What is a Kitchen Island?

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

Once all of the groceries, utensils, dishes and electrical appliances have been stored in a typical kitchen, one fact often becomes very clear. There's abundant storage space, but precious little workspace. For this reason, kitchen designers have developed a special counter called a kitchen island. A kitchen island is a centrally-located countertop used primarily for food preparation and auxiliary cooking needs. In many kitchens with busy families, the island also doubles as a table for quick meals.

A kitchen island offers space to store pots and pans and a work area for food preparation.
A kitchen island offers space to store pots and pans and a work area for food preparation.

The simplest island design is a smooth countertop made of a standard kitchen material such as tile, stainless steel, wood or stone. This extra surface allows cooks to prepare bulky items like doughs and pastas, or to transfer hot foods from the oven to cool before serving. The countertop is usually placed around waist level or higher, with several drawers for utensils and food prep tools.

The smooth counter on a kitchen island makes it an ideal spot for placing hot dishes after cooking.
The smooth counter on a kitchen island makes it an ideal spot for placing hot dishes after cooking.

A more advanced design may feature a working sink and disposal unit for prepping fruits and vegetables. A side cutting board may be pulled out from one end, while another can be placed on the countertop for handling raw foods. Illumination for the workspace on a kitchen island is often provided by an overhead light, recessed lighting or focused track lighting. It is important to have enough light when working around sharp equipment like knives and mandolin slicers.

Kitchen islands allow multiple people to utilize countertop space for food preparation at the same time.
Kitchen islands allow multiple people to utilize countertop space for food preparation at the same time.

Some designs can be very elaborate indeed. Some may have small refrigeration units for storing prepped but unfinished ingredients. Occasionally a kitchen island will have a set of electric burners, a griddle or even a grill. Quick meals may be prepared exclusively on a high-end kitchen island, eliminating the need for a hot oven. If such a countertop cooking system is used, however, proper ventilation is vital. An exhaust fan located beneath the heating elements should draw smoke and heat away from the rest of the kitchen.

Many cooks also use the island as a staging area for large meals. As individual dishes finish cooking in the traditional oven and stovetop, they can be transferred there to make room for others. This can prevent accidents caused by improvising storage spaces. The centralized location allows for easy movement around the kitchen without crowding out guests or helpers.

Overall, a kitchen island is an elegant solution to the problem of finding usable workspace in a typical home kitchen.

Small appliances may be stored underneath a kitchen island.
Small appliances may be stored underneath a kitchen island.
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular wiseGEEK contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

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Discussion Comments

TMulhern19

My small kitchen island includes shelves for cookbooks, racks for wine bottles, pull-out drawers for extra countertop space, and a countertop overhang, providing breakfast bar-type seating for two.

LisaLou

When we built our home, the kitchen was the one room that I spent the most time thinking about. It is where the family spends the most time together and I wanted it to be convenient and practical.

I looked at several kitchen island plans before deciding which style I wanted. Because I had the space, I went with a long island where we could have seating.

This is great place for my kids to be while I am in the kitchen. Many times they will eat their snacks there or work on their homework, and I like having them where I am instead of being in another room of the house.

myharley

I would be lost without my kitchen island. It is where I do all of my food preparation and store most of the things I need for easy access.

Although putting in the island did cut down on my floor space, it was well worth having the extra counter space.

My small kitchen island does not have a sink or any electrical outlets like some of the larger ones do, but it is the perfect place to do all my mixing and chopping and helps keep my counter tops clean and clutter free with the storage that is underneath.

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