top of page


Why Kitchen Islands Continue to Be So Popular

More Than 60% of Renovated Kitchens Feature Islands (2020)

According to Houzz’s survey, kitchen islands continue to be very popular for eating (58%), entertaining (49%) and socializing (45%).  If your house has the space to add an island, there are so many features that can add storage, style, better line-of-sight, and new appliances.  Since a kitchen is one of the most complicated spaces to design in a house, you need to decide what your island’s main function will be.  Most islands have one side for cooking and the other side is devoted to eating, but what will your emphasis be? Prep work, cooking, cleaning, eating or entertaining? Or will you use it for everything, including homework and house projects? A well-planned island layout can allow a smooth workflow and provide a comfortable space for preparing and cooking food.  There are many possibilities for making an island work, even where space is limited. An island work area allows you to face guests or family members while you prep or feel connected to people in adjacent rooms if you have an open floor plan.

Hiring a kitchen designer is a must to ensure it flows well and all the cabinets fit together in the required space. The busy nature of the kitchen space requires every part to be cohesively designed. Your designer will also ensure that the kitchen has the right amount of clearance between the island and the opposing cabinets and appliances, so that all doors, drawers, ovens and dishwashers can be opened safely and without obstruction.  Careful planning is the key to achieving an efficient island that will enhance the use of your space. Most kitchen designers can also offer options with a reduced depth, a customized height or extra-large cabinets tailored to suit a specific design and the space it is intended for. 

ISLAND OPTIONS The island is planned from the outset as a multipurpose workstation. But what options do you want?  Make a list of everything you want in your kitchen island, in order of priority. You may not be able to get everything in your island but try to get at least your top five features.  For your island, you may opt to include a sink, stove top, oven, microwave, dishwasher or wine fridge. Pop-up outlets also may be warranted if you want to use small appliances like a blender or juicer.

Appliances:  First decision may be what appliances should the island have? Per the Houzz Survey, 52% of new or updated islands feature new appliances.  If you choose to include appliances or fixtures, it’s important to communicate that to your builder as early as possible to make sure the necessary electrical or plumbing work will be in place. Doing this retrospectively can prove a lot more expensive or, in some cases, impossible.  More than half of renovating homeowners (52%) include a new appliance in the island. Thirty-two percent of this group include microwaves, followed by dishwashers (31%), garbage disposals (24%) and cook tops (21%).

About 80 percent of clients put a stove top on the island so that they can face family or guests while cooking.  But although clients would love a stove top, they don’t want a range hood hanging from their ceiling. There are a couple of ways around this. The most popular solution is to use a flush-mount ceiling exhaust fan. The other option is to have a downdraft exhaust system, which is flush with the counter top when not in use but pops up at the push of a button.  Besides providing light and venting, some also act as a splatter guard, which is particularly helpful should you have people sitting behind the island.

There’s another reason that the majority of islands come with a stovetop instead of a sink, and it’s an aesthetic one. With a sink, it’s too easy to leave unsightly accessories around it — dishes, dishcloths, soap, detergent, tea towels and so on. You may not want these things spoiling the look of your new kitchen island.  However, if you prefer having a sink in your island, there are a few solutions. Some homeowners install drawers underneath the sink for easy access to washing-up paraphernalia. Not having to bend and strain to pull items out of a cabinet every time encourages them to put the things away after each use. 

An under-counter microwave drawer is a newcomer in kitchen appliances.  The average under-counter microwave drawer fits in seamlessly with the rest of your cabinets while opening up prime real estate above your stovetop or on your countertop.  The short end of a kitchen's island typically goes unused. A 24-inch microwave drawer oven is a smart use of that space, allowing for efficient food preparation.  Microwave drawers are conveniently located at hip level, allowing for much safer handling. Especially designed for families on the go, they're installed at an accessible height for children and equipped with safety locks for toddlers.

The kitchen designer will need to plan for function as well as spacing. If the main sink is in the island, that requires a dishwasher and whether it should be to the right or the left of your sink.  Also, if this is going to be your main prep area, you’ll also need trash, recycling and compost areas nearby, too. If it will be used just for casual meals, seating might be your priority.  An example is this island with seating, cubby storage, workspace and a gas cooktop. The layout was well-considered to accommodate the owner’s needs while maximizing space.

With open layouts being popular, more and more often, kitchens do not have only one work zone. If you often have more than one chef in the kitchen, it may be worth thinking of both sides of the island as equally important workstations.  Giving both sides of the island essentials like a sink, storage for task-specific tools (like peelers, graters or cutting boards) or even appliances like a microwave or dishwasher can help divide up work zones for smart functionality. Think outside the typical cabinet box. You just might realize that the back of your kitchen island can do a whole lot more than you ever expected.

Countertops:  Countertops are considered to be part of the kitchen’s bling.  There are so many options and colors.  The size of the island may limit which products to use for a continuous countertop with no seam or the size of countertop slabs available.   Rectangle and square islands are the most common with 84%, followed by L-shaped or U-shaped islands only making up 11%.  One option is to increase the island’s surface area by wrapping a corner with a contrasting material, as pictured. This extends the island outward and creates a lower seating counter.   Another option is to mix and match different materials, such as wood and quartz.  For instance, you could contrast 10 feet of quartz with a wooden breakfast bar or butcher block at one end of the island.  Another option is to be more inventive with the shape of the island, such as a circular counter for seating attached to the island.  Although some kitchens are designed with different heights, single islands are much more popular.  Waterfall edging or a seamless counter top edge which continues down the side of the cabinets to the floor is another hot feature.

For the different types of countertops materials, quartz (51%) is still the favorite even though it is also the most expensive.  Other popular materials include granite (29%), engineered stone, porcelain slab, and butcher-block countertops.  Homeowners are now looking for a more natural-looking and aesthetically pleasing surface materials.  Engineered stone is the fastest-growing counter top material through 2024.  Especially as the low-cost materials provide more popular colors. 

Cabinets:  Storage Is a top feature of most upgraded kitchen islands.  Almost all renovating homeowners who add or upgrade a kitchen island include at least some storage in it (98%), with cabinets with doors (79%) or drawers (70%) the most popular options.  39% of homeowners select a contrasting color for the island cabinets. Gray is the top choice for contrasting islands (26%), followed by blue (19%), black (11%) and medium-tone wood (11%).  13% are opting for cabinetry door styles different from the perimeter cabinetry. The most popular contrasting style is flat-panel (31%), followed by louvered (27%) and glass-front (21%).  29% of added or upgraded kitchen island countertops feature a contrasting color in relation to the perimeter counters. Among these, the top contrasting color choice is wood tone (35%), which includes medium wood (21%), light wood (9%) and dark wood (5%). White is the second-most popular contrasting island countertop color (23%), followed by gray (10%) and multicolored (10%).

Storage:  There are countless clever ways a designer can create storage on the back of an island, rather than letting that space go to waste. The cabinets on the work side can be used to hold larger and more frequently used items like pots and pans, while the back side can be used to store smaller items, often pieces used less frequently or items that aren’t used in cooking, such as glassware, art supplies or games.  Another smart option is to use door cabinets with stools either with an extra-deep island or shallower cabinets on both sides to allow space for stools to tuck in, balancing storage with seating.

Consider getting the best of both worlds by putting seating and deep cabinets next to each other.  The seating is tucked between storage cabinets at each end. This gives the counter lots of sturdy support and gives a tidier look from the side with the stools more fully tucked away.  For items that aren’t used often, this can be perfect, as they will be easy to find in the shallow cabinet the rare times they need to be accessed, rather than being lost in the back of a deep cabinet. When mixing cabinets with seating, remember that there won’t be just stools tucked up against the doors, but people too. You’ll want to be sure to consider your choice of cabinet hardware and the placement of knobs or pulls to minimize bumped knees. Small rounded knobs placed high up, or door fronts with integrated reach-in handles that don’t protrude and will prevent discomfort. Another option is to place cabinet knobs lower than normal (about halfway up the cabinet) so they rest below knee height and above kicking feet. Some islands don’t have enough depth to include two-sided storage cabinets with seating in front.

Another new option beginning to be seen are the many styles of sleek glass doors being used on lower cabinets, rather than on upper cabinets where they might be more expected.  A long stretch of glass doors like this gives an island the look of a display case, as if from a jewelry store or gallery. It’s perfectly suited to cabinets that store attractive glassware, serving dishes and so on, especially as it allows guests a peek inside, so they know exactly which cabinet to open.

If you prefer a streamlined modern look and don’t want the back of your island to become a clutter of individual drawer pulls, integrated handles are the way to go. A modern island looks almost seamless at first glance, and it’s only when you need to pull open a drawer to grab a bowl or appliance that you’ll even notice the grooves are there. Plus, they allow you to easily pull open a drawer with either one or both hands.  Drawers will be more of an investment than basic door cabinets with shelves inside, but the convenience of extending items out to you rather than bending over and digging through a cabinet pays dividends.  This is especially true when using storage behind stools. Pulling out drawers is much easier than having to crouch down to reach into the deep corner, so it’s the optimal solution here. The simplest form of storage you can have on the back of your island: open shelving.

Lighting:  Lighting above the island remains popular. A majority (92%) of renovating homeowners who add or upgrade a kitchen island install new light fixtures above it. Pendant lights are the No. 1 choice (66%) among this group, followed by recessed lights (32%), a chandelier (11%) and a fixture with a fan (3%).

Style:  An island can create a dramatic focal point in the kitchen with the use of color, design, and character.  A kitchen island also provides ample opportunity to showcase your style. Selecting the right configuration, materials, seating, and lighting for your island can go a long way toward making your kitchen look its very best.  If you like a colorful and bold design, covering the back of the island in a hand-painted graphic tile can add instant character to the kitchen.  Adding copper pendants which coordinates with the tile color provides another touch of style.

The main benefit of a kitchen island is the additional countertop space that can be used for prepping and staging meals. But a kitchen island can create much more value for your family than simply adding storage and prep space.  It provides a natural place where families can congregate and spend time together while doing homework or a place where you can sip your morning coffee, eat a casual lunch or gather in the evening with family and friends. A kitchen island is a great way to add personal and financial value to your home. Whether it’s to make your kitchen more functional or to create a welcoming place for your family to congregate, a kitchen island is one of the most rewarding home additions that you can make and adds resale value to your home. Kitchens also set the tone for the entire house and is revered as the heart of your home. Hopefully, this blog has given you many new ideas as to how you can add or remodel your kitchen island.  Let us help you create the heart of your home. 

1 comment

Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page