Thinking about installing a kitchen island? It’s a practical and visually impressive feature that can add much-needed workspace and storage. A well-designed kitchen island with seating can even increase your property’s value – but does every kitchen island need to have somewhere to sit?
Kitchen islands can serve a variety of purposes, covering the five main functions of the room. These are storing, prepping, cooking, and eating food, plus washing up afterwards. However, it’s difficult for the island to fulfil all five at once. It’s best to focus on a couple of primary functions.
For example, you might want a kitchen island to provide an extra worktop, with the added benefit of more under-counter storage. Alternatively, you might want an island with a hob for cooking, or a built-in sink for washing up. It’s not always practical to have kitchen island seating in these cases.
If your island’s main purpose isn’t for dining, there may not be enough space for serving food and sitting down to eat it. However, this doesn’t mean that you can’t incorporate seating into kitchen islands for quick informal meals. It just depends on the space available and your eating habits.
We obviously have a keen interest in kitchen design at Kitchen Warehouse, so in this blog we’ve taken a look into the practicality of kitchen islands. Let’s consider whether a kitchen island with seating is right for you, which design would be suitable, and how you can make it a stylish feature.
Will people sit at a kitchen island to eat?
If there is no seating, and not enough free space on the worktop, then sitting and eating won’t be an option. However, the whole point of installing kitchen islands with seating is for people to sit down to eat there, using a section of the island countertop as a table. The most common way of doing this is to turn one side into a breakfast bar (though people can sit there at any time of day).
Some homes have separate dining rooms, but people don’t always have time for a formal meal. As busy and fast-paced as modern life can be, it’s extremely beneficial to have an eat-in kitchen. This means there’s somewhere to sit and eat where the food is actually made, which speeds things up.
Some kitchens may have dining tables inside the kitchen itself, whether it’s a full rectangular six-seater or a small café-style circle or square with just one chair either side. It makes sense to have a full-size kitchen table if the room is big enough, but why waste space with a table and chair set in a medium-sized or compact kitchen when you could have a multi-purpose kitchen island instead?
Even a small island with a worktop overhang on one side and stools to tuck underneath can make everyday life so much easier. This kind of set-up is especially great for families with young children, allowing the adults to keep an eye on the kids while they cook. The seating area isn’t just for eating, either – the kids can do their homework there or chat while the parents cook dinner.
Equally, if you have guests coming to your house for a meal, they can sit at the kitchen island with drinks and keep you company while you cook for them. Instead of dashing back and forth to the kitchen from another room and missing important conversations, you can socialise the whole time.
Is a kitchen island the best option for me?
There are many advantages to kitchen islands, from increased counter space and storage to defining the room’s aesthetic and the home’s primary gathering place. Kitchen islands with seats provide a place to eat, but also for people to gather together, entertain guests, and even work.
However, it’s important to remember that kitchen islands typically aren’t designed to replace proper dining areas. They’re often used as a place for a couple of people to grab a quick bite for breakfast or lunch or a casual tea, not somewhere to enjoy a full meal or serve a full family dinner.
If your kitchen is large enough to have an actual dining table and enough seats for everyone in your household, then it’s probably best to do so rather than incorporate kitchen island seating. This is especially true if you have limited counter space, as you’ll need every inch of the kitchen island for food prep and storage. That said, if you do have the space, you might want to have both anyway!
Is your kitchen too small for an island with seating?
The most important thing to remember is that a kitchen island with seating can’t take up too much floor space. Just because a kitchen island can fit in the middle of the room, with clearance to walk around each side, doesn’t mean there’s enough space for chairs, stools, or even benches around it.
There should be enough space between parallel units for someone to be working at a counter and another person to pass behind them safely. Of course, there must also be enough room to fully open doors and drawers on either side without blocking each other, and to access pull-out storage.
Kitchens present many potential hazards, including lots of sharp and red-hot items, plus expensive appliances. The last thing anyone wants is to trip and accidentally injure themselves or someone else because of kitchen clutter. Nor would they want to damage or break expensive equipment.
Therefore, you should never try to squeeze in island seating if you really don’t have space to spare for it. If you desperately want a casual dining area, there are other ways to do it – such as a kitchen peninsula as a breakfast bar, a breakfast nook tucked under a window, or a simple fold-out table.
How to choose the right kitchen island
Everyone’s lifestyle needs can vary, which is why kitchen islands come in so many different shapes and sizes. Not only are they versatile in style, but kitchen islands also offer endless options for a relatively limited area. Built-in cabinets, appliances, and sinks are just a few of the possibilities.
With so much happening in this part of the kitchen, it’s important to put a lot of thought into planning your kitchen island design. To help with this, you should consider these questions:
- What will you use the kitchen island for?
- Which design will suit your kitchen layout?
- How much space is available to work with?
- What size should the kitchen island be?
- Will you need to redecorate the whole kitchen?
Most kitchen islands typically have a ‘working side’ which faces the rest of the cabinets and houses cooking appliances and storage, and a ‘public side’ which is either decorative or houses the seating area. Keep this in mind when planning the functionality of your kitchen island layout.
What is the purpose of the kitchen island?
As we mentioned earlier, kitchen islands can serve any combination of the five primary kitchen functions: storage, prep, cooking, serving, and washing up. The functions you choose to prioritise will determine the island size, as the more you want to incorporate, the larger it will need to be.
Don’t forget that as much of an aesthetic feature as a kitchen island can be, it must be practical above else, serving your daily needs effectively. While they tend to have one side for cooking and/or food prep, and the other side for serving and eating, the island design is your choice.
If you’re dedicating one side to kitchen island seating, you’ll need to be smart about how you use the limited space on the other side. Will it need to house appliances, like an oven or dishwasher? Or will there be a hob or sink built into the worktop, with specialised storage underneath? If it’s a space for food preparation, will you need to store your bins under it to make waste disposal easier?
Whichever stations you decide to install in your kitchen island, you must consider how they fit into the rest of the kitchen. The ‘golden triangle’ rule suggests that the main elements – the sink, the stove, and the fridge – should form a triangle for efficiency. Does your design allow you to move between these working areas smoothly? Do you need to think more creatively about your setup?
Again, don’t overlook the practicalities when configuring your kitchen island. If you have a hob, then you’ll need to install an extractor hood above it, plus a power source for them both. Similarly, a sink or dishwasher needs plumbing, while an under-counter fridge or oven needs electricity.
Which island design suits your layout?
Once you know which functions you want your kitchen island to have, you should think about the shape that best facilitates them. Just because a standard island is positioned in the middle of the room, and usually square or rectangular, doesn’t mean you have to stick with that for your own.
It’s common to see a U-shaped kitchen with a square island in the middle of the ‘U’ – which can be square, rectangular, oval, or round. It can be difficult to fit appliances into a curved island, but it can be done if you prefer that over hard corners. If sharp angles aren’t an issue, you could create dynamic zones with a T-shaped kitchen island, with the cooking area perpendicular to the seating.
Kitchen islands don’t always have to be fixed, either. More basic versions that are mainly used for food prep and equipment storage can be made mobile using wheels. This allows you to roll the kitchen island on wheels out when you need it, then out of the way when you aren’t using it. A floating island isn’t as easy to combine with a seating area, so it might not be the best option.
Do kitchen islands always have to be freestanding?
Though the name suggests that it’s surrounded by empty space, like an actual island surrounded by water, it’s possible to create a kitchen island that’s connected to a wall or run of kitchen units.
For example, in an L-shaped kitchen, an island could sit within the ‘L’ against the opposite wall with three open sides, forming a peninsula. It could even be nestled into the opposite corner with only two open sides, though this isn’t practical if you want a sociable seating area – in this case, it would be better to have something like banquette seating to create a cosy dining corner or booth.
There are even more possibilities in an open-plan home. In a galley kitchen with two sides running parallel, you have the opportunity to utilise the open side by adding a breakfast bar with seating on the outside. In an open-plan home with a U-shaped kitchen layout, a kitchen peninsula can form a double-sided extension as one side of the ‘U’, dividing the kitchen from the main living area.
Do you have enough space for an island?
You may have big aspirations for your dream kitchen island, but do you have enough space to pull them off? There must be enough clearance between open sides of the kitchen island and parallel units or furniture for people to move safely around the kitchen. This should generally be about 1m.
It’s especially important to allow cupboards and appliance doors to open and close without causing an obstruction. Kitchen islands need to be at least 1m2 to be of any real use, meaning that there must be a minimum of 3m2 clearance between your existing kitchen runs to form safe walkways.
When seating comes into the equation, an island that tiny in a kitchen that small simply isn’t going to work, and isn’t worth the trouble. You should only add a multi-purpose island with seating in a kitchen if there is more than enough space to accommodate everything – ideally at least 4.5m2.
Don’t forget that the seating requires extra clearance, even if it can be tucked under an overhang or cut-out when nobody is using it. There must be enough room for someone to pass behind easily when the seats are pulled out and people are sitting on them. If there is a fixed bench or banquette instead, there must be at least 1m clear from the seat back rather than the edge of the island itself.
This is why it’s important to consider the specific type of seating you want, too. Both the island and the seating must be in proportion with the rest of the kitchen. Too big and it will feel cluttered and pose safety risks; too small and there will be swathes of wasted empty space. Similarly, too many seats will make the casual dining area claustrophobic, and not enough defeats the purpose.
How big should the kitchen island be?
At the minimum, a functioning kitchen island should be at least 4ft x 2ft (around 1.2m x 0.6m). If you plan to incorporate storage, think of it as being two sets of base units back to back. Standard size base units tend to be about 600mm x 600mm, so you should at least double this for an island.
Of course, kitchen cabinets can be slimmer or wider than this; some of the units we stock at Kitchen Warehouse can be as narrow as 150mm and as wide as 1200mm. No matter the width, you should avoid exceeding a depth of more than 1200mm (1.2m), as you need to be able to comfortably reach the centre of the kitchen island from each side to get the most use out of it.
When adding island seating, you also need to consider the height. You’ll want the island counter to be level with the rest of your worktops, which will be about 720mm if they’re standard units. Again, kitchen cupboards can be taller or shorter, so it does depend on your particular unit height.
However, for the dining area of the island, it needs to be at a comfortable height for someone to sit there. If the ‘table’ part is a level overhang, it may require higher bar stools rather than average-height dining chairs. It’s possible for one side to be higher than the other to create different levels.
Bear in mind that any stools or chairs will require around 30 inches (2.5 feet) of legroom to allow people to sit at the kitchen island comfortably. Whichever style of seating you prefer, take their average measurements into account when designing an island that can accommodate such seating.
Should you redecorate the rest of the kitchen?
Not necessarily, no. Redecorating a full kitchen can be an expensive endeavour, so you shouldn’t attempt it on top of paying for a new kitchen island if you’re on a limited budget. As long as the design fits in with your existing décor style and colour scheme, you won’t need to change anything.
The key is to match your counters and cabinet doors, whether they’re exactly the same, different materials in the same colourway, or the same materials in different colours or finishes. You might want to create a contrasting palette, such as monochrome black and white, or use complementary neutral tones all over the room. Whatever you decide to do, your island shouldn’t look out of place.
For example, if your kitchen features a lot of natural wood, it would make decorative sense for the island design to continue that theme. Or, in a modern white kitchen, the best thing to do would be to create some visual contrast through the kitchen island. It’s best to stick with the same finish throughout – mixing matt with gloss doesn’t always work well, depending on your kitchen lighting.
Similarly, if your island will have built-in kitchen appliances, try to adhere to the same style. A trendy colourful oven could make a plain fridge look old-fashioned, while a rustic copper sink might appear out of place in a kitchen with stainless steel everywhere else. While you don’t have to redecorate the entire kitchen to add an island, you do have to maintain a cohesive aesthetic.
Make your kitchen island the focal point of the home
We’re sure you’ve heard that kitchens are the heart of the home many times. When you have a kitchen island, it really can become a central hub where everyone can gather. Not only do you need it to be practical, but a kitchen island also needs to be aesthetically appealing to truly be the centre of attention. Here are some top tips to make your kitchen island an impressive focal point.
Experiment with colours and textures
While the simplest way for a kitchen island to blend in is to match it to your cabinets, you should try something different if you want it to stand out. For the island to be a focal point, it needs to feature a pop of contrasting colour – whether that’s in the worktop or cabinetry. If you still want it to match, you could try reversing the colours (though it’s most effective in monochrome kitchens).
Another way to keep things matching whilst drawing attention to the kitchen island is to cover the island faces with the same material as the worktop in a wrap-around effect. This offers a chance to incorporate more texture, with marble, granite, or timber effect finishes being popular choices. Don’t forget the kitchen hardware, either – handles, hinges, and taps can make a big difference.
Make it a functional hive of activity
You may want your kitchen island to be the star of the show, but too much going on in one space can have the opposite effect. It’s crucial to achieve a balance of several functions that work in harmony, rather than competing for attention and disrupting the aesthetic appeal of the island.
As we’ve discussed above, the most practical kitchen islands will incorporate 2-3 functions – such as a sink or hob, under-counter storage, and a seating area. Any more than this and it will become a mish-mash of kitchen zones, which may still look pretty but will make daily life more difficult.
The most balanced solution is to split a kitchen island into two zones, with one side for food prep and one for dining. There’s still room to maximise the functionality of both zones with upgrades like built-in power outlets for not just kitchen appliances, but also charging phones and laptops.
Be smart about stylish seating options
When choosing the right seats for your kitchen island with seating, there are a few considerations to take into account. First of all, where is the island located, and where is the best place for seats? Secondly, how many people does the seating area need to accommodate? These two factors can then inform your decision on which style of island seating is the most suitable for your set-up.
For peninsulas or worktop overhangs, tuck-under stools are often the most straightforward option. Depending on the size of the dining area, you should be able to fit 2-4 stools, or even 6. These will typically be arranged in a row along one side only, though they can be positioned evenly around 3 sides, or opposite from each other if the table area extends out from the kitchen island.
However, not everyone finds bar stools comfortable, even if they have a high chair back. If you’re looking for an alternative to kitchen island stools, another option is to have the kitchen and dining zones at different levels. This allows you to create more of a traditional height table with regular chairs. If this dramatic aesthetic change doesn’t appeal to you, how about banquette seating?
Similar to a booth in a diner, a kitchen island banquette uses the outward side of the island to transition into an upholstered bench seat with a separate table in front of it, and either single chairs or another bench opposite. If the island connects to a wall, it could even extend around the table as a continuous L-shape seat. This is the comfiest option, but it does require more space.
Opt for innovative storage solutions
Creating a kitchen island gives you a chance to make the most of the extra storage space. If it’s a food prep area with a sink or hob, clever solutions like built-in slots for chopping boards and pull-out storage can make cooking more efficient. Everything will be exactly where you need it, when you need it, but out of sight when you don’t. This also applies to pull-out bins to keep things tidy.
When your island features a seating area on the other side where family, friends, or guests can face you while you cook, it can be a good idea to install a drinks fridge in place of a cupboard – whether that’s a wine cooler or a stash of soft drinks, this can help with the social aspect.
Rather than standard kitchen cabinets under the island, another smart storage option is soft-closing handleless drawers. With drawer inserts to stay organised, this makes grabbing whatever you need quick and easy, while reducing the risk of slamming doors or catching clothes on handles.
If you have the space to allow for open shelving, this can be an attractive way of displaying kitchen knick-knacks. From ornamental ceramics to characterful cookware, open shelves around the sides of the island allow you to display your curated decorative items and add more personality to the area. You can even use them to store not only cookbooks, but also magazines and miscellaneous coffee table books for people to pick up and flip through while they relax in the seating area.
Accessorise with artistic finishing touches
Even if your kitchen island doesn’t have the capacity for open shelving to display a collection of kitchen wares, you can still add some accessories to dress it up. While you don’t want to clutter it up with trinkets, an empty island can benefit from a centrepiece like a standard dining table can.
This could be a stylish vase, luxury candles, or a pretty fruit bowl. When you have multiple small items, it’s best to gather them together into one centrepiece, whether in a classy decorative tray or arranged on a rustic butcher’s block. This can make the island and its seating area feel homely.
It’s always a winning move to include some greenery to decorate the seating area, even if it’s fake. Flowers, a leafy plant, a set of small succulents in pots, a miniature terrarium – there are so many ways to add some colour and life to the space without overwhelming it. Similarly, you can make kitchen island seating more comfortable and welcoming with patterned cushions and pillows.
Provided you don’t have a cooker hood or pendant lighting above the island, you could make the most of the vertical space above it to install a hanging rack. This can display your cooking utensils and pots and pans within easy reach, drawing the eye to the gleaming copper or stainless steel.
Highlight the island with statement lighting
Lighting is key anywhere in the kitchen, but especially so for a kitchen island. Uplighting and under-cabinet lighting throughout the existing runs probably won’t be bright enough to illuminate the island, and standard overhead lighting can be far too bright and harsh. The answer is to install dedicated kitchen island lighting above it that spotlights the worktop and dining area just right.
Many homeowners prefer to take advantage of decorative accent lighting, such as a series of trendy pendant lights that hang over the island like an art piece. Vintage bulbs, industrial caging, modern geometric – there are so many styles to choose from that influence your kitchen’s whole aesthetic.
Bear in mind that cooking requires light that’s brighter and more direct, while more diffused and ambient lighting is better for dining. Whichever light fixtures you choose for your kitchen island, it’s advisable to use odd numbers, such as three or five, to make it a visually interesting feature.
Ready to build your bespoke kitchen island?
Whatever you want the purpose of your kitchen island to be, and however you want it to look, we stock a variety of complete kitchen units here at Kitchen Warehouse. Take a look through our collections to find the style that suits your vision, from modern high gloss to traditional Shaker.
We also supply a selection of attractive kitchen sinks and mixer taps, ideal for creating a food prep counter, and soft-close drawers with J-pull handles for efficient island storage. We may not stock seats, but you’re sure to find everything else you need for the kitchen island of your dreams.
Best of all, we sell replacement kitchen doors separately. So, if you’d like to reface your kitchen to match your new island, without paying for new units, you can find the matching doors and drawer fronts on our website for affordable prices. Not only can you install a stunning kitchen island with our cabinets, but you can also achieve the look of a brand new kitchen without breaking the bank.
Are you planning a kitchen island with seating, or would you rather install one without? Either way, the Kitchen Warehouse team will be happy to help you select the perfect kitchen island units. Give us a call on 01765 640 000 or drop an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
This blog was updated on 25/04/2022.