Everything you need to know when installing a kitchen island

Thinking of adding an island or updating your existing one? We ask kitchen designers the burning questions about what’s hot and what to consider when installing one

A kitchen island is the hub of any kitchen, offering both work and entertaining space in one multi-functional area. It’s a place to chat to the kids after the rush of the school day, to prepare dinners and to socialise with friends that pop over for a cup of tea or a glass of wine. Therefore, ideas such as seating, storage and materials are important for helping to make light work of your day-to-day life. Relax, you’re on kitchen island time.

What are the current trends for kitchen islands this year?

“The past year has seen more curves coming through,” says interior designer Gemma Mills from Fluid Interiors. “Benchtops have tended towards thin or very thick,” she notes, alongside an increase in textured timbers such as Surround by Laminex and Genia Solid Timber battens, and the use of tiles as a servery back. Feature products have included steel, timber or brass for supports. “There has been an increase in the use of induction cooktops with integrated ventilation systems, removing the need for any overhead extraction,” says Gemma.

What’s the recommended height for an island?

The standard height ranges between 900-970mm, although most fall between 900-920mm, interior designer Sarah Jennings from Carlielle Kitchens advises. “This would cater for a practical work surface, as well as being a great height for bar stool seating.” However, if your kitchen island includes a built-in hob, a slightly lower height of 830-900mm might be more desirable as it’s a more ergonomic height for cooking. Other considerations such as dishwashers or benchtop thickness will also impact your overall height choice.

Should I have a sink in my island?

Kitchen island sinks that face dining and living areas are a great way to continue conversations and feel included in family life, even if you’re the one stuck doing the dishes. Sarah says that modern homes and new builds typically opt for this option, but U- or G-shaped kitchens tend to have a sink that faces out a window.

Gemma says it’s essential to consider your personality and that of others using the kitchen because a sink is often a dumping zone and can become cluttered with dishes and mess. If you decide to put a sink in your island, then “installing a larger sink or double bowls will allow a space to place these overflow dishes off the countertop”. Consider the landing and prep space around the sink
and, where practical, allow a minimum of 300mm of countertop behind your sink.

If you’re placing a sink in the island, interior designer Annika Rowson from Rowson Kitchens says, “I always place the bins, sink, dishwasher and crockery drawers there for functionality and flow.” She also recommends an “aesthetically pleasing tap” as a complementary finish to the kitchen, helping to add a level of sophistication beyond that of a purely functional space.

What should I keep in mind when it comes to island seating?

A row of bar stool seating is the most common way of arranging your kitchen island seating, often ranging between two to four stools depending on the size of your island and your household. Sarah personally enjoys an L-shaped seating arrangement to give people the option to sit across from each other. “It’s a more conversational position, rather than sitting shoulder to shoulder,” she says.

Annika recommends allowing a minimum of 600mm space between people so the seating doesn’t feel too crowded. If you want to extend your seating options, a cantilevered island helps to extend the concept of a dining table into your kitchen island, which is perfect for small spaces that may lack the physical room for a table otherwise. Providing a decent overhang is essential and should be a minimum of 400mm as this allows for an average height person to sit comfortably at bench height.

Should my kitchen island benchtop match the rest of my kitchen?

Having a kitchen island benchtop in a contrasting or complementary surface can help to distinguish the island as a focal point. “In this scenario, it’s common to have a featured natural or patterned stone on the island, with a plainer, more cost-effective surface to the back bench or scullery,” says Sarah. If you really want to make a statement, Annika recommends running the feature benchtop both horizontally and vertically along the kitchen island to create a hero piece of the kitchen.

“Keep in mind you can run the risk of having too much going on depending on the other products, flooring, walls and furnishings,” says Gemma. “It’s important to look at everything together to find the right balance.” If you’re budget conscious, using a consistent benchtop surface throughout the entire kitchen is a cost-friendly option, saving on supplier, material, and installer costs.

However, if you’re in love with an expensive stone or there’s limited stock, only using it on a kitchen island rather than your whole kitchen is a great compromise.

What about lighting?

Kitchen island lighting helps to layer additional warmth into your space, as well as being important to provide lighting for cooking and food prep, so it pays to pay attention. “Feature pendant lighting is a nice way to define an island with either a linear light, a cluster or surface-mounted spotlights in pairs,” Annika says. She recommends avoiding overhanging seating lighting as it instantly dates your kitchen back to the ’90s. Sarah says she often runs LED strip lighting where the bar stools sit below the overhang to highlight any feature panelling. “Some clients also like to run LED lighting around the kickboard for mood lighting,” she notes.

What are some brilliant ways to sneak storage into a kitchen island?

Drawers are always the most practical and best form of storage for your kitchen island, providing easy access to anything and everything. If you have a deeper island, consider adding storage from both sides of the island to reduce any wasted space. “Feature open shelving is also a great addition to an island, as well as the possibility of a bar fridge for entertaining purposes,” says Sarah.

Annika likes to design sink units with drawers, with a box around the plumbing, similar to a bathroom vanity. “This allows ample and easy access to cleaning products, dish cloths and tea towels,” she says. If you want to go the extra mile, add additional storage within your toe kick, or even use the space as a secret home for a robot vacuum to charge.

Words by: Caroline Moratti

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