Six Stylish, Smart Alternatives To An Island For A Small Kitchen

Kitchen islands have been at the top of everyone’s must-have kitchen to-do lists for years now. But while big ol’ islands have almost become the mascot for kitchen remodels in general, they really only work in one kind of kitchen: one that’s both big and open. That said, as a proud owner of a small, closed-in kitchen in a Victorian style home, I’d like to make a case for small kitchen islands (and island-like alternatives). Adding an itty bitty island to your small kitchen will not only help update your style, but more importantly can be really useful when you’re already short on counter space.

Think Outside The Box: Islands As Added Counter Space

In a large kitchen, an island can almost double the amount of counter space you have to work with – not to mention often adding in dining surfaces as well. But while you might not be able to get quite as much mileage out of a small kitchen island, the little bit of added surface space you get will make a (proportionally) much bigger difference. Just having a centrally-located spot to put things down (and a dedicated clear counter space for just that purpose) can make a world of difference in a crowded-feeling kitchen. And the good news is, almost any counter-height table, cart, or other piece of furniture can work, whether or not it’s designed to be used as an island.

Use Your Small Kitchen Island As A Prep Station

But your added surface space need not just be a typical countertop. Many small kitchen islands marketed as such (as well as a good number of kitchen carts) are designed with built-in cutting boards, butcher boards, or even marble baker’s boards. If I’m being honest, these are a personal favorite, and what I have in my own kitchen. Why? Because it makes it simple to centralize your prep work, and as long as you’re diligent about wiping it down after you’re done, it’s a fantastic way to cut down on cutting board clutter. Just make sure that if the model you like comes on wheels, that the wheels lock well – or you’ll wind up with a surface that isn’t quite stable enough to trust with a sharp knife!

Supplement Your Small Kitchen’s Storage

Big kitchen islands are jam packed with storage – cabinets, shelves, or even appliances. But small kitchens are where you’re probably going to need that little extra bit of space the most. The good news is, small kitchen islands are designed accordingly, and have a lot of different storage options to choose from. Some come with fairly traditional cabinet-style storage, while others feature shelves, drawers, or even baskets or glassware racks (or some combination of the above). If you’re hurting for storage, think about what type would be most useful and shop accordingly. For me, it’s a small cabinet (to keep the crock pot off the counter) a shelf (for vitamins), a small drawer (for dish towels), and a series of hooks (for pot holders), but every model is a little different, so really take the time to find one that works for you.

Don’t Discount A Good, Well-Made Kitchen Cart

If you have a really tiny kitchen, you might feel like you don’t have room for even the smallest kitchen island. Depending on the layout of your space, that very well might be true. While square, L, or U-shaped kitchens can almost always benefit from an island, with a galley kitchen or other very enclosed space, even a small island might block your movement. That said, petite kitchen carts or microwave carts usually top out at about 30 inches wide and a little less in depth, which makes them surprisingly easy to move around – or, in a truly too-tight space, can be used to extend your existing counter tops at the far end of your kitchen. While this latter option won’t give you quite the same sense of style, it will give you all the other much-needed benefits of having an island, in a petite package that can actually make your space (functionally) a little bigger.

Skip The Island And Roll In A Bar Cart

In large kitchens, islands are often used as a spot for entertaining. Really high end ones might even have built-in wine refrigerators, drink coolers, or even full bar taps. Of course, this kind of equipment is out of the question for most small kitchens, but you might be surprised to know that wine racks and bar carts can make a pretty fantastic alternative to a full-sized kitchen island. Not only will they provide you that wonderful extra surface space, at roughly counter-height (if you shop smart!), but also let you turn your wine or liquor collection into a beautiful centralized display…all while keeping drinks close at hand, with an easy makeshift bartop for pouring and mixing drinks. Especially with the recent surge in the popularity of bar carts, this is a fun, functional option that will help make your space feel more on trend, too.

Add Seating To A Small Kitchen?

Last but not least, most (if not all) large kitchen islands double as counter seating – to the point that island seating is slowly replacing both kitchen and dining tables in many homes. But while seating is out of the question for most small kitchens, it’s not a total impossibility – especially if you play your cards right (and have, say, a more medium-sized kitchen). The trick? Look for small counter-height tables with a pair of stools that can be stowed entirely beneath the surface of the table, or tables that can accommodate two narrow, backless stools of your choosing. The result? Something like a breakfast table – cozy and intimate, but not so big that it crowds your kitchen, and ideally with enough surface space and built-in storage that it works well as an island addition as well as a very petite kitchen table.

Kitchen islands have become the bread-and-butter of large open kitchens and greatrooms, but it’s important not to forget that they can also bring important functionality to kitchens of any size. So if your small kitchen is feeling like it’s missing something, a small kitchen island might be just the thing to make your space work for you.