5 Kitchen Island Ideas

By Kealia Reynolds

Introduced in the 1950s, when open concept kitchens began to grow in popularity, the kitchen island became the heart of the kitchen—embellishing a space that was already the gathering pinnacle of the home. Not only do islands provide a beautiful focal point for the kitchen, but they also happen to be very functional, offering additional food prep space and seating.

Whether you’re undergoing a complete kitchen renovation or want a more temporary structure, there are a variety of kitchen island styles that can fit your layout, cooking needs, and budget. Here are some of our favorite traditional and non-traditional kitchen island ideas, with additional style recommendations to boost their functionality and appearance.

Types of kitchen islands

1. U-shaped

U-shaped kitchen islands work best in larger kitchens. Perfect for entertaining guests, U-shaped islands provide ample space for cooking and making drinks, all while allowing the host to mingle with company. Although this type of kitchen island is great for bigger spaces, it can reduce the natural flow of the room, making it harder to move around.

2. L-shaped

This type of kitchen island will ebb and flow with your kitchen and provide adequate storage and meal prep space. L-shaped islands are multi-use—perfect for avid cooks or families that gather in the kitchen to eat together.

Though L-shaped islands are large, they have the potential to make your kitchen design choppy. This can decrease efficiency when cooking a meal by making it harder to get to certain appliances, like your microwave or oven.

3. Galley

Galley islands are a great addition to any type of kitchen layout—their streamlined designs are especially perfect for open kitchens. Though this simple, efficient island gives you more accessibility to your kitchen appliances without hindering movement, it doesn’t provide as much space to cook and dine simultaneously, like a U-shaped kitchen island might.

4. Rolling

Perfect for apartments or tiny homes, rolling kitchen islands come in a variety of sizes and can be removed if you need the extra space. Though they’re a great option for their mobility in a small kitchen, rolling kitchen islands won’t give you as much space to entertain or eat around.

5. Furniture-style

For a unique kitchen island, consider repurposing an old dresser or bookshelf. Horizontal-oriented dressers and bookshelves work best—try to find a dresser or bookshelf that’s at least 36 inches high (this is the average countertop and kitchen island height). Note that taller dressers may be more appropriate for individuals and families who are slightly taller than the average family.

Dresser drawers and bookshelves can provide extra storage space for food items, cooking utensils, and dishware, and are perfect for displaying your collection of cookbooks, coffee mugs, and vintage dish sets. Look for these items at flea markets or discount stores for an affordable piece to stand out in your kitchen.

Since the top of dressers and bookshelves may not be as wide as a typical kitchen island, this style is best for eating meals.

If you choose a dresser or shelf, be sure to find one that’s flat, level, and sturdy. Don’t worry about the surface as you can always affix a butcher block on top or create your own custom countertop.

Kitchen island countertop materials

For additional kitchen island ideas, consider the countertop materials you’ll be using for your piece. Stainless steel, onyx, bamboo, granite, quartz, soapstone, and marble are just a few materials commonly used for kitchen island countertops.

Carrara marble countertops, while effortlessly timeless and beautiful, will fall more on the expensive side of countertop materials, whereas soapstone is one of the less expensive countertop options and is extremely heat resistant.

Other affordable kitchen island countertop materials include formica (around $80 per square foot), tile (around $10 per square foot), and granite, which can range between $50 and $250.

Keep in mind that some materials work better than others for specific food preparation. For example, stainless steel doesn’t absorb food, providing an extremely sanitary surface for handling all types of food.

Kitchen island additions

Whether your island is professionally made or built by you, there’s always an opportunity for a revamp. Make your kitchen brighter with small yet impactful touches to an existing island or add ingenious tools to make cooking easier and more organized. Here are some popular kitchen island additions.

1. An installed cooktop with an updraft or hood will maximize counter space for meal preparation, making it more efficient. Not only can you prepare your food on this type of island, but you can also cook meals. This island addition makes entertaining easier, as you can face your guests while cooking.

2. Install a sink in your kitchen island for rinsing fruits and veggies. This will create a proper workstation and reduce food preparation time.

Left Tuck your microwave in a carved-out nook of your kitchen island for a more minimalist feel

Right Install an outlet on your kitchen island to power appliances

3. Hide a clunky microwave in your kitchen island by making a custom cubby and tucking it away. This will give your kitchen a minimalist feel and make it look uncluttered.

4. A kitchen can never have too many outlets—cleverly hide one on the side of your island and use it to power your electric tea kettle or tablet for recipes.

5. Color is the easiest way to update a bland or outdated kitchen. Paint your entire island a lively color such as Canary Yellow or Persian blue to bring more spirited energy into the room.

6. Attach hooks on the side of your island to hang pot holders or kitchen utensils so they’re easily accessible.

7. Get dual use out of your kitchen island by adding bar stools to the structure—these will allow you to use your kitchen island for food prep, cooking, eating, and entertaining.

8. Lighting is one of the most important components of any room. Add a row of fun light fixtures above your island. Use minimalist track lighting, vintage pendants, hanging barn lights, or go big with one gorgeous chandelier.

Getting started with your kitchen island ideas

Kitchen islands don’t always require a renovation or a large, open space. Search through second-hand stores and local flea markets for a potential island and know that you don’t have to break the bank to update your kitchen.

If you want to truly invest in your kitchen island, hire a contractor, an electrician, and a plumber to design a workspace that satisfies your kitchen needs and maximizes your potential as a chef or host. Additionally, you’ll want to make sure that you’re getting maintenance on your kitchen appliances by finding the best home warranty for your needs. If you want to limit your monthly spending, there are plenty of cheap home warranties to choose from as well.  

Whether you’re designing your island with the help of professionals or making a custom island on your own, have fun with the process. This is your chance to be inventive and create something useful in what is arguably the most important room in your home.

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