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