What’s a modern kitchen without an island?

A kitchen island—the main work space, prep space and gathering place—needs some serious thought in terms of design. So before you embark on your kitchen remodel, or even on installing your new kitchen island, you’ll want to think about how it can function to turn your kitchen into something special.

1. Cooking and eating, eating and cooking

Most kitchen islands—except the smallest prep tables and carts—reserve one side for cooking and another for eating. When you and your contractor or your designer dream up your new island, decide first which of these functions is most important. Not much room? You’ll probably want to devote most of the island to eating. Plenty of space? You may have room for appliances, a cooktop or even a prep sink, as well as a counter-height eating area.

2. Open or closed? 

Most kitchen islands open the central space in the kitchen, so the cooks can see out into the living and eating areas. But you may want a more closed area with a pass-through, or a less conspicuous cooking area.

3. Counter height

If you do incorporate an eating area, figure out first—this is important--how high your seating will be. If you want bar height, you’ll need a 42-inch eating surface. If you want to go lower, say to table height—which accommodates standard dining chairs—you’ll need a 30-inch surface.

4. What about cooking? 

If you plan to cook on your island, you’ll need more than just a range and a stovetop—you’ll need to factor in a stove hood or an exhaust vent in your design to meet code requirements. Many island-specific cooktops have motorized or automatic vent designs that don’t require bulky overhead stove hood structures—but on the other hand, a well-designed, industrial-look stove hood can be an attractive part of a modern kitchen. You’ll need to consult with your contractor about venting—some hood and vent options require roof and attic modifications.

5. Everything but the kitchen sink

Do you want a sink in your island? If so, do you have room for a large, standard-size single or double sink—or do you want your main kitchen sink to be on a wall away from the island? What about a smaller, bar-size sink? If you decide to put sinks in your island, which will definitely make your kitchen look more contemporary, you’ll want to think about a dishwasher in the general vicinity.

6. Food prep

Where will you prepare most of your food? If it will happen on your new island, you may want a refrigerator nearby—and you’re in luck, because appliance manufacturers now make a wide selection of island-height, under-counter refrigerators. Don’t forget cutting boards.

7. Work triangle triage

Give some serious thought, in advance, to your work triangle: stove, sink, refrigerator. Most of the movement in busy kitchens happens in that geometry. Try to minimize the steps required, which will maximize the efficiency of the work you’ll need to do. Often this requires good planning and some advance choreography between the planned island and the existing, parallel kitchen counter space.

8. Take out the papers and the trash

Prep and cooking spaces create most of the kitchen’s waste stream, so plan now where to situate your garbage, trash compactor and recycling/compost bins.

9. Floor space

The working part of your kitchen island should have a minimum of 3.5’ of floor space around it. No need to make it any bigger—you’ll just create more steps for yourself.

10. Now, where do I put everything? 

The final consideration in the design of your island will always be storage space. Lots of cabinetry in your kitchen already? Use some of the island for decorative or cookbook space. Short on room for pots and pans? Maximize your under-island real estate for cabinetry, and include sliding-drawer type bins to make things easier on yourself.