The good old kitchen island is the hub and anchor of modern kitchen design. Acting both as workstation and informal gathering spot, this epicurean altar serves many masters and even more functions.
But laden with such responsibilities, how do you keep the design from looking like the USS Intrepid has suddenly stationed itself inside your kitchen? The following are some examples with tips we use in some of our designs:

Cleverly break the scale down.  Notice how the countertop slab is elevated slightly on stainless steel pins above the slab legs.  This creates a zen-like, floating effect which gives the island some breathing space.

Recess the storage underneath the island on all sides.  This also allows seating all the way around, similar to a table.  Decorative turned legs at the corners complete the farm table look.  A differing countertop material on the island also can also eliminate “material exhaustion” typical of most suburban kitchens.


Break down the boxy appearance of a typical island by adding trestle ends.  Also, an island should be no deeper that 5′-0″.  That’s as far as you can comfortable reach the center to clean.


Here, the island was designed with completely different material than the rest of kitchen cabinetry.  The lacy industrial steel ends and dark cabinetry visually lighten the piece.  Three light fixtures over the island (as opposed to one large one) keeps things appropriately proportional.


This island was not only built out of differing wood than the rest of the cabinetry but was designed to appear as a furnishing.   By eliminating bulky-down-to-the-floor-storage, we were able to keep this island light in tone but still useful.  Recessed bin drawers located under the counter pick up additional storage.


Create a one-of-a-kind focal point.  This iron and wood island was commissioned by us and manufactured by the artisans at Herndon and Merry in Nashville.  An inordinate knee space depth helps keep this large island from appearing too bulky.


The knee space in this island was eliminated, allowing the island to be a narrow depth.  To accommodate casual seating, an antique table with dining height chairs and stools have been silhouetted against the backside of the wood fluted island.  This club-like grouping is much more social and comfortable than being perched, diner-style, on tall bar stools.


Use a piece of furniture instead.  Kitchens rarely have good furnishing potential so utilizing a found piece gives a kitchen a collected and eclectic character. After all, the original island is the well-worn farm table found in most English manor working kitchens.  Return to the roots with a real piece of furniture – if it was good enough for the staff of Downton Abbey, it’ll be good enough for your crew.


If you have enough real estate, go with two islands.  This works really well in situations where there are literally too many cooks in the kitchen.  It also allows great circulation where one large island may serve as a roadblock.


Have a kitchen with only islands.  This unique kitchen (located at the end of a large open salon) is only equipped with a pair of islands.  These islands were designed with elevated wood fluted screens which shield the rest of the room from inevitable countertop clutter.

The best advice I can give is to edit, edit, edit your kitchen island needs. If you can unburden the poor kitchen island of some responsibilities (i.e. storage), it can become a simple, elegant element. The less program the island has, the better it will be. How many zesters do you really need anyway?

Greg Tankersley for McAlpine Tankersley


  1. Jennifer Smith says:

    Thanks so much for this post. I have an older home(90+ years old). I really want an island, but my stove and plaster range hood are not centered on a long wall. They are on a shorter wall with a door to my basement. Does an island need to be centered in the kitchen? Sorry, I am a Libra and I tend towards symmetry. Thanks so much!

    • Lynn Boutwell says:

      Jennifer, I believe there are many ways to utilize an island in your kitchen. You can create an island that can become a partition or visual separation to another area. My island is a large L-shape which is now the separation between kitchen and family room. It is not centered in the kitchen. I think a rule you will want to follow, though, is how it works with the flow of the kitchen. An island should not block the flow of traffic, for instance, becoming a barrier to go around in the work triangle (sink-stove-fridge). You might also create one that can roll on large castors that can push into a wall, maybe an industrial or steam punk look to build on the character of an old home. Happy designing.

  2. Susan Nelson says:

    Enjoyed this and the nod to your former home. Many fond memories of being in your kitchen !

  3. Tom green says:

    Thank you for the skinny on islands. I did not know the five foot depth and I just texted a friend who was redoing kitchen and she cut her island from 7 ft to 5 ft thanks to you.
    You probably saved her a rotator cuff surgery. Great blog I love it. Y’all are the bomb I’ve bought 20 of “The Home Within Us” everyone raves about it.

  4. Nice interior designing and interior furnishing!

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