Practically every customer I work with who’s considering a new kitchen or kitchen remodel asks about an island. In fact, islands are by far the most requested feature. Today’s homeowners believe that no kitchen design is complete without an island at its center.

I have some terrific kitchen island ideas for customers who want to make a style statement and personalize their new space.

I suggest adding color to their new space with both countertops and cabinet finishes. It’s easy to enhance great style by incorporating decorative legs, carved posts, furniture bases, and (occasionally) corbels. Decorative design elements can make a custom kitchen island look like furniture.

Beyond looking good, islands create practical work space. When a kitchen includes an island, the cook gets added functional counter space to work on. If it’s large enough, an island can have the primary or an extra prep sink.

Custom islands add lots of useable storage space. Utensil and silverware drawers with built-in dividers, pull-out trash and recycling bins and deep drawers are just some of the many options available. Open shelves on island ends provide space for cookbooks and personal collections.

The island can serve as a strategic barrier that separates the food prep area from family and guests. Kids can do their homework under the cook’s watchful eye, yet the counter keeps them away from knives and hot pots and pans. During a party, guests can congregate at the island while separating them from the people who are cooking and cleaning up.


These are the reasons people want an island, but before it can happen, there are practical considerations. Number one is: Is there enough room for an island?

The NKBA (National Kitchen and Bath Association) states that 42” of clearance for work islands is required. And add another 6” (for a total of 48”) when two people work in the kitchen. This gets measured from the furthest protruding item, like base cabinets or appliances.

A typical kitchen has two work aisles (or walkways), one on either side of the island. (The NKBA defines a walkway as an area generally not used as work space). The walkway behind a seated diner, or the space needed to edge past sideways, is 36” at a minimum. Customer preference is actually 44”.

Another space consideration when designing a custom kitchen island is knee space for a seated diner. It’s annoying – and possibly painful — when there’s not enough space.

Most islands are counter height at 36”. (To get technical, they’re actually 35 3/4”). For a counter at that height, 15” of horizontal knee space is required for comfort. This is measured from the edge of the counter to the cabinet. If the counter is 42” high, not as much horizontal knee space is needed. 12”is all that’s required. When customers ask about the correct height for stools for their new island, here’s what they need to know:

  • • For a 36” high island, stools should be 24” high

  • • For a 42” high island, stools should be 30” high

When choosing stools for an island, consider the amount of countertop overhang. I always go for 15”, the amount needed for most stools to fit properly

There’s really no practical reason to reduce countertop overhang. The stools take up space no matter what, whether they’re underneath the island or sticking out beyond.

To calculate the most comfortable elbow room for people sitting at the island, 22” to 24” of width per person should be allowed.

I use this ball park equation to figure out custom kitchen island width: take the total length or width of the overall space, then subtract counter / appliance depth and any working / walkways. That gives him the width / depth of island.


That’s not all. Here’s a few other considerations:

  • • Will the island cut off access to work areas or important appliances? A well designed kitchen will have the right amount of clearance between the island and cabinets and appliances on the opposite walls, so that all doors, drawers, ovens and dishwashers can be opened safely and without obstruction.

  • • Will it impede traffic flow? (This shouldn’t be a problem if the numbers are followed.)

  • • If there’s not enough space for the island the customer really wants, is it time to take down a wall or add an addition? People do it all the time.

In conclusion, I tell my new clients that to avoid disappointment, it’s critical to make sure space requirements for a new custom kitchen island are met.