The kitchen is one of the hardest-working rooms in the house, and it can (and should!) be one of the most inviting. When elements work together seamlessly, you create a space that is practical, convenient, and beautiful. A kitchen island can help with both the form and the function. How do you make the most of it? 

5 Tips for Your Kitchen Island  

There’s a reason homeowners love kitchen islands — well, actually, there are several! They increase counter space (and you can never have too much counter space), offer storage for cooking essentials, add seating options, and often become a focal point for both design and socialization. 

But they can also be a cumbersome anchor around your kitchen’s neck by disrupting flow or creating a sense of constriction. You don’t want your “focal point” to be a big block in the middle of your kitchen! Here are five ways to maximize the benefits of your kitchen island while eliminating potential drawbacks. Ready, Gordon Ramsay? Let’s go. 

1.Consider Functionality

Start at the beginning: what do you want your kitchen island to do for you? The beauty of these features is that they create a “galley kitchen” concept. A galley kitchen typically has a 3- to 5-foot walkway between two parallel walls; many restaurants use this layout because everything they need is within easy reach. With a well-placed island, you have a “work side”, as well as a “social side” for your family and/or guests so you can prep, cook, and clean up without missing a beat. 

Beyond this, do you want an integrated sink in the island? A cooktop? Seating? What do you hope to accomplish with your island? Keep your end-goals in mind from the start. 

2.Think About the Size, Proportion, and Placement

To accomplish your mission — whether that’s cooking a holiday feast, entertaining friends and family, or just having a relaxing morning cup of coffee — prioritize size, proportion, and placement.  

  • Right Size Your Island Too small, and your island won’t be able to accommodate your needs from a functional use standpoint. If your island is too large for your space, then you’re going to have some traffic flow issues. As a general rule, you should have at least 1 meter around the island so you can move easily. 
  • Don’t Blow Things Out of Proportion It’s easy to get caught up in the idea of all that counter space! But don’t go too big, even if the kitchen is large. Stay within a range of about 1.4 – 2.2 meters wide. If you go beyond this, you end up creating wasted space in the center because you simply cannot reach! You have more flexibility length-wise, depending on the size of your kitchen.  
  • Remember the Kitchen Triangle The so-called “kitchen triangle rule” holds that you should place the key elements of your work — the stove/oven, the sink, and the refrigerator in a triangle so you can move from one to the other with maximum ease. Your island works best if it is part of the equation. Most often, it is placed parallel to the sink and stove for ultimate convenience.  

 3.Add Convenience with Built-In Features

Imagine the possibilities! Better yet, start living with them. You can add exceptional versatility to your island with built-in features, including: 

  • Open Shelving Adding shelves is a great way to maximize the utility of your island, as well as enhance the aesthetics. You can use these to display your cookbooks, glassware, dishes and cookware, dry goods in beautiful canisters, etc.. This gets these items off your countertops and out of your cabinets, creating more storage and a much cleaner look.
  • Cabinets Alternatively, you can opt for built-in cabinets. These are an ideal place to store your little appliances (e.g. coffee maker, blender, toaster), pots and pans, cooking supplies, and more.The choice between shelving or cabinets in your island is similar to your overall aesthetic: do you like the open, clutter-free look, or do you want some “hidden” space to stow items that you need but don’t necessarily want to display? Depending on your layout and size of your island, you can opt for a combination of cabinets and open shelving to suit your needs. 
  • Pet Feed Station If you’re a pet lover, this is going to be your favorite kitchen island feature! Instead of taking up space in other rooms or trying to find an out of the way corner, you can opt for a neat solution right here. There are different ways to approach this: a pet feeding station can be a simple “cut out” or cubby with pet food bowls or a slide-out option that is similar to a drawer. You could also install a bin for food storage right above the bowls for quick and easy feeding times. It does not take any space from your floor plan as it is fully integrated with the island’s footprint.
  • Counter Seating or a Built-In Bench and Table Pull up a chair — we mean, a stool. Seating allows you to interact with family and friends while preparing dinner (or you can take a seat while someone else cooks!). Stools can slide in and under the island so that, when they are not in use, they do not take up any space in your kitchen.Another option is to build in a bench on the “social side” of the island and place a separate table for dining. This essentially creates a cozy nook area that utilizes space efficiently and effectively.

4. Free Up Counter Space by Integrating Appliances 

Nothing says ultimate kitchen island like built-in appliances that free up space and maximize convenience for everyone from chef to guest. Some of our favorite built-in appliances for the kitchen island include: 

  • Beverage fridge This add-on makes entertaining (and relaxing) a breeze. Imagine: you have guests over. They can grab themselves a drink without getting in the way of the ones prepping, cooking, or cleaning. Or… even better: you’re tired after a long day. You plop down at the island with your takeout and pop open a refreshing beverage.
  • Microwave Install the microwave on the side of the island so it becomes part of the “work side” of the kitchen and frees up precious real estate on the counter.
  • Warming drawer This is a terrific way to keep plates warm during meal prep, and it uses far less energy than the oven while preventing food from becoming overcooked and/or dry. It’s also great for letting dough rise. We can smell the home baked bread already.
  • USB charging station Recharge after a long day. Integrated USB ports are a new “must” in our book! 

5.Let There Be Light 

The right lighting is key to both a kitchen island’s functionality and aesthetic. We recommend fixtures that have multiple settings. When you need strong task lighting for work, you have it. When you sit down for a relaxing meal, drink, or chat, you can switch over to softer light for a warm, welcoming ambience.  

Take the opportunity to highlight the elegance of your island with the right fixtures. Pendant lights work beautifully here. If you want a single light, don’t be afraid to go big. Or at least bigger. If this doesn’t appeal, you can use two pendants or a cluster of smaller pendants (either as part of a multi-light set or hung individually). Typically, they’re hung 28-34 inches above the island for optimal results. 

Recessed lighting also works well if you want a more discreet look, or if you want to complement a shiny-surfaced pendant. 

Maximize Form and Function for the Ultimate Kitchen Island 

Your island can become a beautiful, practical focal point of the kitchen. Entertaining, relaxing, gathering, working, making memories… this is what it’s all about! (Check out this HGTV gallery for inspiration, as well as G&G’s own portfolio of work.) 

If you have questions about optimizing your kitchen island and creating the space of your dreams, contact G&G Custom Homes. We have ideas — and the know-how to make your vision a reality.