IS MY KITCHEN TOO NARROW FOR AN ISLAND? Understand the measurements and basics of kitchen islands

(Feature Image Source)

“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!

Square kitchen layout drawing without island showing prep path

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…




    – 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.

Galley kitchen remodel with wood cabinets and white countertops



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.



Exactly! Back to our square kitchen that’s too small for a standard island – here’ what we did:

Square Kitchen layout drawing with small island on castors showing work path

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.

Narrow kitchen with small island


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.


Compost drawer in kitchen island

Chop, open, slide into the drawer, done. Once you have one, you can never go without it.    (Source)


Pull-out kitchen island with cutting board on castors

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)


bainbridge island

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)


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.

Ideal kitchen layout drawing with prep sink in island measurements

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?



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.


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


– 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!

Happy planning!


interior design information






Get the measurements and basics of kitchen islands

Posted in Design, Kitchen, Remodeling and tagged , , , , , , , .


  1. Hi! I’ve been working on a kitchen design and this floorplan sketch is helping me tremendously. Do you have the full dimensions of the kitchen’s main walls?

    • Hi Alecandria

      I’m glad this is helping you, and thanks for stopping by. This kitchen measures 161″ on the range wall, and 135″ for the sink wall -corner to end of peninsula countertop. All the best with your design. Please feel free to reach out if you have any other questions.

  2. I love this article. I have a kitchen that is 13′ long & 10′ wide which leaves essentially 6′ between counter tops. I have a slightly out-of-kilter work triangle with the fridge & sink on one side & the range on the opposite side, a little closer to the sink end rather than the fridge. I have plenty of counter space (54″ between sink & fridge and 3′ & 7′ on either side of the range). I really wanted an island, but just could not squeeze a permanent one into the space. I am wondering if you custom built your mobile island or were able to purchase it or modify a purchased kitchen cart. (The link for the source no longer exists so I cannot follow it.)

    • HI Debbie, thank you for your comment, I’m glad you found this article useful. In our kitchen there is also about 72″ between our peninsula and cooking area, and we absolutely love having the mobile island there. It is the most used surface in our kitchen, and the fact that we have a compost container in the drawer is just such a bonus. Chop, scrape, close.

      When we first moved in, we found an island online in the right size – about 18″ x 30″. It was a crappy one, but held until we later had one custom made to that size. It was not cheap, but given that it’s so practical and we can’t live without it, we just bit the bullet.

      Just recently we had a complete remodel of cabinets, and of course a new island to match. This one is a little wider at 21″, and we’re still completely in love with it. I will update the blog with pictures of it.

      Castors are crucial. Sometimes we bring a chair around into the kitchen area when all four of us are sitting at the peninsula, that’s when we roll the island a little out of the way.

      To us, this little mobile island is a must, a workhorse and not negotiable. Perhaps you can find something online if you want to test it for yourself, or have one made to your specifications. Well worth it.

      Let me know how it goes!

  3. Hi, do I understand correctly, you have a 6 foot floor and you out the skinny cart on wheels in center? I too have a 6 foot free space in a galley kitchen. My sink and stove is one side, if a cart your size works, it would go in front of those 2 stations so I can turn around to it. That’s a perfect triangle there. The frig is opposite side of room and pantry opposite other side of room. Do I have enough space to do the 18” skinny wide. The length of my room is 17 feet so it’s quite long. Do you know what I can do?

    • I will say this, Maria, our narrow 18″ island in our 72″ space is a life saver. We plonk things down from the fridge on it, and return veggies after washing to chop and prep on it. It MUST be on wheels though, because sometimes we push it a little to the side for more space when operating the oven for instance.

      It may not be for everyone, but for us the value we get outweighs the little inconvenience.

      At first we were not sure how it will work, so we ordered a cheap little cart as an experiment. We loved the extra work surface so much that we eventually had a custom one made.

      Hope that helps. Let me know what you decide, and how it goes!

  4. I have a 6 foot wide galley kitchen by 18 feet long. In the photo with the skinny 18” wood island (or cart?) above, am I correct that you have 27 inches on either side of it? Can you reply back?


    • Hi Maria, thank you for your question. Yes, we have 72″ between our cooktop and peninsula. My husband and I cook a lot and felt we needed a drop zone in the middle of our kitchen, so we had that little 18″ x 30″ custom island on wheels made. It is basically a 3-drawer cupboard, finished on all sides, and on casters instead of a toe-kick. This little workhorse has become the most used surface in the kitchen. We cannot live without it.

      Yes it makes our kitchen tight, and we may even rub against one another every now and then – we don’t mind. It’s crucial that it is on wheels, because we will push it a little this way or that way as needed.

      Now this solution may not be for everyone, but for us the value of that extra work surface and storage space below makes it absolutely worth it. No question.

    • Hi Jebb, if you have your main sink in the island (that’s a 36″ cabinet), you’d want your dish washer next to it (24″), and a pull out for garbage or some other cabinet for landing space (18″) on the other side. That’s 6.5 feet.

      If it is an additional prep sink (not your main sink) you want in the island, that sink cabinet can be smaller (24″), and you still need 24″ landing space on the one side and 18″ on the other side. That’s 5.5 feet.

      Hope that helps!

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