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A floor plan showing the dimensions you need to fit a kitchen island.

Ask an Architect, Custom Residential, Interior Design

Do I Have Space for a Kitchen Island? (And Other Kitchen Island Questions)

Contrary to what you might read elsewhere, you can actually fit a kitchen island into a tighter space — you just have to design for it. Here are the details to keep in mind, as well as questions you’ll need to answer whether or not you have a small space to work with.

August 1, 2019

Rules of Thumb for Kitchen Islands

Everyone loves a kitchen island. It is one of the most common requests when we design a kitchen, as people love to gather around a communal space. It works great for preparing food, serving food, and anchoring a room. An island is a big chunk of square footage, though, and if you’re planning one, here are some rules of thumb that will be helpful.

You’ll note that some of these dimensions are going to be far more conservative (read: smaller) than what you’ll find recommended elsewhere. We do a lot of homes in Seattle where the floor plans can be tight on smaller city lots, so we’ve learned a little about what you can get away with when space is tight. So, think of the smaller range of dimensions as being dimensions you can live with but that are going to be super cozy, while the larger number in any range is going to be far more comfortable. Often times, I’ll hear from clients that they want an island but only have 3’ of space between counters, not the commonly recommended 4’. Don’t worry! I actually have a little less than 3’ between my stove and my island and it works perfectly fine for my life because of how we live and cook. If I had listened to all the wisdom out there, I wouldn’t have a kitchen island. So, here’s some “real talk” advice.

How Much Space Do You Need Between Your Counters and the Island?

At a minimum, you want 3’ and ideally you want 4’ or more. If there are truly two workspaces back to back, then I like 4’-6”. With some exceptions, like my own house, I squeezed down the clearance to 2’-9” and it can be just fine, but you really need to verify you’re ok with it first.

How Big Should a Kitchen Island Be?

This is all relative. In super small kitchens, I really like a flexible work surface that can help with prep. This can be something as small as 2’ square, and there are a million affordable ones online if you can’t swing something custom.

If you’re going with a full custom island, though, I like to advocate for something at least 3’ wide and 4’ long. It seems to be the minimum dimensions that make an island feel like an island and not a cart. You’ll want storage on one side and then seating for stools on the other (and depending on the height of the island you’ll want 12” to 15” of knee space). If you’re going with stock cabinet boxes, that probably means a few inches longer than 3’ to accommodate all that needs to go on down there.

A floor plan showing the dimensions you need to fit a kitchen island.
Minimum Dimensions for a Kitchen Island

You can get away with smaller distances between a kitchen island and your other counters than you sometimes see recommended. Depending on how you use your kitchen, a designer can even help you fit an island into even less space.

In terms of length, you can go pretty long, but after about 12’long, things tend to get into the super crazy realm. A 4’ x 8’ island is pretty ideal, as you get plenty of work surface which you can actually reach (beyond 4’ that gets challenging) and 8’ gives you enough space to work.

Should the Cooktop or Sink Go on the Kitchen Island?

The sink is up to you. It isn’t my personal favorite, but I get why people want it there. Just be cool with having dirty dishes in view. Cooktops can also work, but you’ll want to factor in the hood location. If you’re not a big cook then “island drafts” can work OK, but they’re really not meant for serious cooking. Personally, I prefer keeping the island top completely clear.

What About a Prep Sink on the Island?

Know yourself. Some people love them and swear by them, and others would prefer the counter space. There’s nothing inherently wrong with having one, but I recommend thinking about whether you really want to use it or just want the look of one. Go with what you’ll use.

What else should I think about with an island?

There are certainly more questions you’ll need to answer when designing a kitchen island. Here are a few more to keep in mind.

  • What sort of storage do you want?
  • Where will the electrical outlets go?
  • Does the trash, food waste, or recycling go in the island in a pull-out cabinet?
  • Does the island have the same finish as the adjacent cabinets, or some other finish? What about the countertops?

The answers to all of these questions are personal and really suited to how you live. A good design professional can help find the best answer for your space and your life. The truth in most situations, though, is that having an island is an incredibly efficient way to get a kitchen that performs better. With some careful insight, you can get one in a well-designed kitchen that works just right for your family.

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