Buying Guides

Buying guide: Kitchen islands

Buying guide: Kitchen islands

Buying guide: Kitchen islands Author: Style At Home

Buying Guides

Buying guide: Kitchen islands

A kitchen island is a great way to add value and style to your kitchen, while increasing storage capacity and workspace. By definition, a kitchen island is an additional freestanding workspace, typically located in the heart of your kitchen work triangle. At its most minimalist, an island is simply extra counter space – picture a big freestanding butcher block or narrow, counter-height table. At its maximalist best, consider a bespoke unit complete with built-in sink, appliances, expansive countertop big enough to cover work and social space (a breakfast bar, for instance), and undercounter storage galore.

If you ever find yourself thinking: “I need more kitchen space!,” an island may be the perfect design solution. Here’s what to consider when planning that kitchen island.

Although most kitchens benefit from the added task space an island provides, not all do. If you have a small or narrow kitchen, an island isn’t a good idea. Fitting a teensy island into a small space creates a trip-or-bump hazard. Increase your useable storage and clear off your countertops instead. This will provide an instant increase in useable workspace.

Islands can be humble or ambitious. Think about your needs.

Do you want to …

… add more food-prep space?

If counter space is all you want, go as minimalist as a counter-height stainless steel or wood table, or opt for a big ol’ country-style wood chopping block. (Look for a heavyweight hardwood model that won’t tip over if you knock against it). Or, you could choose the added storage of a standard cabinetry-and-countertop unit. (And do you also want a second sink? Built-in range or under-counter microwave? Dishwasher?)

… increase kitchen storage, too?
Opt for a cabinetry unit. Mix open and closed storage for versatility, and upgrade as desired with apps and plumbing.

… create a social space where people can hang out?
Go big, with under-counter storage, as well as a bi-level countertop to designate the food-prep side of the island, and the breakfast bar/social side of the island.

This is a great way to spend time with your kids – they can do homework while you cook – or entertain guests while you prepare dinner.

Does your island have to match your wall-mount cabinetry? Definitely not! (It can, but it’s not mandatory.) The easiest approach to a designer look is to match the cabinetry style, but choose a darker finish. Or eschew solid doors in favour of glass-front doors from your wall-mount cabinetry series. If you have an adventurous design sense, it’s fine to have an eclectic pairing of old-meets-new or East-meets-West design aesthetics, but be aware it may limit the mass appeal of your kitchen if you put your property up for sale. 4 COUNTERTOP CHOICES
For cabinetry units
Island counters see a lot of heavy traffic so opt for a longwearing counter material like granite or engineered quartz (Silestone) if it’s in your budget.

Corian is another solid surface material known for its durability, although it’s not as heat-resistant as granite or engineered quartz.

Laminate is a budget choice, comes in many colours and styles, and is easy to maintain, but isn’t as durable or luxurious as stone.

For unfitted options like counter-height tables and wheeled counters
In most cases you’ll be buying a piece you love and won’t be choosing an actual countertop material per se.

Butcher block wears well. It stains, gets dings and wears down, but this is all part of its character.

Stainless steel is low-maintenance and channels an industrial look.

Vintage pieces such as enamel-top tables can be retrofitted by a carpenter to get the desired counter-level height. Enamel scratches and chips over time, but this is considered part of its country/cottage charm.


If you’re ready to invest in a kitchen-island installation, it’s smart to consult a designer, whether you’re sticking with a simple cabinetry-and-countertop island or going for broke with all the add-ons. Free consultations are standard at the big-box home improvement chains, as well as smaller bath and kitchen boutiques.

Your designer can advise whether your island project is DIY-friendly or requires professional installation. Major installations requiring plumbing, appliances and electrical to satisfy municipal bylaws.

DIYers should limit themselves to basic projects involving stock cabinetry, cabinetry doors/shelves and mounting countertops on an even floor. If your home has uneven floors, as many old houses do, opt for a pro installation because a wobbly island is an unsafe one.

Remember too, installing an island usually necessitates upgrading your kitchen’s lighting configuration too. After all, you’ll want to shed light on – and show off! – your new-and-improved kitchen space.


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Buying Guides

Buying guide: Kitchen islands