Q&A / 

Kitchen Islands

DEAR TIM: Kitchen islands have been in vogue for years, but I do not have one. I believe I have the space required, but am not sure. What is the minimum size one needs for an kitchen island? Is there a maximum size? What keeps the islands from moving since they are not attached to a wall? Is it hard to install a sink in a kitchen island? Do you have an other kitchen-island tips? Margo P., Valparaiso, IN

DEAR MARGO: Kitchen islands grew in popularity as the size of mainstream kitchens started to expand in the 1970's. I can clearly remember seeing my first kitchen island in a contemporary landominium housing development. Not only was the island enormous, the kitchen felt to me like 30 or more people could fit in it with ease.

For planning and design purposes, kitchen-island sizing is a function of the amount of space you must provide around each side of the island. Different designers may tell you different dimensions, but 3 feet is always a good distance to allow between the edge of any side of the island and any other adjacent wall, cabinet or appliance.

This kitchen island has worked well for 19 years, but would have done a better job had it been 1 foot deeper. PHOTO CREDIT: Tim Carter

This kitchen island has worked well for 19 years, but would have done a better job had it been 1 foot deeper. PHOTO CREDIT: Tim Carter

The 3-foot zone around the island means that you need open floor space that measures 8 feet by 9 feet for a tiny kitchen island that measures just 2-feet deep by 3-feet long. An island this small is virtually worthless. My personal building experience leads me to believe that an island should be no smaller than 2-feet deep by 4-feet long. There is not a doubt in my mind that others feel differently.

For sake of example, I have a kitchen with an island in my own home. The island is just 2-feet deep, but it is 7-feet long. My wife and I love the length of the island, but wish it were deeper. This island fits easily lengthwise into our kitchen which happens to be 20-feet long by 17-feet wide.

You may wonder why the island couldn't be deeper when the kitchen is 17-feet wide. My kitchen sports a 4-foot-wide walkway on the other side of one set of base cabinets that has a 1-foot overhang. This means for kitchen-island-planning purposes my kitchen is effectively only 12-feet wide.

The maximum island size, in my opinion would be one that is 6-feet deep and perhaps 10-feet long. This is a massive amount of flat space, or even multi-level space, for an island. One of the things to keep in mind is how the top of the island will be cleaned. Each part of the top must be reachable by hand so spills, food and dirt can be cleaned with ease.

Some islands may not have to be attached to the floor. The weight of the cabinets, top and all of the things stored in the island cabinets may reach close to, or over, 1,000 pounds for a massive kitchen island. Smaller kitchen islands should be secured to the floor so they do not slide or tilt if someone leans or pushes against the island.

If you turn a standard kitchen island base cabinet upside down, you will discover a void space about 4-inches deep. This void space allows plenty of room so a carpenter can attach solid framing lumber to the kitchen floor. If this lumber is placed just inside the inner surfaces of the sides, front and back of the cabinet base, the cabinet will nest over the blocking. When done correctly the cabinet will not slide when pushed. To keep the cabinet from tilting over, the carpenter needs to install thin fasteners through the cabinet sides into the solid blocking.

Consider installing a second kitchen sink in your new island. You will be shocked how much this second sink gets used. Be sure to install plenty of code-approved electrical outlets in the side walls of the island. These outlets will give you greater flexibility for days when lots of cooking is happening or for parties and gatherings. Consider a different countertop material than what you currently have on the rest of your kitchen cabinets. You might be able to get a complimentary top material that allows your island to become both the physical and visual center point of your kitchen.

Bookshelves and other fancy island accent cabinets are widely available. You can also get special trim that finishes off kitchen island cabinets. Some kitchen island cabinets can be made to look like a piece of furniture. The possibilities are often endless.

Visit a special store that just sells kitchen cabinets and consider working with a certified kitchen designer. These individuals have completed extensive course work and testing to ensure they are true kitchen-design professionals. A certified kitchen designer is well aware of the best options for your situation, and they are often up to date with the latest design concepts and options offered by kitchen cabinet manufacturers.

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One Response to Kitchen Islands

  1. thank you for this article, it was well written and very informative. it helped me very much as i start to plan a new kitchen in a new space.

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