Do I Have Room for a Kitchen Island?
Installing an island can enhance your kitchen in many ways and, with clever planning, even smaller kitchens can benefit
But while a well-planned layout offers much enjoyment, a poorly planned island can be frustrating. This is particularly so if there’s insufficient space for one to begin with. As part of our Kitchen Planning guide, follow these tips to help you to work out whether you have enough space to make an island work for you. And, if you don’t, discover what else you can try.
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When it comes to kitchen islands, don’t assume that if your kitchen space is small, an island won’t be possible or you can’t include the options you want.
There are many possibilities for making an island work, even where space is limited, and most kitchen companies will offer reduced-depth, bespoke-height or extra-large units tailored to suit a specific design and the space it’s intended for. For example, this vibrant blue island comes complete with wheels for flexibility.
When clients ask if they have room for an island, we designers must consider factors such as how many people live in the house and how they use the space.
First and foremost, however, we need to know the size of the room. For example, in a rectangular space that’s 5m wide by 6m long, like this one, the main run of units would be positioned along one of the walls. The depth of the units from the back wall to the front of the units will typically measure between 600mm and 700mm.
Within the design, you should leave a gap between the worktop edge on the run of units and the island’s worktop edge of at least 1000mm to form a ‘clearance zone’. This is best for enabling free and safe movement around the island and kitchen.
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A safe distance for your kitchen island also includes clearance between opposing units, so that all doors, drawers, ovens and dishwashers can be opened safely and without obstruction.
The most potentially dangerous item is the dishwasher door. These open downwards, so if you walk past, and particularly when carrying knives or hot food, you risk tripping, falling and hurting yourself or others. As such, the minimum distance you should allow between two fully extended drawers on opposing runs is 900mm.
This kitchen island combines both seating and storage. This could have been challenging, because the units on either side of the kitchen restrict the island to a maximum depth of 900mm – tricky to fit storage and seating into.
As a solution, the designer chose to make the depth of the island units in the foreground of the image 600mm – the largest depth possible to allow the 300mm knee space necessary for the under-counter seating. Together, this arrangement makes up the island’s 900mm maximum depth.
The far side of the kitchen island includes matching 600mm-deep units on one side. But rather than using the surplus 300mm space for seating, the designer has instead added 300mm-deep base units, which neatly fit the available space while providing extra storage.
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Islands can vary in size and shape, but the minimum recommended size of a fixed kitchen island is 1000mm x 1000mm, as pictured above. Although small, these dimensions still allow for a practical working island, including the option of integrated appliances.
An island of this size would require a minimal clearance zone of 800mm. This is the smallest possible distance for achieving safe and unobstructed passage. A clearance zone of this distance would be suitable for one person working in the kitchen but not, ideally, for two, as the space would feel cramped and could be hazardous.
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Fitting a kitchen island into a small space can prove extremely efficient if it’s planned from the outset as a multipurpose workstation. An example is this small island design with seating, pan drawers, an integrated wine cooler, work surface space and an induction hob.
There’s also an overhead pendant light extractor, which saves on space elsewhere in the kitchen. The layout is well considered to accommodate the owner’s needs while maximising the limited room.
The average size of a kitchen island is 1000mm x 2000mm. This would typically have a surrounding clearance zone of 1000mm. But an island’s size is usually determined by the distances around it, so it makes sense that larger rooms can allow for bigger islands.
The design of the large island in this kitchen works beautifully and makes an eye-catching statement, but something too large for the room could spoil your kitchen’s aesthetic. A good kitchen designer will help you to determine just how large you should go.
By not keeping an island’s dimensions proportionate to its surrounding space, you also risk creating a cramped environment with an impractical and inefficient workflow. Even navigating around an island can become a chore if it’s too big.
Also, in a larger space, it might seem logical to allow a wider walkway between the island and work surface opposite, but there’s a drawback to this: a clearance zone wider than 1200mm means your layout will become less comfortable to use, as the gap between island and worktop starts to feel less user-friendly.
Chefs typically prefer a galley kitchen layout for safety and ease of use and this is something you can adapt to include within an island kitchen layout, too.
The galley island layout, as seen in this kitchen, allows you to stand at the island but turn at the spin of a heel to reach the workspace behind. In a well-executed design this will allow safe and easy access to all work surfaces, cupboards and appliances during cooking.
Don’t set your island too far away, though, even if you have a big room. Beyond a clearance of 1200mm, most users would have to pivot and then step to reach the opposing worktop. This creates a disconnect between the two spaces and can make the kitchen feel laborious to use.
As well as working out if an island will fit your kitchen space, consider, too, the worktop size it will require. Some worktop materials have a maximum size limit before incurring a visible join, which you may prefer to avoid.
Also – and this may sound obvious – do check that your chosen worktop will physically fit inside your house and into the kitchen before you order it. If, for example, your kitchen can only be reached via a narrow flight of stairs or winding passageway, you might have no choice but to reduce the size of the island in order for the worktop to fit in one piece, and without the unwanted join.
If you’re set on a kitchen island but your space is just too small, there are various options.
The most dramatic is to rearrange your layout and open up the room to create more space. This might mean altering some of the internal structure, such as taking down a wall to make an open-plan setting or building an extension.
That won’t be feasible for every kitchen, though. So smaller-scale options include the use of a butcher’s block, moving island or trolley – all great alternatives where there’s no space for a standard island. Eye-catching in their own right, these small island options can be extremely functional, offering extra storage space and work surface. They’re also a much less costly option than a fixed kitchen island.
When it comes to kitchen islands, there’s a multitude of possible layouts, shapes and sizes to choose from.
You might go for a handleless style, which will take up less space than its handled equivalent, or perhaps a small island with raised breakfast bar, for extra height and work surface. Or why not choose something really different, like this dramatic curved island, which certainly makes a statement.
Finally, there’s the option of a kitchen peninsula rather than a full island. The word peninsula comes – fittingly – from the Latin for ‘almost an island’, and a kitchen peninsula shares most of the same appealing qualities as an island, but is fixed at one end. Peninsulas are a practical and functional choice for small kitchen spaces because they take up less floor space.
A peninsula also doesn’t require the same clearance as an island. For example, an average-sized island of 2400mm x 1200mm would need a clearance zone of 1000mm. A peninsula within the same space would only require that extra metre on three sides, giving you back valuable space.
Have you made an island work in a small kitchen space? Share your experiences and photos in the Comments.