By Jane Dagmi for Home Sweet Solutions

 futuristic island image via Home Sweet SolutionsThe kitchen was once strictly reserved for cooking and other chores. Technology, however, gradually took the drudgery out of the kitchen, transforming the space into a welcoming multipurpose room open to all family and friends. Daily life unfolds here and can revolve around a versatile kitchen island.

The kitchen island is a social hub, an additional work surface and a storage facility. When designing a multi-functional kitchen island, consider fit, form, and function. Assess your wants, needs and budget, and exercise your personal style.  How to design a kitchen island may be found with the answers to these three questions:

Question No. 1: How will you use a kitchen island?

Your kitchen’s central station can be as simple as a farm table and a couple of chairs used for eat-in dinners, homework and craft projects, or as elaborate as you can conceive and afford. Typical kitchen island functions include food prep, cooking and baking, eating and entertaining, storage, work and play. As you determine what will work for your lifestyle, the island will take shape. Keep in mind the following functions a kitchen island can fulfill when designing your own:

  • The kitchen island can be a breeding ground for clutter. Easy, accessible storage is one way to avoid a pileup of food, mail and other family belongings. Options include:
    • Drawers and cupboards are good for storing cookware or hiding all those little items such as plastic containers, assorted utensils and paperwork.
    • Open storage such as below-counter shelves or overhead racks should be reserved for larger objects such as mixing bowls or baskets, cookbooks, or even a wine collection.
    • Odd-shaped areas can be useful. For example, a tall, skinny compartment is prime for organizing baking and serving trays.
  • A built-in microwave can free up counter space elsewhere in the kitchen or be useful if a family member is in a wheelchair. Other appliances to consider incorporating into your kitchen island include a range or cooktop, dishwasher or dishwasher drawers, refrigerator drawers, a wall oven or warming drawer, or a wine refrigerator. (To read more about kitchen appliance, see our category Appliances.)
  • Entertaining may warrant an extra prep sink, disposal system or a dishwasher in your kitchen island.
  • If you have kids or entertain a lot, a breakfast bar provides extra space to dine or hang out. Note: When combining a dining section with a food prep area such as a range or cooktop, allocate more surface area to create a safe distance from the seating, or consider a dual-height kitchen island, where the dining area is higher or lower than the working area.
  • Outfit the kitchen island with multiple electrical outlets for convenience and safety, as extension cords in a busy kitchen can be hazardous.

Question No. 2: What size and shape are best for a kitchen island?

The size and shape of a kitchen island depend on the square footage and layout of the existing room. Traffic should flow freely around it, and appliance doors should open fully. Kitchen islands are typically rectangular or square, but don’t be afraid of trying a different shape such as an oval or arc, or creating a perpendicular shape to suit the proportions of the room.

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Make a life-sized template of your desired shape of kitchen island out of paper or cardboard, tape it down on the floor, and live with it for a day or two. As you continue to plan, keep these standard measurements in mind:

  • Walkway between island and existing cabinetry: 36 to 42 inches
  • Counter height: 36 inches
  • Breakfast bar height: 40 to 42 inches

Question No. 3: Should the kitchen island match the existing kitchen decor?

The kitchen island is the centerpiece of the kitchen, so it should stand out. The work surface, base cabinetry and hardware of the island don’t have to match the existing materials, but they should coordinate. Since the kitchen island is a self-contained furnishing, take the opportunity to splurge on upgraded materials if your budget allows, introduce a bold accent color and try something new.

As you page through magazines and websites for ideas, consider the following options for designing a multi-functional kitchen island:

  • A stainless steel or cement surface on the island can put an industrial spin on a traditional kitchen. Or consider butcher block if you cook a lot, or a marble surface set at a lower height if you are a frequent baker.
  • Colorful painted base cabinetry adds pop in a neutral or white kitchen. Beadboard adds textural interest if the rest of the cabinetry is flat. Or to visually open up the space, the island can be set atop legs with open shelving. (To read more about Cabinetry – see our feature: How to Select Kitchen Cabinets.)
  • A patterned fabric can be a joyful design element on a built-in bench or stool seats.
  • Changing all hardware throughout the kitchen to match the island is an affordable way to update the entire space.
  • A hanging light fixture or a row of pendants or recessed lights work well over a kitchen island. Aim for a diffused, even glow rather than pinpointed spots, which can cause harsh shadow and glare.

The ideas for designing a multi-functional kitchen island are endless, so when planning yours, give plenty of thought to your needs, lifestyle and decor to come up with a design that works best for your space.


Jane Dagmi is a lifestyle journalist and stylist who has worked on the editorial staff of Country Living and contributed decorating stories to Victoria, Real Simple, and Southern Living magazines. She produced a series called “Real People, Real Kitchens” for ShelterPop.com and can be found hanging out in the kitchen at most dinner parties.

Notes from the hosts: For more on Kitchen Design and Kitchen Remodeling, stay right here @ BuildingMoxie.com. ~jb