Kitchen Islands: Worth It?

Everyone dreams of the kitchen island. Isn’t that your knee-jerk reaction when you walk into a kitchen with an island/working space? You think: THIS is what’s been missing from my life! And it does seem like a pretty sweet deal. More counter space (there’s never enough counter space). More storage space (there’s never enough storage space). More of everything! But is it really worth it?

What a dumb question, right? Wrong. Contractors – while more than happy to make their clients happy – know all too well the pros and cons of adding a kitchen island to your design dreams. It’s never fun to have to tell a client “Okay, but maybe not.” (Although, those are the contractors you want because they’re honest and realistic.) So before you get your heart dead set on a kitchen island – even before shopping for contractors – weigh these pluses and minuses:

This Is A GREAT Idea! … I think.

Let’s begin with the obvious, already mentioned, best selling point for a kitchen island: SPACE. Yes, the number one reason for the island is creating more space, be it for working on the countertops, storing underneath, or a few more chairs for eating and socializing. There’s just nothing wrong with having more space.

Until there is. It’s recommended for kitchen islands to have a 42” clearance on all sides of the island so as not to crowd any walkways. The point is to make more space, but you’re also taking up more space in the process. On average, you would need at least 13’ from wall to wall on all sides for a kitchen island to be functional and fit well within the space. If you can accommodate those dimensions, then let’s proceed.

DEFINING SPACE is the other major pro to a kitchen island, especially if you’re opting for an open floor plan. Open floor plans are wonderful for the hostess with the mostess. But while an open floor plans are so … well, open it can very easily become one amorphous blob of a room. “Where am I?! The Kitchen?! The Dining Room?! I’m everywhere and nowhere all at once!” Okay, it’s maybe not that discombobulating. But this is where a kitchen island really soars as a design element. It facilitates an open floor plan while simultaneously clearly defining where and what the space is. Especially with a few chairs on the open side inviting guests to sit with you while you cook, it transitions seamlessly from kitchen to living while providing just enough structure separate the space.

Think Again!

Having more space is great. We can all agree. Equally important to space is the FLOW of your kitchen. Unfortunately, kitchen islands all too often DISRUPT that flow. You’ve probably noticed (especially if you’ve ever lived in an apartment) that there’s a certain, almost standard, set up of the major appliances in a kitchen. The sink, the fridge, and the stove/oven each require certain structural elements such as plumbing, gas, and electricity. They also work hand in hand during cooking, so having them in a bit of a triangle (stove and fridge on one side with the sink directly opposite them) makes literally any kitchen easy to work in. Putting an island in between those things is just throwing a wrench in the works. You could always opt to put a prep sink in the island, or the cooktop, but those also come with consequences of redirecting plumbing lines (costly) and the challenge of properly venting a stove, and the added hazard of an open flame (literally, if you use gas stove tops).

There are ways to work around this – such as an assembly line set up in an open floor plan. Your contractor will find a way to make it work, but the case-by-case variables are numerous and sometimes is simply isn’t practical.

All Is Not Lost

If you really crave the idea of more space and extra seating but you or your space can’t afford the whole island, you can still have a PENINSULA. Yes, just like the geographical landform, it juts out from a wall and provides a little extra counter and storage space, and some bar seating for family or friends. It’s merely a mini island attached to the hip. The perfect compromise for the small scale kitchen.

Don’t be afraid to ask for an island in your dream kitchen design. Weigh these factors first and this conversation will be much easier to have for all parties involved. Trust your contractor will guide you in the right direction (because they will) and you’ll come out on the other end with a kitchen you adore.