets installed in your island for appliances… or a butcher block top so you can chop veggies? Will you need pendant lighting so you can see what you are doing?
  • Cooking: If adding a range or cooktop to your island, do you need a vent hood? Do you need space on either side of the cooktop to prepare meals?
  • [Informal] Dining: Will you be using this as an informal dining space? If so, you may need an overhang for seating.  Will adding an island make you give up your actual seated dining area? If so, are you willing to do that?
  • Storage: If your kitchen is lacking cabinet space, adding an island with cabinet storage may be your #1 priority.

My kitchen island function was pure and simple: an informal dining / hangout space. I really have TONS of cabinet space (haha, I know, be jealous), so I didn’t need any cabinet storage within the island. I thought the my best option would be something that was fairly open and movable  so it didn’t close off my kitchen and I had the ability to position it for different events and get-togethers.

I also tend to have single guests over for dinner, and it always felt strange when he or she sat at the kitchen table while I cooked. I’d rather her be at a higher level so we can talk, and so it didn’t feel like I was “waiting” on her. I considered all shapes, sizes and heights. I also considered just getting a counter height dining table like this one:

Vella 5 piece Dining Set with 29 inches high Green Chairs
Vella 5 piece Dining Set with 29 inches high Green Chairs

Length, Width & Spacing

Size is really important. I would see if you don’t have a large kitchen (8×12′) it’s probably going to be tight to fit an island. If this is your reality, you may want to explore other options, such as peninsulas, or movable island carts (like this one, or this one) that can be tucked out of the way.

As far as distance between the island and the counter or wall, all of the numbers are really subjective to what feels right for you. A typical rule of thumb is at LEAST 36″ between the end of the island and any other surface. Most say this distance is OK for a path, but for a working area (i.e. near the sink or stove) you may need more space so that 2 chefs can work back to back without bumping into one another. In that situation, I’d lean more toward 48″. The best thing to do is get some painters tape, and tape off the floor area where you THINK you want to put your island. Leave the tape there for a week or two, and make an effort to walk around that area. Is it natural? Do you find yourself taking a longer path to the fridge because there’s bad flow? After I taped my area off, I put the kitchen table right in the middle of it and extended the chairs to the lines so I literally could NOT walk through that area. I found that the area I mapped out was much too big and obtrusive, especially when entering my kitchen from the living room to get to the refrigerator for a snack. I had to walk all the way around the “island” in almost a full circle, and after a week of doing this I was really annoyed. I’m so glad I did the test run with the tape so I didn’t make a bad purchase decision.

Island Height

The height of your island’s eating area dictates the type of seating you’ll have. Here are some standard meaurements:

Type Island Height Stool Height
Dining Height 30″ 18-20″
Counter Height 36″ 24-26″
Bar Height 42″ 30″

For my island, I chose a counter-height option. At 36″ it lines up with the height of the rest of my countertops which helps it blend in with my other kitchen elements. Since neither the wood grain or counter top of my island are made with the materials used in the rest of my kitchen’s design, the cohesiveness comes with the equal counter heights and repeating my accent color in the stools.

My island

brooklynworktableAfter weighing all my options and actually using my kitchen for 11 months, I decided to purchase the Brooklyn Work Table from World Market (no longer available). This table is very, very sturdy, is a counter-height (35.75″ high), and has the open legs I was looking for. The weathered legs and slate-like top really blend in with the elements of my kitchen reno. The island is above 48″ long and 27″ deep. I purchased 2 counter-height stools for the island from Overstock.com. The Tabouret Limeade Metal Counter Stools really go with the accent color of my kitchen, and they are a super study and affordable option. They come in sets of 2, so that’s what I have. I’ve found I can actually fit 4 underneath the new island, but I’m going to wait awhile and see if I actually need the extra ones. I have a dining room/table for larger groups of dinner guests, so I think having just 2 stools will suit me just fine.  Do you have an island? What are the pros and cons of yours?


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