What is a Kitchen Island? A Comprehensive Guide

19th January 2023

Dreaming of island living? We don’t blame you! Whether it’s to transform a tired kitchen into something timeless, create the ideal entertaining place, or maximise storage space, the highly coveted kitchen island can do it all.

A kitchen island is a freestanding cabinet or countertop that is accessible from all sides. It provides additional workspace and storage space in the centre of your kitchen, where preparation, cooking, and cleaning can all take place. A kitchen island can be mobile or stationary, and its size can range from a small work surface to a large unit that can almost function as its own kitchen.

Here, we will walk you through everything else you need to know about kitchen islands and how to make the most of yours.

How have kitchen islands evolved?

Kitchen islands have come a long way from their modest origins as wooden farm tables — the oldest iteration of what would eventually become the design phenomenon we know and love today — which provided extra room for cooks and servants to prepare meals and later serve as casual eating spaces for the family. 

Then, in the early 20th century, famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright constructed the first “open plan” home concept, in which the kitchen, living room, and dining area all flowed into one another. As the purpose of kitchens began to extend beyond mere practicality, central countertops became a common design element at which to cook while remaining in the centre of the action.

Fast forward to the 1980s, and cooking had transformed from a necessity to a pleasurable pastime, meaning kitchen islands became more widespread. Today, the kitchen is more than ever considered the heart of the home, and the kitchen island has therefore become a must-have for many families.

What are the benefits of a kitchen island?

  1. Aesthetic impact
    Kitchen islands, when thoughtfully conceived and executed, have the potential to significantly improve the look and feel of the kitchen as a whole, providing the “wow factor” and even turning it into the focal point of the home. This is particularly true when the cabinets are paired with a high-end countertop material like contemporary marble, sleek laminate or traditional solid oak to evoke the aesthetic of the very first kitchen islands.
  2. Storage galore
    You can never have enough storage space. Whether you have a large or small kitchen, you can be sure that every available inch will be filled with something. Therefore, if you’re short on storage space, an island might be the answer. The modern kitchen island can be modified to include any storage options you want, whether it’s extra cupboards, a series of deep drawers, a row of sleek shelving, cubby holes to store cooking utensils or wine bottles, or any combination of these.
  3. Impressive entertaining
    The island is a wonderful option for those who love to host. When placed in the middle of the room, the island provides a valuable opportunity to cook, entertain and socialise without having to leave the room. It works brilliantly as a sophisticated space to mix cocktails, or as a staging area to enjoy drinks and nibbles before moving to a formal dining area. However, in theory, you could utilise any island as a dining table as long as there is ample elbow room and an overhang for diners to tuck into.

What size should a kitchen island be?

The optimal size for your kitchen island will, of course, vary greatly depending on your kitchen square footage and the function of the island. That said, the typical size of a kitchen island is 40 inches by 80 inches, or one by two metres. 

Larger islands, or even two islands serving separate functions, may be feasible in kitchens with more floor space. However, homeowners with smaller kitchens should be extra careful to provide adequate space between the island and the cabinetry (at least one metre) to avoid trouble navigating the kitchen after installation.

The same rule applies if you plan on adding seating around your kitchen island, and especially if you want to to use it as an alternative to a dining area. A good rule of thumb is to give each individual around 24 inches (60cm) of surrounding space, however more can be given if necessary. This allows for lots of breathing room and reduces the likelihood of feeling crowded.

What should you put on a kitchen island?

This is a question we get asked frequently, and the answer always boils down to a matter of personal taste and how you plan on using your island.

Keep in mind that it will be the focal point of your kitchen, and the more equipment you include, the more cluttered the island may appear — especially once you add accessories like oven mitts, scourers, soap, and washing up gloves.

Instead of multiple appliances, we recommend investing in some simple but eye-catching accessories that align with your intentions for the space, whether it’s a stylish wooden cutting board, a charming cake stand, or simply your favourite cookbooks.

Harvey Jones offers bespoke kitchen islands built for every customer’s needs. For more inspiration, take a look at our other guide on island life and some of the models in our full range of luxury kitchens.