How To Make Kitchen Islands Work In A Small Kitchen

Kitchen islands are among the most desirable features in kitchen design today.  You practically can’t open a magazine or flip on HGTV without a designer or homeowner gushing about their new custom island. But if you happen to have a smaller kitchen, you’re probably feeling a little out of the loop. After all, islands aren’t for small kitchens, right? Well, it turns out, that might not be the case. Small kitchen islands can be a wonderful improvement to a storage-limited kitchen, you just need to be careful to choose the right size, shape, and placement.

Clear The Aisles

A'la Carte White Kitchen Island From Kaco
A’la Carte White Kitchen Island From Kaco

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First and foremost, any island should be a natural part of the kitchen it’s in. That means you shouldn’t expect to cram a huge luxury island into your tiny kitchen, and just because an island can fit doesn’t mean it should. For a kitchen island that you can use comfortably, you should have at least a 36″ walkway on all sides of the island, more if multiple people use the kitchen at the same time. As well, even if you technically have the space, you should always opt for a smaller island rather than a larger one that will block an important thoroughfare.

Be Aware Of Appliances

Shannon Kitchen Island In Distressed White From Kaco
Shannon Kitchen Island In Distressed White From Kaco

Not only should you account for your need to move around in your kitchen, but (just as important but much easier to forget) you should make sure you’ll be able to fully open the doors of your refrigerator, dishwasher, oven, trash compactor without bumping into your new kitchen island. And being just able to open them to the inch isn’t good enough either –  you want to be able to actually get into your appliances without being crammed against or dodging an oversized island.

Don’t Block The Triangle

Round Kitchen Island With Distressed Black Finish From Hardware Resources
Round Kitchen Island With Distressed Black Finish From Hardware Resources

The most compelling reason NOT to have a kitchen island in any size kitchen, but especially in a smaller one, is that they can be a little obtrusive if you find yourself continually having to walk around them. But this is a problem that’s easily avoided with a little care and attention. Every kitchen has what’s known as the work triangle, the three points being your refrigerator, your stove, and your sink. Figure out how you move between these three spots, and make sure whatever island you install doesn’t interfere with it. A long, thin island might technically fit in your kitchen, but if it’s right between your sink and your stove, you definitely aren’t going to be happy having it there. A round island would allow you to move more freely while still offering you a secondary prep space.

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Don’t Just Think Size

Open Back Kitchen Island From Hardware Resources
Open Back Kitchen Island From Hardware Resources {image}

Of course the main consideration in choosing a kitchen island for a smaller kitchen is its size and shape. Too big or poorly oriented and it might not even fit inside your kitchen at all. But size really shouldn’t be the only consideration – you also need to think about what kind of storage you want it to have. Open islands are nice for basket storage, shelves are great for cookbooks or wine bottles, and closed cabinets can extend your pantry storage or even offer room for more small appliances. Whatever you choose, it’s important to use the space to fill the need of whatever your kitchen happens to be lacking.

Focus On The Prep

R.S.V.P. Compact Kitchen Island With Butcher Block From Kaco
R.S.V.P. Compact Kitchen Island With Butcher Block From Kaco

When home design shows talk about kitchen islands, they’re really talking about entertaining hubs – islands with a sink and range and seating for four or more, Benihana style. But if you have a relatively small kitchen, that probably isn’t right for you. Focus on the most important thing: adding prep space. Small square or circular islands with built in butcher blocks are perfect for this, essentially adding a floating cutting board to the middle of your kitchen and allowing you more room to set down and chop up ingredients, preferably in the center of your work triangle.

What About Seating?

Table Style Kitchen Island From Hardware Resources
Table Style Kitchen Island From Hardware Resources

Now, in a small kitchen you probably won’t have enough room for a full breakfast style kitchen island with seating for your whole family. But with a little creative designing, it’s entirely possible to incorporate one or even two seats without taking up much space. For a custom kitchen island, consider incorporating a counter top that extends a few extra inches off the side of the island on one or two sides. Or, look for a pre-made island with an open base where you can store a small bar stool or two when they aren’t in use. Either way, this makes a pleasant place for breakfast for one, a place to take phone calls, jot down notes, or just sit and read while waiting to rotate baking sheets.

How big (or small) is your kitchen? Do you mostly want a kitchen island for style, or are you craving more counter or cabinet space?