“Our kitchen is so awkward, how will we ever fit an island? I can’t imagine living without one!”
My dear client recently bought a new home in an old part of town. They were so excited about this great old house with its many beautiful features and lovely garden.
But the kitchen is not very wide, and even with opening it up to the one side, still won’t fit a standard size island.
Did we make a mistake buying the house?
Oh my gosh, I can understand her concern. We had to deal with a very similar situation in our own awkward kitchen when we just moved into our house a few years back.
A squarish kitchen with too little counter space. And too much walking back and forth between fridge and sink to rinse veggies.
Too small for an island, too big for efficiency.
Here’s how we had to move around the kitchen to get things done. A bit of a mess!
I told our wonderful contractor we needed an island. Too small, he said, you’ll bump your rear every time you open the oven.
It’s true, with only 6 feet open space between cooking area on the one side and peninsula on the other, there’s too little space for the typical island you see on Pinterest.
But what the heck, 6 feet is 6 feet, and everybody who uses their kitchen regularly will know…
YOU ABSOLUTELY NEED AN ISLAND
– It’s the perfect landing spot. Being in the center of the kitchen, an island is accessible from all sides. In one shot you take everything you need from the fridge, and just plonk it down on your island, ready for prepping.
– It allows you to face your people. Have you noticed how everyone always end up in the kitchen? Well, with an island you turn your back to the wall, and join the party! It’s a handy workhorse exactly where you need it!
– It provides additional storage within reach. Drawers and cabinets for the things you use all the time – cutting boards, measuring tools, mixing bowls, pull-out garbage.
– Your island is a fantastic place for a prep sink. Simply take things from the fridge, rinse, chop, turn, cook. Add a compost drawer right there, and you are pretty much close to heaven.
…you have a galley kitchen.
Just have to show you this galley kitchen. Isn’t it adorable? The flat paneled wooden doors, and natural textured accents add warmth to the sleek countertops and white walls. If you are curious to see what it looked like before, see the transformation here.
Back to islands. When should you NOT add an island?
When it’s too big, and /or directly in the pathway of the fridge, sink and cooking areas. In other words, when it’s obstructing the work triangle, not supporting it.
HOWEVER when the sink, fridge, and stovetop are in an L shape, or shallow U, an island becomes a healthy half-way station to make tasks easier.
A SMALL ISLAND ON CASTORS?
Exactly! Back to our square kitchen that’s too small for a standard island – here’ what we did:
At 18″ x 30″, our little mobile island has a cabinet for a large recycling bin, and a drawer with compost bin. It works like a horse. Here we land things from the fridge and the pantry, chop veggies, place heavy grocery bags, and make simple sandwiches. This small add-on became the most used and versatile counter in the kitchen.
And when we need more space, I just push it aside with my rear! 🙂
Almost like this little island that adds so much character to this tasteful kitchen by Terracotta Design Built.
I just have to highlight one particular feature of our island that radically simplified prep work and cleaning in our kitchen. It changed our lives.
A COMPOST DRAWER!
Chop, open, slide into the drawer, done. Once you have one, you can never go without it. (Source)
Here is a similar idea in another shape, great for a kitchen with an awkward layout. Simply pull an additional work surface closer to where you need it, and slide it back right under the counter and out of the way when you’re done. (Source)
This beautiful, narrow island is not on castors, but obviously custom designed for a narrow kitchen. It’s so tastefully done with the sleek veneer detail that doubles to support the overhang. (Source)
HOWEVER, IF YOU HAVE MORE SPACE…
For a nice, big, fat island, here is an example of layout that works well to keep the main work traffic nicely huddled together on one side of the kitchen, and the social areas for gathering on the other side.
A second sink in the island is so useful for rinsing veggies, and to keep the work area smooth and efficient.
Here, the island serves as landing, washing, and prepping area. How lovely to face your guest or kids on the other side of the island while you chop the salad, or mix a Martini?
BUT HOW MUCH SPACE DO I REALY NEED?
Ah, let’s get into it. I’ll try to keep it simple, BUT NOTE – these are general guidelines only. Please ALWAYS CHECK your local regulations.
There are a few minimum measurements for comfort and safety to remember.
FIRST, THE ISLAND
Within reason, your island can be almost any size. However, in my opinion an island that’s too wide and deep is not be very comfortable to wipe clean. And one that’s too narrow may not be very stable.
– KNEE SPACE – If you have seating at counter height, you need at least 15″ (40 cm) overhang for knee space
– ISLAND DEPTH – Standard cabinet depth is 24″ (60 cm). That adds to a comfortable island depth of about 39″ (1m)
– DEEPER ISLAND – Some island are deeper with an additional shallow cabinet of 12″ (30cm) on the seating side
– LANDING SPACE – If you have a prep sink on the one side, bear in mind that you want at least 15″ (40cm) landing space between sink and edge
NOW FOR THE AISLES
– WORK AISLE – A good size for a standard work aisle where one person cooks is 42″ (110cm)
– WORK AISLE FOR TWO COOKS – Comfortable for two cooks are 48″ (120cm)
– WALKWAY – A simple walkway between island and wall needs about 36″ (90cm)
– WALKWAY WITH SEATING – When the seated side of your island is facing a wall, allow 44″ (112cm) between counter and wall to walk past.
Enough of numbers. Let’s look at more fun stuff!
This narrow island with built-up countertop feels light and modern in this older house. It holds the dishwasher, and an integrated cutting board. So fresh! (Source)
If you prefer always to face the party, add the cooktop in the island. This very handsome kitchen has both prep sink and range in the island. It feels open and light with the large patio doors to the side. (Source)
This is another view of the kitchen in the feature image. This kitchen has high ceilings, but is not wide enough for a standard depth island, so the designer combined narrower cabinets and seating on one side to maximize storage and social interaction. Just look at those fun pendant lights that add a twist to all the clean lines. (Source)
Oh, I had so much fun with this article, and I hope you are inspired to venture a little further and look beyond the thousands of standard kitchen islands out there.
If you are stuck with your own design, or have a question about your kitchen layout, ask me a question here. I love the challenge of a good design dilemma!
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