How to plan a kitchen island

Kitchens are usually the heart of our homes, providing a place to cook, eat, socialise and even work. So, it’s no wonder that kitchen islands have grown in popularity since the 1980s when open-plan living became fashionable, along with a demand for multi-functional space.

Islands often feature in a kitchen redesign as they are a perfect way to create extra work space, provide additional seating, a statement feature, a central hub – or all of these things!

A kitchen island can work in small or large kitchens – it’s all down to proportions and practicality. While they are built-in to many modern kitchens, you can buy an island from online retailers and kitchen designers.

In this article, we’ll give you some kitchen island ideas, and showcase some beautiful examples to inspire you.

This kitchen island by bespoke design firm Jack Trench of London is the JT Slab model, which features a `floating’ worktop incorporating a breakfast bar. 

What do you want from your kitchen island?

Before deciding on a kitchen island, think carefully about the role you want it to play, as this will influence the model you choose. If your kitchen doesn’t have enough space, you may want room for an appliance or sink or just extra work space for food prep.  

You may want it to be a stylish centrepiece, offering a multifunctional cooking space. Or, additional storage may be your priority, as an island design can provide cupboards, shelves, and drawers.

A kitchen island can also be used to clearly separate the working side of a kitchen from the social area: this allows the cook to be in a sociable position when entertaining while keeping guests out of the kitchen space.

Kitchen island seating

Another main reason for installing a kitchen island is to create more seating, as they can be designed with an overhang or drop-leaf, providing space for people to sit under.

The standard height for an island is 36 inches, but you may want to go a little higher if you are including a seating area, and an overhang of 15.75 inches is advisable to give a comfortable amount of leg room.

Likewise, if you’re thinking about bar stools, it’s important to get the height of the island right to give enough leg room and allow the stools to be pushed underneath when they’re not in use.

The right proportions for your kitchen design

Getting the right size island is vital to ensure a successful kitchen layout. There need to be 48 inches of space between the kitchen cabinets and the island to allow easy access around it.

If your island unit is too big, it will be awkward to walk around. Beware of overwhelming your kitchen or positioning an island in a tricky space; the design is crucial as the whole kitchen revolves around it.

Kitchen island functionality

Smart storage solutions to create extra space include:

  • Drawers
  • Open shelves
  • Closed cabinets
  • Wine coolers

Worktop options

Hardworking and stylish choices include:

  • Granite
  • Quartz
  • Butcher’s chopping blocks
  • Timber elements
This S-shaped kitchen island by Broadway Kitchens has a high-gloss finish and incorporates two sinks and seating space for four people.

Kitchen island style options

An island offers the opportunity to introduce a new colour, shape, or material into your kitchen and there’s an almost endless choice to consider. Using ribbed or fluted cladding is currently fashionable, while for a traditional look, tongue-and-groove panelling creates a farmhouse kitchen feel, and the Shaker style is ever-popular. Here are some kitchen island design ideas to think about:

  • Whether the informality of a breakfast bar appeals to you, or you envisage a more formal seating arrangement, think about a contrasting countertop material to differentiate it from the food preparation area. Variations in height will also delineate areas for different functions.
  • A kitchen island can be circular, square, oblong, freestanding, or on castors to be portable and add versatility.
  • A preparation sink can make a kitchen function smoothly.
  • Fluid shapes add movement and interest, for example, a waterfall edge that takes the surface material down to ground level creates a seamless effect. Using a wraparound material such as marble creates a sense of luxury.
  • Add mixed materials for interest, such as a timber chopping block or slabs of quartz or stone.
  • Adding open shelving is a great way to display objects, and a bookshelf at one end of an island can work well.
  • A curved breakfast bar can often be added to one side of an island.
  • L-shaped breakfast bars are a good way to increase space.
  • A luxurious option could be to have a double island: one for food preparation and one providing seating.
  • Don’t forget to think about your flooring and how it will work with an island.


Statement lighting will show off your kitchen island to the best effect. If you have different areas for food preparation and entertaining, you may need to create the right lighting for each. It’s great to be able to dim bright lights to low, and often unobtrusive spotlights can be built in, with focal point lighting over the island.

Pendant lights suspended from a high ceiling can create an impact providing that they are hung at the right height, and remember that odd numbers are more pleasing aesthetically. Wall lights give a softer ambient light which can help create a relaxing atmosphere and can usefully be combined with ceiling lights.

Plumbing and wiring

Some kitchen islands are portable, but if yours is to be a permanent fixture, you may want it to have plumbing for a sink and wiring for an oven or other electrical appliances.

Here are 6 great kitchen islands to fire your imagination!

The Hartford kitchen by bespoke kitchen designer Tom Howley updates the classic Shaker style. This large island is shown in an industrial-style setting, and it has lots of countertop space made from Silestone Yukon providing a sociable drinks or breakfast area. Detailed features include beading around the painted doors and drawers.

This stunning U-shaped island from Life Kitchens uses its breakfast bar to separate the room’s living and dining areas. The LUXE model features a host of understated details, from sleek, handle-less cupboards, to splashes of gold, rustic and contrasting textures to create a warm, modern living space. The raised outer countertop space allows room for bar stools to be pulled up underneath.

Howdens has a range of kitchen island ideas to cater to both the smaller kitchen and open-plan designs. This slim island unit has shallow-depth cupboards providing extra storage space in a small kitchen, along with a seating area.

This kitchen island by Blakes London spectacularly demonstrates how to create zones in a kitchen, by acting as a beautiful divide between the room’s working and social areas. A statement kitchen island like this can instantly add character and provide a focal point.

Neptune’s kitchen islands can be freestanding or fitted with integrated sinks or hobs. This model from their Charlcote range works as a striking contrast, taking centre stage in the kitchen. The open shelf is a great place to keep large items and maximise storage opportunities. It’s a modular construction so it can be flexible to suit a smaller kitchen, and it can also incorporate seating.

Wayfair’s Mitzi kitchen island is made from solid and engineered wood. It’s a classic design, providing food preparation space, storage space, and closed drawers. It also has an expandable work surface on the back.

Are you a fan of kitchen islands?

Perhaps you have a top tip about choosing a great kitchen island?

Let us know in the comment box below.

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