How to Design a Kitchen Island That’s Right for Your Lifestyle

Our San Antonio Interior Designers and Architects Share the 6 Steps to Design a Functional Kitchen Island 

Kitchen islands are one of the most requested kitchen design elements today. According to the National Association of Home Builders, over 75 percent of homeowners consider a kitchen island to be essential! While islands are a popular kitchen feature, they often fall flat, lacking necessary function and purpose. Our San Antonio interior designers and architects recommend assessing your needs, space, and lifestyle before running circles around an island that just doesn’t fit. We share 6 steps on how to design a kitchen island that is both functional and beautiful. Plus, we dive into the history of why we have kitchen islands in the first place. 

A Brief History of Kitchen Islands 

While kitchen islands have dominated design trends over the past two decades, the first islands date back far earlier. Up until the mid-1900s, the kitchen was a room of function rather than an entertaining hub. It was often shoved to the back of the home, hidden from view. Wealthier families with staff typically had larger kitchens with farm-style or trestle tables placed in the center. These tables or islands functioned as additional prep space and a spot for the kitchen staff to have meals. 

Fast forward one hundred years later, and you can see families sitting on barstools around marble-top islands in open-concept kitchens while Downton Abbey plays in the background. It will suffice to say that kitchen islands have come a long way! By the 1950s, new building technologies allowed architects to design open-concept homes. The kitchen moved from the back of the home to the center with no separating walls. Fewer walls in the kitchen meant fewer places to add storage options. Where was one supposed to house the sink, range, or breakfast seating? The answer: the kitchen island. An island’s primary purpose is to add functionality to the kitchen, providing additional food preparation, storage, or entertaining areas. In some cases, homeowners will need all three needs addressed. 

Inside Downton Abbey Kitchen Set
Inside Downton Abbey’s Kitchen Set

6 Steps on How to Design a Kitchen Island 

Step 1: Determine the Size and How It Flows within the Space 

The first step to designing a kitchen island is determining what size the kitchen can accommodate and how an island will flow in the space. Appropriate sizing is key to creating a kitchen island that functions. Walkways around the island should be at least 42 inches wide, and appliances in the island should enhance the kitchen work triangle rather than hinder it. Cramming an island into a kitchen that is too small will create more problems than solutions. 

Step 2: Discover the Purpose of the Kitchen Island 

Discover the purpose of the island by asking yourself thought-provoking questions to help design your new kitchen. For example, do you want the island to be a food prep space, a storage solution, an entertaining hub, or all three? Housing appliances in an island, like a range or sink, makes the island a place of work rather than a fun area to gather. Bar seating, on the other hand, provides guests with a spot to perch and watch the action. Determine what kitchen island elements are the most important for your lifestyle.  

Step 3: Select a Countertop Material for the Kitchen Island 

The dedicated purpose of the island will dictate the countertop material selection. Since the kitchen island is separated from the rest of the counters, it is the perfect spot to add an accent material. Here are three considerations. 


Marble is a beautiful natural stone option for creating an elegant statement or providing a practical surface for baking. 

Black and White Kitchen Island by DK Studio
Black and White Kitchen Island
Photo by DK Studio

Butcher Block 

Wood butcher block, as the name implies, is an excellent option for chopping and food prep. 

Integrated Cutting Board Butcher Block Island Countertop
Integrated Cutting Board Butcher Block Island Countertop

Engineered Stone

Engineered stone, like quartz, offers increased durability and stain resistance, perfect for busy families and avid entertainers.  

Kitchen Island with Seating Photo by Amity Worrel
Kitchen Island with Seating
Photo by Amity Worrel

Step 4: Pick the Best Kitchen Island Height for Your Needs  

Another thing you need to know when choosing a kitchen island is the best height for your needs. There are three height options to consider. 

Countertop Height 

The standard countertop height is 36 inches. This height is perfect for islands serving as additional prep space or housing appliances because it will align with the rest of the counters in the kitchen. 

Island Measurements
Countertop Height Measurements

Table Drop Height 

Kitchen islands can incorporate a table drop down to 29 inches high, allowing for a dining spot in the center of the kitchen. This is a good option for families who need a casual dining space. 

Kitchen Island with Drop Down Table Photo by Amity Worrel
Kitchen Island with Drop Down Table
Photo by Amity Worrel

Bar Rise Height 

Islands can also feature a bar height pop-up. This style has a 42-inch wall at the end of the island rising six inches above the standard counter height, hiding the mess on the other side and providing guests a place to rest their wine glasses.  

Seating and Bar Heights for Kitchens Large
Seating and Bar Heights for Kitchens Large

Step 5: Choose the Right Height Kitchen Island Stools 

With three different island heights to consider, it is important to choose the right height stools. The placement of seats around the island should account for 24 inches of width per person and clearance of nine to 13 inches from the knees to the bottom of the counter. A standard dining chair is best for a 29-inch table drop, a low stool is best for a 36-inch counter height, and a tall barstool is best for a 42-inch bar rise height island. 

Step 6: Get Creative with Your Kitchen Island Style 

Once the basics of function are planned, the style options for kitchen islands are limitless. Islands can mimic furniture pieces, like the original islands of the olden days, or they can carry the same feel as the other cabinets and surfaces in the room. Consider adding elements like waterfall edge countertops, furniture-like legs, tile accents, wood accents, bold hardware, shelving, and accent colors. 

Sometimes Two is Better Than One 

Why settle for one kitchen island when you have space to add two? Double kitchen islands are one kitchen trend that’s here to stay. When space allows, double islands can provide added functionality and easy flow. One can serve as a prep space while the other functions as a gathering space to keep guests and family close. Double islands are the perfect solution for homeowners who want the best of both worlds! 

Large Kitchen Island with Seating by Amity Kett
Large Kitchen Island with Seating
Photo by Amity Kett

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