5 questions that stand between the very best kitchen island or total buyer's remorse

Kitchen designers explain the questions you should be asking of your island design to make sure you're happy with the final result

Kitchen island
(Image credit: Future)

The kitchen island has it all – oodles of functionality, and a one-stop destination for cooking, storage, and socializing. A sought-after staple for the busy family home, the kitchen island works as a focal point, and can be beautiful too. 

'Islands are arguably the hardest working piece of furniture in the home,' says  Ash McCullough, designer at Blakes. 'More often than not they become the central hub of the home, where families congregate to eat, perch and chat to whomever is cooking, set up a laptop to work during the day, become buffet stations when entertaining.' To help navigate you through the ins and outs of kitchen islands, we’ve come up with some handy questions that you need to ask yourself and, more importantly, asked top designers to answer them for us. 

This way, your kitchen island will be all that you want it to be, and possibly more...

1. How big should a kitchen island be?

A large kitchen island

(Image credit: Sola Kitchens)

First thing is first, think about the sizing of the space and be realistic about what space you have - this is key to getting your island shopping spot on. A kitchen island should have a minimum of 3 feet of space around it to keep walkways clear. ‘Consider what is happening in each walkway – such as placement of sinks, fridges and hobs, and space to open doors,’ says Emily Rumble from kitchen makers Tom Howley. Measure your space first beforehand, you might find it changes the style of island you go for.

So how big should a kitchen island be? The size of the island will always be influenced by the layout of your kitchen, but generally, a small kitchen island width is 35 inches by 48 inches. ‘If it’s a high-traffic area, I recommend making the island slightly smaller to make the space feel more comfortable,’ adds Emily. The overall height of the island should measure between 36 inches and 37 inches, and should match your surrounding worktops for a smart and seamless space. 

2. What about the countertop?

Terrazzo waterfall countertop

(Image credit: Simon Graham. Design: YARD Architects)

The countertop should be up to 3 inches thick, with a countertop overhang of 1 to 1 1/2 inches. Alternatively, a waterfall countertop creates a dramatic look, with vertically-extending sides that reach to the floor. Our guide to what material is best for a waterfall countertop will help you here.

As a place of heavy traffic, the surface should be scratch-resistant and easy to clean. Engineered stone surfaces have overtaken natural stone as the most desirable worktop material. ‘Quartz and porcelain surfaces are non-porous and heat-resistant, allowing you to achieve the beauty of natural materials without compromising on quality,’ says Jon Stanley of Caesarstone. ‘If you are embracing the idea of an oversized island, be aware that most natural stones come in slab sizes of up to 10' long,’ adds Ash Mccullough of Blakes London. ‘However, quartz can sometimes come in jumbo slabs of up to 10 1/2 feet.’

Countertop overhang also depends on whether you want a kitchen island with seating or not, and whether you want it to double up as a breakfast bar. If seating, such as bar stools, are required, a 12 inch overhang allows for comfort and so the stools can be tucked in when not in use. In terms of breakfast bar stool styles, keep things in unison - while mix-and-match chairs look nice around a dining table, because of the extra height, a unison look looks smarter. 

Curved kitchen island with fluted edges

(Image credit: Nicole England. Design: The Stylesmiths)

Color and style are crucial when shopping for your kitchen island, and in terms of what is trending, think gentle curves, a rounded island making socializing easy and playing into the wider theme of organic shapes in interior design. Also look to fluting around the edges too - as seen in this example by The Stylesmiths - the effect bringing a Scandi style to your kitchen. 

Rhiannon Phenis, senior designer at Sola Kitchens, also notices a trend for mixed materials. ‘Customers want an interesting finish, from deeply veined marble and mottled granites to exotic timber veneers and gleaming mirror,’ she says. Longevity is important, so unlacquered brass that will patina over time is popular – as are polished plaster surfaces. 

A spokesperson for Poliform tells us their clients are opting for ‘dark colors, matt marbles and terrazzo worktops’ – while Annie Tullett of Tom Howley predicts that timeless white kitchens will be big in 2023, ‘offering a transformative aesthetic and making smaller rooms feel bigger.’ Look to Caesarstone’s 5031 Statuario Maximus for inspiration. 

Statement marble island tops and marble kitchen countertops have been popular for a while, and are an ongoing countertop trend offering wow-factor, 'there is now the option of setting the island aglow,' says Alice Hood, senior design consultant at Roundhouse, who created a glowing countertop with lighting inside. 'With certain worktop options offering a translucency waiting to be backlit, one can create a new dimension to the central showpiece and make it dazzle.' 

4. What extra features would be good to have?

A kitchen island with plug sockets

(Image credit: Future)

The type of island you opt for depends on your intended use. Where cooking and food prep is the focus, you might want a hob and a sink. ‘Plumbing for electrics for sockets and appliances, as well as ducting for hobs, must be considered at the start of a project, or it can become costly to retrofit,’ says Rhiannon. 

Also think about whether you want a portable kitchen island or not - a great option for small kitchens. ‘We’ve done a few kitchen islands on wheels, which allows you to move the island out of the way but wheel it back into place after use,’ says Ash. The reality is that the island often becomes a bit of a dumping ground. ‘For this reason we like to include a lot of utility in our islands,’ adds Ash. ‘Deep drawers with inserts help keep them tidy.’ Charge phones and laptops with USB power sockets – or consider a charging drawer to keep things hidden. A smart solution indeed.

5. How should I accessorize a kitchen island?

Indoor outdoor kitchen island accessorized with a vase of flowers

(Image credit: Bradley Van Der Straeten Architects)

Islands are a great place to have fun and inject some personality into your space. This can be done via the materiality that you use on your surfaces such as usual quartz or marbles or even more simply with the stools you choose or lighting options that you go for. 

While a run of kitchen island pendants is always popular, a large, centered, statement chandelier for kitchen island lighting delivers on wow factor. 

A hanging shelf over the island is always a fun option that allows you to curate a selection of personalized objects and plants above the island which makes for a visually impactful statement above eye height. Finally, kitchen island decor is super easy. A beautiful vase will add height and structure, a simple fruit bowl creates a nice centerpiece - as seen here in this project by Bradley Van Der Straeten.

Oonagh Turner
Livingetc content editor and design expert

Oonagh is a content editor at Livingetc.com and an expert at spotting the interior trends that are making waves in the design world. Writing a mix of everything and everything from home tours to news, long-form features to design idea pieces on the website, as well as frequently featured in the monthly print magazine, she's the go-to for design advice in the home. Previously, she worked on a London property title, producing long-read interiors features, style pages and conducting interviews with a range of famous faces from the UK interiors scene, from Kit Kemp to Robert Kime. In doing so, she has developed a keen interest in London's historical architecture and the city's distinct tastemakers paving the way in the world of interiors.