How to Know If an Island is Right For Your Kitchen.

Is Your Kitchen Too Small?

By Sunshine Menefee
Staff Writer 

Everyone wants a kitchen island. They’re everywhere. No kitchen remodel show is complete without one and it’s easy to see the appeal. They create much-needed landing space, a place for kids to stay close but not underfoot, they make dinner prep easy, and have tons of storage. Many islands are designed to be a standout feature in the kitchen and are drop dead gorgeous with more flair than the rest of the cabinets.

But they aren’t right for every situation. Mislead homeowner’s think an island is the only proper way to design a kitchen. If the space is too small to begin with, your dream island will become a constant headache. Every time you turn around, you’ll be bumping into a corner. When you’re in a hurry, there’s no straight line to get from the sink to the stove.

Educate yourself

The National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA) is the industry leader when it comes to designing kitchens and baths. They set guidelines for good, basic design. The 31 guidelines cover all types of topics including electrical outlet placement, seating arrangements, lighting, ventilation, and more. The guidelines even include 2-cook kitchens. It also gives specific measurements to follow to allow for proper clearance and traffic flow. One of the most important measurements is that of the work triangle.

The work triangle is the flow of traffic from the three main appliances in the kitchen; sink, cooktop, and refrigerator. Each leg of this imaginary triangle should not be less than 4’ long or greater than 9’ long. An island should not cut into this triangle by more than 12”. Anymore than that, and your hips will curse you every time they get bruised by that corner. While these are guidelines and not codes, they don’t have to be strictly adhered to. Most designers and homeowners consider 3’ of walkway perfectly acceptable.

islands 1

The NKBA states, “No work triangle leg intersects an island/peninsula or other obstacle by more than 12”.”

Keep it safe

Keeping good traffic flow around the island is essential. You don’t want to block access to other areas of the kitchen when an appliance or cabinet is open. The dishwasher is particularly susceptible to this. An open dishwasher door can be a tripping hazard if there’s no room to maneuver around it. Make sure the oven door will fully open and have plenty of walking space around it. Removing a large turkey may be impossible if the island is blocking the front approach to the door. You also want to be able to have your cabinet drawers open fully.


Clearance in front of an oven should be no more than 48” if it does not open into a walkway.

Customize it

There is no one size fits all for kitchen islands. The smallest size for a usable countertop is 40” x 40”, but islands can go as big as you can imagine. A smaller space calls for a smaller island. Consider having a custom cabinet-maker come in and measure your kitchen and build one perfectly suited for your space. Incorporate different types of storage and spaces to get the most use out of the island.


A custom island creates a more personal space.


Consider alternatives

If an island just isn’t practical in your kitchen, don’t despair. There are other options out there. A rolling cart is a great alternative for tight spaces. They give extra counter space when needed, yet tuck out-of-the-way when not in use. There are tons of different styles available to fit in any budget and design.


A rolling cart moves out-of-the-way when more room is needed.

Live with it

It’s very hard for some clients to imagine an island in the center of the room. If you think you want a kitchen island but aren’t quiet sure, take a practice run first. Fashion a temporary island out of large boxes and make it to the size of island you want. Then put them where you would like for the island to fit. This is a great way to see the visual and physical impact. It may not look pretty, but you’ll get the feel of how the island will change the flow of the kitchen. It’s also the best way to know if you can work with and around one.


Islands provide landing space and storage.


Before you spend big bucks, take the time to figure out if an island is right for your kitchen. Consider how much space your kitchen has and if an island really is the best solution. The best kitchen is one that works for you and your family.

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