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White kitchen with light oak floors featuring an island with storage and seating

Everyone wants their own private island

One of the most requested features I’m asked for is an island.  After a self cleaning kitchen.  

Let’s get the terms and geometry out of the way first.  An island is exposed on all four sides.  a peninsula is attached to another bank of cabinets or wall.  Hawaii vs Florida, geographically speaking.  Generally the depth of the perimeter cabinets is 26″ including the countertop.  A kitchen with one person working in it needs a minimum of 32″ between that countertop and an obstacle like an island.  A two person kitchen is a 36″ minimum.  If you have chairs at that island or peninsula and people may walk behind those seated it’s a 42″ minimum.  Minimum means minimum!  You may want more.  I know I do.  And if you have a standard depth refrigerator as opposed to a counterdepth one, it will stick out 8″+ farther.

So can you fit an island?  And what can fit in it?  That depends on the reason you want one.Does it make sense to get a small roll away model like this or this super cool one so you can move it in place when you need it and out of the way when you don’t.

Ok, it’ll fit. Why do you want an island?

So why do you want an island in your kitchen?  Do you need the extra countertop space for prep? Do you want an eating area?  Do you need it for storage?   Plan to work on your laptop there or have the kids doing homework while you get dinner?  Do you want to socialize, but keep people out of the work zone?  Would adding an island delineate the kitchen from another space?  Who will be using it and how?

Do you intend to have any appliances in the island?  A sink?  If you plan to have a sink wether the main sink or a prep sink you’ll have to plan for plumbing.  An appliance will require electricity.  Some states’ codes require electrical to a stationary island wether you want it or not.  And how are you getting plumbing and electricity to it?  If you have a slab that will require jack hammering the floor.  Not cheap.

More math

Ok so we’ve figured you have enough clearance for an island, but do you have the space for what you want have in it?  Here are some basic requirements.

For seating you should have a minimum of 28″ per person.  Measure that out now- I’ll wait…….  Do you think that is comfortable or do you need more?  Minimum overhang for seating is 9″.  Any deeper and under countertop warrantee  you’ll  may need support for the countertop.  The greater the overhang both depth and width the more supports you’ll need.  These can be steel brackets that are invisible unless you lie n the kitchen floor and look up, or corbels, legs, or even other cabinets.  Remember that these can eat into you sitting space.   Also note that with an overhang there is no accessibility for drawers.  Think about it.  I know of one DIYer who didn’t.  Ooops!

Do you want the island all the same height?  Do you want a taller area for eating or to hide the view from another room into the kitchen?  Imagine seeing a sink full of dirty dishes when you pop on the couch to watch a movie.  Yuck.  The top of standard cabinets with a countertop is 36″, bar height is 42″, and dinning table is the shortest at  28-30″. 

Figure the depth for base cabinets and most appliances are 24″.  Handles and oven and under cabinet fridges stick out farther.  The counter will be an additional 1 – 2″ larger on each side.  Do you want and do you have the space for back to back cabinets?  I’ll often back the main cabinets with 12″ deep cabinets.  I may use wall cabinets on plinths or reduced depth cabinets if I don’t want a four foot or deeper island. 

 If you want a sink, either main or prep, how big would it be?  Now add 3″ which is the minimum space for an undercount sink installation.  You’re going  through all this don’t get a  self rimming or drop in sink- make your cleaning up easier.  So let’s say your sink is 30″.  That’s 30″+ 3″ =33″.  That’s the minimum width of you sink base cabinet.  

Is it your main sink?  So you want the dishwasher next to it add 24″ for the average dishwasher.  Adding trash can cabinet? Add 15″, 18″ or 21″ depending on the size of trash can you want.  

Is there a range or cooktop in the island?  Check with your local code and manufacturer specifications as to clearances, but figure you want at least 9″ on either side and a buffer on the back especially if you’re having seating there.  And don’t forget the vent.  If you’re putting a down draft vent check the specs on that too.

Decorative vs functional

Now that you’ve got an idea of what you want in your cabinets it’s time to work on the aesthetics.  This is very much personal preference.  A lot of the style will come from the door profile and finish.  Remember that you don’t have to match either to the main cabinets, but you want them to complement each other.  You can have everything the same  or change out the countertop for something fancier.  (This could be a way to save money.  By having a less expensive countertop on the main cabinets and getting something you really want, but is out of your budget for the island.). I often design where the main cabinets are one color and the island is another, sometimes pairing painted and stained cabinets.  Keeping the door style the same makes it easier to have a cohesive look. 

On the back and exposed sides of the island is also an opportunity to add decorative elements.  If you have no cabinets on the back or sides you’ll have to do something with them.  Many cabinets don’t have finished sides and few have finished backs, plus you’d want to cover where cabinets meet. You can use a finished panel either flat or beadboard and some sort of baseboard molding.  You could use decorative doors.  You could use a combination of decorative doors and corbels if you have an overhang.  You could have fancy or plain legs with or without an apron around the top to add additional support and look more like a table.  You could…

Questions, questions and more questions

Does it seem like I’m asking a lot of questions and not giving many answers?  You’re right!  The questions lead to the answers.  I want you to think it all out.  Make a list of what you want and need and acknowledge the difference between the two. To know why you want what you want and how it may or may not be realistic.  That’s part of my job as a kitchen designer.  Each kitchen is unique, but must follow guidelines to remain functional.  You probably already have a dysfunctional kitchen.  I know I do!  Back to the cobbler’s kids again.

If you can, I suggest you either mark out the area on the floor with painters tape or use cardboard or something to take up the space and see how it feels.  I had a client who built a cardboard island and lived with it for several months until his wife explained some facts to him at which point he came in and ordered the cabinets.  But you know they were confident on the size and placement.

Please let me know if you have any questions or suggestions for other topics.  You can contact me here.

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