Will an Island Fit in My Kitchen?

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Entertaining and cooking in your kitchen can be much easier if you have a comfortable place to gather with guests as well as cook or prepare your food. Islands are very popular because they serve both of these functions, and they offer space for dining and storage.

While a well-planned kitchen layout for an island has many benefits, a poorly planned layout can be very disappointing. Simply stated, some kitchens do not have the space to include an island. If you are considering an island in your kitchen, read the following tips to determine if you have enough space to make an island work for you. Even if you find out that your kitchen cannot accommodate an island, try not to be too disappointed because there are some other great options.

Calculate Your Clearance Zone

To find out whether clients have enough room for an island, the first question a designer will ask is the size of the room. Designers also take into account how many people live in the home, and how their clients use the space.

For example, in a room that is 16½ feet (5 meters) wide and 19¾ feet (6 meters) long, most of the cabinets would be positioned along a wall. The depth of the cabinets from the back wall to the front of the cabinets measures approximately 25 inches (650 millimeters).

It is important to leave a gap between the countertop edge on the back run of cabinets and the island’s countertop edge to create a safe clearance for walking in the kitchen. The ideal distance for a clearance zone is approximately 3 feet (1 meter) to safely move around the island and throughout the kitchen.

Don’t Make Assumptions

Even if your kitchen is small, an island may still be possible. There are many configurations and scenarios to include an island, even if space is limited. There are islands available with reduced depth, customized height or extra large cabinets specifically built to suit a design or space. There may still be hope for your kitchen island dreams!

Safety First

In addition to your clearance zone, a kitchen designer will need to build in the right amount of clearance between the island and cabinets and appliances. This is important to ensure that doors, drawers, ovens and dishwashers can be opened safely and without obstruction.

The most common hazard in a kitchen is the dishwasher drawer. These doors open downward, so if you walk past, there is a risk of tripping, falling and hurting yourself or others. The danger factor further increases if you’re carrying a hot dish or a sharp knife. In this case, the minimum distance to keep people safe in your kitchen is between two fully extended drawers on opposing runs is approximately 3 feet (900 millimeters).

Fitting an Island Into a Smaller Space

Islands differ in size and shape, but the minimum recommended size of a permanent kitchen island is approximately 40 by 40 inches (1,000 by 1,000 millimeters). Although this is quite small, these dimensions still allow for a practical working island (including electrical hookups or integrating appliances).

An island of this size needs a minimal clearance zone of 31½ inches (800 millimeters). This is the smallest distance for safe and unobstructed passage. This clearance zone is suitable for one person working in the kitchen; however, it would be cramped (or potentially hazardous) for more people.

Consider an Island with Multiple Uses

A kitchen island can be extremely efficient can serve more than one function. The island below shows how seating, cubby storage, workspace and a gas cooktop can be integrated into it. The kitchen layout was carefully considered to accommodate the owner’s needs while optimizing the space.

A Proportional Fit

The average kitchen island is approximately 3 by 6½ feet (1,000 by 2,000 millimeters) with an approximate surrounding clearance zone of 40 inches (1,000 millimeters). However, an island’s size is usually determined by the other items in the kitchen, so larger rooms “fit” bigger islands. Conversely, it’s important to remember that an island that is too large for the room could spoil your kitchen’s aesthetic. Talk to your kitchen designer to help you determine what size is best for you.

If you do not maintain an island’s dimensions proportional to the surrounding space, you compromise the workflow of the kitchen. In a larger space, it may seem logical to allow a wider walkway between the island and the opposite work surface. It’s important to note the issue with this scenario; a clearance zone wider than approximately 4 feet (1,200 millimeters) means that the layout will be less comfortable to use because the gap between the island and the countertop may feel awkward. Something as simple as navigating around the island can be frustrating if it’s too large.

Say Yes to the Galley Option

Professional chefs like a galley kitchen layout (two parallel runs of cabinet) because it is safe and easy to use. A galley island layout makes it possible for you to stand at the island, and spin to reach the workspace behind. In a well-executed design, this allows easy access to all work surfaces, cabinets and appliances during cooking. If the clearance zone is larger than 4 feet (1,200 millimeters), most users would have to pivot and then step to reach the countertop opposite. This scenario creates a disconnect between the two spaces, and can make the kitchen feel awkward.

Will the Countertop Fit Through the Passageway to Your Kitchen?

Along with determining if an island will fit your kitchen space, you need to know the size of the countertop it requires. Some countertop materials have a maximum size limit before requiring a visible seam, which may be a deterrent.

It is also important to check that your countertop will fit inside your house and into the kitchen before you order it. Missing this obvious but important step can present a big problem! If your kitchen can be reached only via a narrow flight of stairs or a winding passageway, you may have to reduce the size of the island for the countertop to fit in one piece, or add a seam.

Consider Alternative Layouts & Solutions

Some clients rearrange the layout of the kitchen to create more space, but it is important to remember that this is not possible in all homes. This may mean altering some of the interior structure, such as taking a wall down to make an open-plan setting or building an addition. A circular island is another possibility.

Smaller-scale options include butcher blocks, moving islands and trolleys to provide many of the advantages of an island when there is not enough space. Small, portable islands can be extremely functional, offer extra storage space and another work surface. They are also less expensive than a permanent kitchen island.

Finally, a kitchen peninsula rather than a full island may work for you. A kitchen peninsula shares many of the appealing qualities as a kitchen island, but it is fixed at one end. Peninsulas work well in small kitchens because, with one end fixed to a wall, they take up less space. They also do not require as much space as a traditional island.


We hope that you are excited by all of the options you have to create (or adapt your kitchen) to include a kitchen island or suitable alternative. If you have questions about what the best kitchen island option is for your home, please contact one of our kitchen designers for an in-home consultation to give you the answers you need.