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Kitchen Islands. Important things to know.

Kitchen Islands are on most homeowner’s wish list when they remodel their kitchen.

Too often, homeowners and designers create kitchen islands that hurt the overall design of their renovation.  Making those kitchen islands an asset to the renovation and not a design mistake is essential. 

Philadelphia Wellsford Kitchen island that lights up. by Main Line Kitchen Design

Two level Philadelphia Wellsford Custom island with light up countertop. Designed by Chris Rossetti.

Creating a well designed kitchen island requires several important decisions.

The most important requirement for a well-designed island is to leave adequate space around it. Designs need spacing for traffic flow, seating, and working. Recommended spacing for each are: 

  • There should be 48 inches between a working island and a sink or cooktop.  Some homeowners succeed in reducing the space to as little as 42 inches but they find they often bump into family members and feel crowded.  
  • There must be 48 inches between a kitchen island countertop with stool seating and the cabinetry or refrigerator in back of it. Any less and the refrigerator and the cabinetry won’t be able to be used normally with people seated at the island.
  • There must be 42 inches for walk through spaces between seating and a wall. Also leave 42 inches between a non-working side of an island and working countertop.
  • 36 inches is the minimum space required for non-working sides of an island without seating and a wall.

Once you mark off these distances around where you want to place the island, the remaining rectangular space shows you the largest kitchen island possible.

Turning an island 45 degrees or adding rounded countertop only reduces the overall size of the island. In the example below the island size is maximized. A kitchen island any larger would turn a good design into a lesser one.

Checklist for two level islands

Two Level Islands can be attractive. 

The best countertop height for sitting at the island is 36 inches.

Lower and slightly higher levels will not work with normal height stools. 42 inch high countertop seating is too high for children, seniors and to serve food from.

Using smaller stools around an island does not provide for more seating (despite what many architects seem to believe)

Human beings need 30 inches allotted to them when seated. 

Seating people on two sides of an island also makes conversations easier. Even though 4 seats all on one side of the island is the most common island design, 4 people rarely sit like ducks in a row. This might work feeding children, but adults want to face each other. Because of this, the adults on the ends of an island with seating all on one side, turn sideways. This takes up much more space and ends up reducing the island seating to 3 adults.

Fabuwood Kitchen Island with 3" countertop

Lots of design features are possible with kitchen islands. For example, islands can be in different cabinet or countertop colors than the rest of the kitchen. Countertop waterfalls, lighting options, appliance options . . . there are so many possibilities.

Knowing the rules about spacing, function, style and what features work well together is essential when designing an island. That’s why working with an experienced kitchen designer is so important.  Main Line Kitchen Design explains these and other considerations to our customers. Working together with our customers, we create the kitchen that transforms their home for a lifetime.

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