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Update Your Kitchen Island

Whether a home chef or a home flipper, adding or updating a kitchen island has advantages.

Carly Reynolds
Carly Reynolds
Modern open kitchen, vibrant blue kitchen island, black faucet, chandelier.

Islands have become a staple in kitchen designs, both big and small. Not only are they an aesthetically pleasing addition to your space, but they also bring incredible versatility and flow. Whether your home is in desperate need of a kitchen island makeover or you’re drawing up kitchen island plans from scratch, we’ll provide everything you need to know about maximizing this essential element in your kitchen design. 

Benefits of Adding a Kitchen Island 

Large kitchen island, parents and children doing homework.

Homes with kitchen islands sell faster, and for good reason. The kitchen island is a multitasking hero, as it can provide additional cooking and storage space, incorporate an additional dining area, and refresh the look of the kitchen itself. 

First and foremost, the kitchen island can extend the functionality of the kitchen by providing an additional workspace. From a butcherblock to a stone countertop, the island’s hard, easy to clean surfaces are ideal for all manner of cooking and baking projects.  

When done right, they can also enhance the flow of the space, emphasizing that ideal area ratio between food prep, cooking, and clean up. Set up a few stools on one side of a bar island to provide a snack or homework space for the family when the countertop isn’t otherwise busy with plates or mixing bowls. A kitchen island turns empty space into something functional and changes the very appearance of the room. 

Types of Kitchen Islands

Kitchen islands are more than just a utilitarian addition to your space. As with any aspect of home improvement or design, kitchen islands come in a wide variety of styles to choose from. From a simple kitchen island cart to modern waterfall island showpieces, you’re sure to find a style that both complements the look of your home and provides the functionality you need. 

Island Carts

Island carts feature the design of an island, but instead of being permanently installed, they are on lockable casters, allowing for mobility around the kitchen. Because these island carts are essentially a piece of furniture as opposed to a custom solution, they are also much more affordable than installing a custom kitchen island.  

These carts come in a variety of different designs, but they aren’t as customizable as traditional islands, which can limit your option. While island carts can provide both storage space and workspace, the mobile aspect of them means that they can’t house large appliances that require electrical or water access. They can, however, be a great space to store small appliances that you can move to your countertops when you need them, such as toasters, microwaves, and electric mixers. 

Table Islands

Modern kitchen island with stools for seating on one side

When you want the workspace a kitchen island provides but also need additional seating, a table island makes a great compromise. A table island basically modifies the design of a kitchen table and makes it a strong workspace, like an island. Instead of using cabinets as a base, it uses strong legs or a central pedestal for support so you can surround the island with chairs and have it double as a table.  

The countertops of your table island should be the same height as the existing kitchen countertops for continuity. Table islands take up less visual space because they don’t have a chunky cabinet base, and they also add a versatile dining option. Imagine preparing and serving your meal all in one place. They are relatively inexpensive to add because the primary cost is the countertop. 

Two-Tier Islands

Two-tiered kitchen islands, modern elegant designs

When you want an island to serve multiple purposes, a tiered style may be the best option. Tiered islands offer countertops at varying heights. A standard countertop height allows for an additional work area in the kitchen. A bar-height countertop with stools along one side can provide a designated casual dining space, as well.  

Where you place the tier is up to you. Many have a higher tier along the long side of an island, but some can feature a lower tier positioned at the ideal height for a dining chair. Place the tier along a single side, two sides, or even three sides of the island, according to your needs. 

Waterfall Islands

Marble waterfall kitchen island, gold and black fixtures.

Waterfall islands provide a modern twist on the standard island design. In addition to featuring marble or quartz on a countertop, that same material is extended from the countertop to the floor on at least one side, resulting in the waterfall effect. For the best results, the piece of countertop cut for the waterfall side should be part of the same slab as the top, especially if there’s a natural veining or color variation visible in the material surface. 

Is It Time to Modernize Your Existing Kitchen Island?

If your space seems dated, not as functional as it could be, or in need of a style that’s more reflective of your preferred aesthetics, a kitchen island makeover may be just what you need to make the kitchen feel fresh and modern. A kitchen island makeover can be part of a whole-kitchen makeover, or it can be done on its own to give your whole kitchen a fresh new look, as well as some valuable add-ons. 

Include the Right Appliances

Above all, kitchen island plans should be focused on making your space more functional. Before you start shopping for lower cabinets, decide which appliances you want to integrate into your kitchen island design. Think about what appliances you’re currently missing and then consider making them a part of your kitchen island plans to simplify your kitchen routine. You can find more tips and ideas on using appliances in smaller spaces with our compact appliances guide.

Sinks

Stainless steel farmhouse sink, white farmhouse sink, prep sink.

One of the most popular items to incorporate into kitchen island plans is a sink. They come in a wide range of sizes and styles, making it easy to find a sink that isn’t just functional; it’s also a beautiful addition to the look of your space, especially when you go with a farmhouse, copper, or other show-stopping design. 

Dishwashers

Dishwasher built-in to kitchen island, modern kitchen.

When you have a sink in your kitchen island plans, incorporating a dishwasher into the island design is a great next step. If you are right handed, positioning that dishwasher to the right of the sink makes the most functional choice.  

Ranges

Large kitchen island with built-in gas cooktop, vent hood over island.

Ranges and cooktops are a great addition to a kitchen island design. Including one of these cooking staples requires that you’ll still need to vent the area over the island. Fortunately, there are range hoods designed just for that. Look for downdraft range hoods and pop-up vents that are installed along the back edge of your cooktop. This can be a great solution when you’ve chosen a single or double wall oven for another part of your kitchen design. 

Beverage Refrigerators

Green kitchen island, built-in beverage fridge. Luxe kitchen, wine cooler.

Having enough refrigerator space is always a top kitchen priority. Adding a beverage cooler to your kitchen island design provides a designated space for bottled waters, sodas, sports drinks and more. A wine cooler can fit your favorite adult beverages, or stash the best snacks for the charcuterie board. By organizing all your beverages in these small refrigerators, you free up valuable space in your standard refrigerator for groceries and leftovers. 

Microwave

Undercounter microwave drawer in stainless steel finish.

Free up counter space and choose a built-in microwave to incorporate into your kitchen island plans. If you already have a built-in microwave above a range or above an oven, moving it to the island can free up valuable space for a beautiful range hood or for a double wall oven. 

Other Convenience Appliances

Integrated drawer refrigerator built-in to kitchen island.

While the major appliances are the most common things to incorporate into your kitchen island plans, the possibilities don’t stop there. Today, there are many appliances built to make your daily life more convenient. Built-in ice makers, built-in coffee makers, and drawer refrigerators are just a few of the many options available for your kitchen island.  

You likely already have a stove, oven, and refrigerator as part of your existing kitchen, but why not use the island to add a dishwasher, microwave drawer, beverage center, prep sink, or built-in ice maker? The possibilities are endless. 

Ensure Effective Kitchen Work Zones 

Dishwasher built-in to kitchen island. Woman making food on kitchen island.

As you’re planning out your space, it’s important to think about how you cook. Make sure your plans account for creating convenient kitchen work zones. For example, if you’re adding a dishwasher to your kitchen island, make sure the door has room to open freely, and the sink is within easy reach. 

If you’re installing a range or an oven, you may want to have cabinets for your pots, pans, and bakeware close. Your kitchen is your opportunity to customize your space to the way you use it. As you work on your plans, make sure to remain mindful of what additions or arrangements would provide the best functionality. 

How to Plan Your New Kitchen Island 

Contractor and homeowner going over plans for kitchen island update

When your kitchen doesn’t already have a kitchen island in place, adding one can not only enhance the resale value of your home, but it also provides added workspace, a casual dining area, the room you need for additional kitchen appliances, and more.  

Set a Budget for Your Kitchen Island

Making sure that your kitchen island plans are realistic within your budget is all about proper planning. The first step in any remodel is to establish how much you’re willing to spend and to use that number as a benchmark as you’re choosing all the components of the design. From there, you can get creative. 

 

  • Make a list of everything your dream kitchen island would contain.  
  • Prioritize that list from the most important to the least important items.  
  • Narrow the project scope down based on the must-haves that fit within the budget. 

Don’t forget to include the details alongside the bigger ticket items. This budget should allow for both the products you’ll need and any professional labor costs for installation. It’s important to plan ahead so that you don’t get into the middle of the remodel and have to change direction due to product availability or other scheduling issues. 

Determine the Size and Location

As a general rule, your island should be placed where there are three to four feet of walking space between your kitchen island and your existing kitchen cabinetry. Any less than three feet of space will limit the allowance you have for drawers, refrigerator doors, dishwasher doors, and oven doors to open properly. It also ensures you have two workspaces back-to-back and that two people can comfortably co-exist doing different kitchen tasks. 

Consider the existing layout of your kitchen and what remaining open space you have for adding an island. Try using painter’s tape on the floor to determine exactly where you’d like to place your kitchen island. Practice walking around the kitchen with that tape in place to make sure the whole room still flows properly. 

Choose a Style You Love 

Natural wood finish kitchen island. Waterfall island with marble top.

Any design project starts by finding a piece of inspiration. Look to television shows, your favorite design influencers, showrooms, and magazines to find a kitchen island style that you can use for kitchen island ideas.  

Because they are a rather small part of a much larger design, kitchen islands are a fantastic opportunity to infuse extra personality into your kitchen design. The overall look of the kitchen island should be in keeping with the aesthetic of the rest of your kitchen, but that’s not to say that it has to be an exact match.  

One of our favorite kitchen island ideas is to use a different color on your base cabinetry for your island than you do for the rest of your kitchen cabinets. You can also switch up the countertop to contrast with the rest of the countertops in your kitchen.  

If you are going to make your island look different than the rest of your kitchen cabinetry, make sure the hardware and finish of the metal fixtures match throughout the space. This unifying detail will help ensure the whole space seems expertly planned out. 

Choose Base Cabinets & Appliances

Drawer organizer. Blue cabinets with gold pulls. Green kitchen island.

The cabinets become the foundation for your kitchen island design. Choosing the right one comes down to three key factors: 

  1. Storage: Take the time to determine your storage needs and make sure you’re incorporating enough cabinetry into the design to account for those needs.  
  2. Organization: Once you choose the cabinetry, don’t forget to check on the additional organization solutions available for installation within that cabinetry, such as pull-out trash cans, tiered cabinet organizers, and cutlery inserts. 
  3. Door Style: The cabinet doors come in a range of different design styles, making it easy to find a look that complements the rest of your home design. Shaker, raised, slab, and recessed door styles are among the most popular options. 
  4. Finish: Finally, it’s time to choose a finish for your kitchen cabinets. Keep in mind the overall color scheme from your inspiration, and choose a finish that helps to complete your vision. 

Choose Countertops

Rustic wood kitchen island. Black and white marble countertop.

With the countertops in place, you’re going to need a strong work surface for the top. There are many different types of countertops to choose from. Selecting the best one for your kitchen is all about understanding the differences between each material.  

Marble and quartz provide a luxe look to your kitchen island, but the options don’t stop there. Butcher block countertops double as a convenient workspace, and concrete countertops provide a cost-effective and modern look. Tile countertops add a unique and customized look with a traditional simplicity. Play into the aesthetic that appeals most to your sense of style and accent it with the countertop types. 

Account for Structural Upgrades

Incorporating plumbing for sinks and dishwashers, electrical outlets, garbage disposals and compactors, and other elements into your kitchen island will often mean you need to call in professional tradesmen to make the updates. While you have plumbers and electricians there, think about all the small conveniences that could make the island work better for you. Including outlets provides a place to plug in electric mixers, crock pots, and other countertop appliances. You can even install outlets with USB ports to turn a cabinet drawer into a convenient charging station for all your electronic devices. 

Incorporate Kitchen Island Lighting

Chandeliers over kitchen island. Globe pendants. Pendant lighting.

Your new workspace needs proper lighting to make it look like a cohesive part of your kitchen design. For tiered islands, think about incorporating undercounter lighting for enhanced visibility in small spaces. If your entire kitchen ceiling has recessed lighting that extends above the island, that could be enough. Of course, if you want to make more of a statement, installing pendant lighting or even a more dramatic chandelier is an option, as well.  

Add the Finishing Touches 

Cottage kitchen, shelves built into kitchen island, bowls, cook books.

One of the best things about installing or remodeling a kitchen island in your home is that you have the chance to make it your own. Sometimes, the most special pieces are those you add your personal touch to. From styling the countertops to incorporating custom features in the design, don’t forget to have a little bit of fun with it.  

If you collect cookbooks, add exposed shelving to house your collection. If you love tech, add USB ports to your electrical outlets for easy charging. If you’re an avid home baker, incorporate organized storage for all your baking sheets. There really are options out there to suit every style, so have some fun with the details. 

Kitchen Island Makeovers Increase Home Value

The kitchen truly is the heart of the home. It’s where people gather to talk as they prepare meals. Whether you live alone or in a home with the largest of families, having a kitchen that’s appealing to the broadest range of home buyers will absolutely increase your home value. Having modern appliances, updated cabinetry, and flawless countertops in the kitchen will give buyers a space they can use right away without worrying about remodeling the space to suit their own needs. 

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