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How to design the perfect kitchen island

What to consider when adding a center island to your kitchen

Published: March 27, 2014 04:00 PM
Photo: Consumer Reports

Dreaming of adding an island when you remodel your kitchen? You’re not alone. According to the National Association of Home Builders, 76 percent of potential homebuyers considered a central island either desirable or essential to a kitchen. Practical and attractive, islands can provide open prep and serving space, handy appliance placement, storage, and seating—ideal for casual entertaining. And no matter what your budget is, there’s probably an option available that will fit your needs, as long as you take the time to size it right, pick the best surfacing, and choose features you’ll really use.

Function first
Before you even think about style, consider how you’ll use the island. Illinois-based kitchen designer Alan Zielenski says, “I ask my clients, are there multiple cooks in the kitchen, do you entertain, are you left- or right-handed?” Answering those questions and more will dictate what appliances will go into the island, where they will go, and the island’s size.

For example, a cleaning island will require more room than a cooking island, because a sink, dishwasher, and landing spot for plates takes up more space than a cooktop and its landing spot. An island you’ll use for entertaining should have an overhang where you can pull up stools. To make sure your island comfortably accommodates stools, follow the National Kitchen & Bath Association’s guidelines, says Vermont-based designer Wendy F. Johnson: Allow 24 inches in width for each seat. The overhang should be 18 inches deep for a 30-inch-high counter; 15 inches deep for a 36-inch-high counter; and 12 inches deep for a 42-inch high counter.

What’s on top?
Because the island is the focal point of the room, it’s a good idea to use your highest impact surfacing material there. Keep costs down by sticking with lower-priced options for the perimeter counters. “You can tie the two areas together with a mosaic on the backsplash that uses colors from both materials,” says Debe Robinson, an Alabama-based kitchen and bath designer. Consider usage, too. Does the counter need to withstand water or heat—will it surround a sink or butt up against a cooktop? If so, “you’re better off with stone, glass, or concrete, not wood,” says Johnson. Of course, you can mix and match countertop materials: Use rich mahogany for your breakfast overhang and granite next to your cooking area, for example.

How much space?
The danger of shoehorning an island into a too-small kitchen is that the aisles around it get too tight. To ensure that you have room for passages at least 36 inches wide (the minimum recommended by the NKBA), Johnson says “measure from counter edge to counter edge, not cabinet to cabinet.” A 42-inch-wide aisle is comfortable, and 48 to 51 inches allows two people to pass, she adds. If space is tight, consider a rolling island that fits against a wall when it’s not in use or opt for a peninsula.

Ways to save

  • The fewer mechanics  (cooktops, ventilation, automatic lifts) in an island, the less costly it will be.
  • Peninsulas are less expensive to build than islands because you can more easily run the plumbing, gas, and electrical lines to them.
  • Consider a freestanding kitchen island or rolling cart instead of a built-in model.
  • Design your island with open shelves rather than pull-out drawers. Shelves require fewer materials and less labor.
  • Avoid multilevel islands to save on construction costs and countertop materials.
  • Place a microwave on a shelf or choose a drawer-style microwave instead of having it built in.

To find the perfect countertop material, check our buying guide and the results of our countertop tests. Consumer Reports also tests cooktops and wall ovens, dishwashers, microwaves and other kitchen appliances.

—Adapted from Consumer Reports Kitchen Planning & Buying Guide

   

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