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Design Life: 35 Tips, Ideas & Inspirations for Kitchen Islands! (Ep. 87)
Thinking about renovating your kitchen? How about installing that island you've always wanted? If you answered YES, press play for 35 tips and all the makeover advice and guidance you need from dozens of kitchens that we've designed at SRD over the years, so you can plan the island of your dreams! From multi-level to single surfaced, compact to oversized, colourful to contrasting, mixed materials to minimal and everything in between - no two kitchen islands are ever the same. This video will show you how to maximize the potential of your island design to make it work for the way you live, cook and entertain!
35 Tips For Designing Your Dream Kitchen Island
In Sarah's House Season 4, we renovated a builder box house and my goal for this kitchen was to make it the hub of the house and connect it to the dining room, family room and living room. What's special about this island? It has 3 levels, each with a different function. The highest level allows for raised seating on one side, the middle level serves as a prep area for cooking with a built-in bar fridge, and the lower side is used as a service or buffet area for extra convenience.
1. Try a combination of different island levels, each with their own function.
2. Raised bar-height counters help hide kitchen clutter.
This is our sleek and modern kitchen in the city. For years we lived with a peninsula in the kitchen, but we decided to renovate and take down the wall between the kitchen and the dining room. My husband, the Minister of Exteriors, had a great idea. He suggested we relocate the closet that's in the way and move it into the front hall, and move the powder room into where the closet was, and presto! We had a lot more space to work with.
There's a lot of things I love about this two-level island. It has a raised storage area with high-gloss cabinets designed to service the dining room. It also has the most gorgeous calacatta marble (big splurge!) that wraps around the storage unit. If you're renovating, you have to know what to splurge on and what to save on. To me, this calacatta marble was worth every penny because it presents itself like artwork with its beautiful, unique veining. The great thing about having the raised piece at the end of the island is that it creates a visual barrier into the kitchen so when you're sitting at the dining room table, you're not looking at whatever mess the cook left behind.
This kitchen is white, white and more white, but I chose to add subtle dimension by painting the island the lightest shade of grey. If you're thinking about doing a two-colour paint option for your kitchen, always think about how to make the most of it. Use two colours you love that you will never get tired of so that it will stand the test of time.
3. Know what to splurge on and what to save on when renovating and designing your island.
4. Create a visual barrier into the kitchen to hide clutter with raised island cabinets.
5. Choose island cabinetry colours that will stand the test of time.
What if you really want an island and seating, but you're not sure how to make that happen with the space you've got? Make a list. Figure out how to fit all the pieces of the puzzle together to make your kitchen work for you. Generally speaking, for an island you would have seating on the longest side, but how many seats do you really need? Would you consider having less seats and putting them on the short side if it meant that you can tick that box and achieve that goal? Seen here, these stools are not in the way of the busyness of the kitchen. They're put on the external edge of the kitchen so that anybody who is seated here is not getting caught up in the hustle and bustle of the action zone.
6. Make a list of kitchen features and prioritize your must-haves.
7. Keep counter stools out of the way of kitchen traffic.
This farmhouse kitchen design is nearly a decade old and to this day, it's one of my favourites. This kitchen was super narrow so that meant we had to install a narrow island. Generally speaking, you don't want an island that measures less than 36" inches because you need enough space for the depth of the sink (should you choose to have one) and then some counter space behind it. In order to make this island work, we had to go with shallower cabinetry along the pantry wall. Here, we have pantries on either side planking some open counter space and an open shelf in the middle. To achieve that rustic island look, we combined a dark painted frame with authentic reclaimed barn board which gives it texture and fabulous richness and character. Always remember: just because the island is narrow, it doesn't mean it won't work fabulously well.
8. Optimal island depth is 36" if you want to add a sink.
9. Opt for shallow pantry cabinets to provide more island space.
Structural Support Island
Most times, renovation means compromise. In this case, the island is built into the structure of the kitchen. This house is a small two story house and it went from feeling cramped to feeling bright, airy, open and spacious once we took out the wall that divided the dining room from the kitchen. There were some columns that couldn't be removed because they were holding up the floor above, so we simply attached the island to the columns and embraced what we were working with. If you ever wonder whether you should remove that wall that separates your kitchen from your dining room - I say absolutely! It's such a game changer.
We installed cabinetry for extra storage on the left hand side of the island which allows our clients to service their dining room and also eliminates the need for a credenza or sideboard. On the right hand side of the island, we tucked in a couple of stools. This way, you can go in and out from the dining room and not be bumping into somebody at the other end of the island. In effect, this maximizes the flow from the dining room into the kitchen.
We also jazzed up the underside of the island with tongue and groove paneling to give it a little bit of character. You'll also note, we used architectural salvaged corbels in this kitchen. Have you seen my video on corbels? Click here for lots of ideas on how to integrate corbels into your decor in innovative ways!
10. Go from cramped to spacious by removing the wall that separates your kitchen from your dining room, which also allows you to make the most of your island.
11. Know what your home's structural elements are and think about how you can work around them.
12. Eliminate the need for a sideboard by installing island cabinets to service the dining room.
13. Always think about the flow of your kitchen to inform how you should design your island.
14. Install tongue and groove paneling underneath the island to give it character.
Here's another example of a two story island that's equipped with lots of storage. This kitchen is in a converted church. Because the living area is a big open space that lives like a loft, we needed to make sure the kitchen is not the main focus. What really appeals to me about these high cabinets that run almost the entire length of the island is the awesome storage. Storage is something we just can't get enough of. These cabinets can be used to store candles, table linens, vases, serveware, or even as a pantry cupboard. Tall lower cabinets are so great because everyone has easy access to cereal, snacks and other pantry staples. Keeping everything at chest level and below makes it easy to load, unload and self serve.
15. Install cabinets along the length of the island for extra storage.
16. Install tall lower cabinets for easy access to pantry items.
What if you're in a temporary space and you really want an island? For this loft, we made an island using a stainless steel rolling cart with lockable castors and an in stock big butcher block counter to create lots of prep area and a huge counter space. It doesn't have a sink in it, but if you're on a budget then you don't necessarily have to have this service in the island. This temporary island works because it's a great gathering spot. Use it like a bar and for entertaining. Plus, those lockable wheels mean you can move it wherever it needs to go!
17. A rolling cart island with lockable wheels mean you can move it wherever it needs to go.
Dark and Moody Island
I love a white kitchen, but once upon a time I had a client who was fearless with her design choices (before black kitchens were a really big trend!). My client was so excited about a new kitchen that was dressed in black and white and gold. This kitchen is located within a historic Victorian home, so we made sure to infuse this kitchen with character by adding corbels to the underside of the countertop overhang. It looks so elegant when you add the corbel to the sides which allows the edge of the countertop to cascade down and meet the edge of the recessed cabinetry behind it. We also injected some bistro styling with bent wood stools which are a reference to what you would find in a classic bistro.
18. Add corbels to the underside of the counter hang for added elegance.
One of my favourite islands I've designed is the one I painted dijon yellow and featured in our Sarah's House 3 farmhouse kitchen renovation. Don't be afraid to have fun with colour in a kitchen. I don't think you will regret it - I designed this kitchen in 2009 (12 years ago!) and it's still standing the test of time. You can always repaint it if you ever want to do something different.
This island has two levels with lots of storage on the backside used as the pantry. It also has wrap around seating. You don't have to put all your seating on one side. You don't have to choose the long side or the short side. You can do wrap-around seating which is one of my favourite tricks because it creates more conversation groupings when people are hanging out in the kitchen. Think about how to best harness the space in your kitchen and the design of your island to get all of those best features in.
19. Don't be afraid to have fun with colour in your kitchen.
20. Try wrap-around seating instead of seating on just one side.
Years go, I did a kitchen for someone whose favourite colour is yellow. So we installed marigold yellow chairs, fabulous funky yellow fabric on the window coverings, and installed a cozy lounge area. I call this the 'living kitchen' where this family spends most of their time. We also snuck in clever storage underneath the island counter with a 15" cabinet. Sneaking in extra storage wherever possible really makes a difference!
21. Create a 'living kitchen' with a lounge area adjacent to your island.
22. Save space with one less stool to sneak in a clever storage cabinet underneath the counter.
Compact Kitchen Island
What if you have more compact kitchen proportions to work with? This island is 4 1/2 ft wide x 5 1/2 ft long. It created lots of opportunity for storage on all sides, and allows up to three stools. When you're thinking of your island, don't necessarily just plan to have storage along the front side and the back side of your island... if space permits, you can wrap it around all 4 sides. This allows you to tailor what you're storing to where it's most efficient and effective. I often try to install extra storage underneath the overhang where the stools are, for stuff I don't need all the time like vases, candles, serving platters or seasonal items.
23. If space permits, wrap cabinets around all 4 sides of the island for extra storage.
Mixed Material Island
The Sarah off the Grid, Season 2 kitchen is one of my favourites, and this island is a special one. It was designed as a 2-level island with function and site lines in mind. It opens onto the dining room so we ensured the tallest level could hide the mess when you're sitting in the dining room. We also gave this island tons of storage on the backside, and provided a wrap around seating option with 3 stools. The counter design itself has a special detail I want to draw your attention to. I used Fresh Concrete (sku: 4001) by Ceasarstone and mitered on an edge with a leftover backsplash piece. When you mix materials great things can happen. It's all in the detail! I took that same material and wrapped it around the raised kitchen storage area.
Below the counter, we didn't have enough room for storage so instead I did a slatted treatment with thin pieces of poplar about a quarter of an inch thick and two and three quarters tall. We used them as horizontal banding and reinforced this same design detail for the stove's vent hood.
24. Mix materials on your island for a special decorative touch.
25. Install a slatted treatment below the counter when storage is not an option.
This is our kitchen here at Starlight Farm. I knew how I wanted to live in this kitchen, how I wanted it to function and the features I wanted. I wanted a built-in banquette with a fabulous table that looked out to our view. I also knew I wanted a giant island that could fit at least 5 stools. And I knew that when I was working at the kitchen island I wanted to see all the way through to the living room and the fireplace because I wanted to feel connected to everybody else while I was cooking in the kitchen.
I designed this island to be so big, we almost didn't have enough material to create the counter. Make sure you know what your countertop surface is going to be and triple check the measurements are big enough to suit the size of your cabinetry before you sign off. Solid raw brass panels were added to the island just for fun. They reinforce the design detail of the solid brass hammered pendants and add warmth to the overall design.
26. The most important consideration for your kitchen renovation is knowing how you want it to function.
27. Make sure your chosen countertop material is big enough for your island design.
28. Try installing accents like brass for warmth.
White Oak Island
Here is a sneak peek at the clean and streamlined kitchen from our Alpine Farmhouse project. This look is what I call Scandinavian modern! This kitchen boasts lots of white oak detailing. For so many years people shied away from using wood in kitchens and everything was painted, so this kitchen brought us in an all new design direction! The whole perimeter of this kitchen is satin matte white with white countertops and it's the white oak island that brings the glamour and elegance. Underneath, the stools are camouflaged with their buttery leather tops that are the exact same colour as the white oak. The thickness of the countertop gives the island more substance. Instead of an inch and a half build-up on the kitchen counter we went two and a quarter inches. The gables down the island were size matched which frames the stools nicely. If you repeat the thickness of your counter to the thickness of your gable, it will always look great!
29. Try a two material combination for your kitchen island.
30. Opt for a thicker countertop to give your island more substance.
31. Repeat proportions to create a graceful end result.
Waterfall Countertop Island
Got a busy household? Want a durable surface? This kitchen has minimal modern styling with a waterfall edge countertop. Waterfall countertops means you take your countertop material and stretch it across the top and it seamlessly waterfalls down and goes from a horizontal to a vertical. It has a crisp mitered edge that requires a great fabricator and installer to make sure it is laser precise. Look how lovely this thick waterfall edge looks, especially when we have the accent of natural wood recessed underneath it.
When you're designing your island you have to think about how and where it's going to be seen, and not necessarily just from a standing perspective. What if you have adjacent seating? If you're seated down low, you'll be staring at the underside of the island, so in this case, the underside or the backside of the counter matters. Make sure you choose your materials correctly so that it will always look interesting!
32. Install a waterfall countertop for streamlined and modern styling.
33. Make sure the underside of your counter looks good from any angle.
Built-in Table Island
Not all islands are long and narrow, like in this condo kitchen that presented its own space constraints. This island is a combination of an almost square prep surface and attached directly to it, is a sunken built-in table for four that is also almost square. If you want to skip the bar or counter stools and prefer to sit more comfortably in a dining chair, this built-in table island design is a great option for you.
34. A built-in table for 4 offers a comfortable dining experience.
Contrasting Countertop Island
We've talked a lot about an island being a different colour from the main cabinetry, but what about if you choose to have all the cabinetry the same colour and instead change up the countertop? In this case, we took all white cabinetry and installed white counters on the perimeter and black counters on the island. This look really stands out and creates a crisp contrasting monolith in the middle of the kitchen. If you can't decide between two countertop surfaces, why not use both? By daring greatly, there's no telling what you can achieve. It just may be how you get the kitchen of your dreams!