Your guide to Kitchen Islands

If dimensions allow, kitchen islands can really transform the look and feel of any space. As well as the practical use, they can also be used to subtly divide open plan living and dining spaces or to create a ‘social hub’ for the family. Islands also offer the opportunity to create a focal point in the space and easily allow the customer to introduce contrasting materials and colours to add a personal touch of style.

If you are planning to incorporate a kitchen island as part of your project, there are a few key things to consider:

Dimensions – The size of the kitchen island and how it affects surrounding cabinetry and walkways.
Purpose – How would you like your kitchen island to function? (Preparation, cooking, seating etc)
Services – Can you introduce electrics, gas, waste etc to the island?
Worktops – The material, properties, slab size, joins and any limitations
Seating – How many seats / stools do you need? Do you want to incorporate formal dining?
Lighting – Illuminating the focal point of the kitchen is vital.

Below, we will cover everything you need to know about each key consideration. This information should help you decide whether an island is right for your space.

Kitchen island dimensions

Is your space large enough to incorporate an island?

A kitchen island should be functional and proportionate to the height, we recommend that the depth be at least 900mm. The minimum space around your island for walkways should be a minimum of 1000mm (1200mm optimum). If you plan to have a run of units (600mm deep) perpendicular to your island, then you will require at least 3600mm of space for your kitchen. Should you need a run of units on both sides of your island then your room needs to be greater than 4000mm wide as shown in the picture below.

Infographoc showing minimum space needed around a kitchen island in the UK

The length of your island will be dictated by a few factors

a) The space available
b) The function of the island
c) How many seats / stools you would like to accommodate (where applicable)
d) Limitations of the worksurface

Again, make sure you have at least 1000mm of clear space at each end. For sinks and hobs on the island, its is good practice to have at least 300mm of clear worktop space either side. For seating, a general rule of thumb is to allow for 600mm width for each seat / stool. (eg. 3 Seats = 1800mm)

Have you considered the real purpose of your island?

Your kitchen island can serve may uses, it could be the main area for food preparation or could be used as a room divider or for occasional seating. It is important to establish the function of your island very early in the design process as this will enable your designer to plan appropriately.

Here, we have listed some of the most common uses for and some useful tips and ideas for each.

Food preparation – Think about the equipment that you use regularly and plan the storage under the island to suit. Knives, chopping boards, food processors, herbs, oils, mixing bowls etc should all be kept within easy reach. Image of a food preparation island Have side mounted or pop-up countertop electrical sockets for your small appliances. You may want to consider having a wooden butchers block inset in the worktop and, if space allows and services can be brought to the island, a small prep sink for rinsing and washing foods is a good idea.

Cooking – Installing your hob on an island is a great idea. You can interact with family and friends whilst cooking a meal rather than having your back turned to them. This is also useful if there are two or more people in the household who like to cook together at meal times. There will be a significant amount of preparation equipment needed in the island as well as those things associated with cooking; utensils, pots, pans and perhaps the odd recipe book will need a “place to live”. Consider using drawers under the cooktop for easy access to heavy pans and all your utensils.
Image of island cooking storage

Entertaining – You may like the idea of having a central ‘social hub’ in your kitchen for entertaining which includes, seating drinks, snacks, crockery and glassware. Plan adequate storage under the island to accommodate what you need. Drawers are ideal for storing stacked crockery. You could plan to include a drinks / cocktail station with a fridge, wine cooler, wine racks and even somewhere for your cocktail umbrellas.

Image of a kitchen island designed by Saffron Interiors

For breakfast bar stools, allow 600mm width for each person.

Room division –

A kitchen island is a great way to divide areas within an open plan space. If you have a kitchen / living area, the island can act as a physical marker between both zones. You can create an attractive focal point at the rear of the island using feature units, lighting or perhaps something more creative like backlit glass or a stylish fretwork panel.

Image of an island as a room divider

Cleaning –

Your island may be the area in your kitchen reserved for cleaning. Housing the sink, dishwasher, bins and all of your cleaning products together; washing up and clearing away the daily rubbish and after meals is made easy by having one central workstation.  This works best in open plan kitchen / dining rooms where everything can be transferred easily from the dining table to the island before loading the dishwasher and clearing everything away.

Kitchen island services (gas, electric, water, waste)

If you are planning to install a sink, hob or other electrical goods in your island, you will need to ensure that services can be introduced.

You will have to allow for these services in any preparation done in advance of your kitchen being installed.

For sinks and dishwashers, hot and cold-water supplies and a waste outlet will need to be brought up from the floor below.

For your hob you will need a gas supply or appropriate electrical supply. Check with your designer to establish the total connected load of any electrical appliances being supplied.

If you are installing a hob on your island, you need to consider extraction. There are different solutions available which are either suspended over the island or set into the worktop (downdraft). Venting hobs are also becoming more and more popular.

Seek the advice of a professional kitchen designer who will help you choose the type that best suits your project.

Worktops for kitchen islands

Selecting the right worktop for your island can be challenging, there are many questions that you need to answer to ensure that you choose the right solution.

  • If you have a large island, will your worktop have joins?
  • How big are the worktop slabs available?
  • Do you plan on creating a book-matched waterfall edge to your island?
  • Does your island have different heights, do you want to use more than one material?
  • Which materials are stain-resistant?
  • It is important to understand the properties of the material you plan to use to ensure that it is fit for purpose.

The answers to these questions are beyond the scope of this article. Your designer can help you with the intricate detail and choosing colours. See our ultimate worktop guide to help you choose the material that is right for you and your new island.

Image of a book matched island worktop
Example of a book-matched island worktop

Seating for the island

Seating can be incorporated into an island in different ways, you could have a worktop overhang to create a conventional breakfast bar or build an integral bench into the cabinetry. The beauty of an island is in the freedom to completely customise the shape and function to suit your space and your needs.

If you would prefer to plan a formal dining area, this too can be designed as part of your island. Use different worktop materials to define the seating area from the working surface, perhaps have varying thickness in material too to create interest.

Image of a kitchen bench seating
Image of an island breakfast bar

Image of island table height seating

How are you going to light your island?

Lighting your island requires careful thought. If you are using your island for preparation or cooking then adequate task lighting should be utilised. Cool White LED ceiling lights or pendants with a temperature colour of 5,500 – 6,500k are perfect.

If your island is used predominately for seating or for room division then you may want to consider low-level, softer lighting. Illuminating the plinths or worktop profile can create a warm and inviting soft glow to subtly highlight the kitchen space when overhead lights are off or dimmed.

See our lighting guide for more information on lighting.

Image of kitchen island pendant lights


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