If you're looking for kitchen island ideas on a budget, chances are you're keen to incorporate this kitchen workhorse into your design – but have been somewhat deterred by the expense involved. As an extra space to prep and serve food, enjoy a coffee while you work or hang out with friends, an island is an essential part of many modern kitchens – but often, the most stylish designs are by no means cheap.
You might be looking to add an island into your scheme, or perhaps you already have one that's in need of an inexpensive update. Either way, we've rounded up our favorite clever kitchen island ideas that won't break the bank – from repainting and tiling to incorporating a custom design for less.
Ellen is Livingetc's print editor, and an experienced interiors journalist. She spoke to interior designers and kitchen specialists for this piece to find out how to buy or upgrade a kitchen island on a budget – and has plenty of ideas to share as a result.
8 kitchen island ideas on a budget
1. Use new cupboard fronts on an existing island
There are a number of companies on the market that offer affordable, fully customizable joinery – cupboard and door fronts in particular – to update existing islands while keeping the bare bones in place. It's a wallet-friendly way of working with a kitchen – and it also makes sense from an environmental point of view, too.
'Customizing an existing kitchen is the ideal way to achieve a unique, individual and high-end look at an affordable price,' says Dave Young, founder of HUSK, who designed the space above – using bespoke doors for the kitchen units and the island. 'In the current economic climate it makes sense to save money by reusing as much as possible and by opting for bespoke doors and drawer fronts, you can be creative and budget conscious without compromising on quality.'
Many companies work with kitchens from well-known brands like IKEA, so Dave recommends asking the previous owners for the kitchen supplier if you're moving into a new house – and measure carefully. You can mix and match materials, and include custom carpentry, too. 'Mixing standard-sized cabinets with some bespoke carpentry is another great way to individualize an existing kitchen island and give it that bespoke look,' he adds, and given how much a kitchen island costs from scratch, it might leave room for some extra added features in the budget. 'We often build extra wine storage, spice shelves and pantries around the existing cabinets to make use of every inch, give a seamless finish and create a hand-crafted feel.'
2. Replace the countertop with a new material
Another option, if you've inherited a kitchen with an island that you can't afford to fully replace, is to upgrade the countertop – a move that will immediately add a luxe touch. Overlay countertops – a thinner slab of stone that sits on top of the existing counter – are one such option, and while the material itself might not be much cheaper than a new countertop, you can save on installation.
Similarly, you can add a wood overlay, skim the existing countertop with concrete, or opt for high-quality laminate if the existing countertop is of the same material. You can mimic most countertop trends by choosing one of these options, and they should last a good few years before they need to be replaced.
Of course, there is also the option to replace the countertop with a new one altogether – sacrificing a little more money, but still saving on the rest of the island. If you're looking for a very specific finish, like the Venetian plaster-effect Dekton Kraftizen surface from Cosentino, pictured above, this could be the only option for you.
3. Repaint your existing island
The most inexpensive option on this list, repainting an island can sometimes be enough to refresh your kitchen scheme if you're content with everything else. This option is particularly good for high-quality carpentry you can't bear to rip out – and if you want more of an overhaul, you can combine a repaint with some of the other tips on this list.
Once you've read up on how to paint kitchen cabinets, you can update an island – and the rest of the kitchen, for that matter – in a weekend. A brand new kitchen in two days, for the price of a couple of cans of paint and primer? It could be the perfect solution.
4. Or try tiling or panelling as an on-trend fix
If you're on Instagram, you might have come across DIYers transforming their kitchen islands with tiles or paneling. It's a popular move for those who are still saving up for something fully new – and it's easier than you think to do, too.
Covering just the back panel of the island is the simplest way to use this idea – and it can make a big impact, as this space by Audrey Crisp Interiors shows. 'I had wanted to use that tile, but didn’t have a good spot for it and thought it would be fun under the island,' says Audrey. 'It also helps protect the cabinets from little legs kicking them. They are cement tiles, so weren’t super cheap, but you can find the same look as these tiles in a thinner porcelain tile for less. It was a fun pop of pattern for a mostly white kitchen.'
5. Opt for a kitchen island on wheels
A moveable island isn't just often less expensive than a standard one – it also increases the functionality of your space, making it a great small kitchen idea. It allows you to change up the layout of your kitchen or even clear the floor completely – for dancing when you're hosting a party, for example.
In this project by Yoko Kloeden Design, Yoko was creating a kitchen and garden space for a chef. 'The client often entertains outside but we didn’t want an outdoor dining table to take up a precious space in the garden,' she says. 'By having an island on wheels, we can take the indoor dining table outside and the island will serve as a serving trolley.'
A portable island also means you can take it with you if you move. 'If your kitchen is large enough, but budget is tight, you may consider purchasing a makeshift kitchen island — one that you could even move on to future properties,' says Tom Revill, co-founder of Plank Hardware. 'IKEA's TORNVIKEN unit is an example of such, providing a great surface for food preparation or for pulling up stalls on which to sit and eat meals.'
6. Upgrade your kitchen island hardware
Investing a bit of money into your island hardware – think drawers, handles and feet – can make all the difference in a budget makeover. 'I'd recommend investing some time and energy into making the island feel as cohesive as possible with the rest of your kitchen scheme,' says Tom Revill. 'Perhaps paint it in a similar (or contrasting) tone to your wall cabinets, then elevate hardware details such as drawer pulls, or hooks for hanging tea towels.'
You can also 'hack' your way to a more functional island through hardware, as Tom suggests – by upgrading yours to a portable kitchen island, as suggested above. 'Wheels could also be added to the feet for more flexibility, allowing for it to be pushed against a wall if the space is especially busy,' he says.
7. Repurpose an existing piece as an island
Forgo a traditional island and you'll have a scheme that's characterful – and completely unique to everyone else's. Opt for antique wood furniture, either with storage – pieces that include drawers or glass-fronted cabinets, for example – or room underneath to add chairs or bar stools, like an old workbench.
Alternatively, make your reinvented island a statement contrast from the kitchen itself and opt for something like an industrial stainless steel prep table. It's easier than ever to buy furniture sustainably, including sourcing second-hand treasures via the internet – but just as handy are local reclamation yards and house clearances.
8. Mix and match countertop materials to make savings
Perhaps you're committed to using stone in your kitchen scheme, but can't quite stretch your budget to afford it across your kitchen countertop. The best way to get around this is to embrace mixed materials – saving money by using a more inexpensive material for the majority of the island, and spending more on a smaller part in your chosen splurge.
In this scheme by design studio ALL & NXTHING, they chose to mix exposed aggregate concrete tops with reclaimed parquet on a kitchen island. 'The parquet is beautiful so there was a style reason for this specific wood,' says creative director Stephen Nash. 'However, using wood on an island in particular can help the island feel more like a piece of "furniture" and help integrate it with the rest of the space. The stone then does the heavy lifting as it is much more hardwearing – this is why we chose to do a U-shape section in the island around the sink and tap.'
Even for those who don't need to be quite as mindful of their budget, mixed material countertops are a burgeoning kitchen trend. 'Another mix we're loving at the moment is metal and marble,' adds Stephen. 'Marble is of course a stone itself, but it's not especially hardwearing and is quite porous. In this case, a smaller amount of marble can be used for impact and dram, then the metal can do the hard work in other areas.'
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Ellen is deputy editor of Livingetc magazine. She cut her teeth working for sister publication Real Homes, starting as features editor before becoming deputy editor. There, she enjoyed taking a peek inside beautiful homes and discovered a love for design and architecture that eventually led her here. She has also written for other titles including Homes & Gardens and Gardeningetc. While she gets ready to buy a house of her own, she takes inspiration from the works of some of her favourite architects and tastemakers. She has a particular passion for green design and enjoys shopping small, local and second-hand where she can.
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