Every fixed kitchen island is custom in the sense that it is unlike any other, and is made to fit your space and needs. Custom kitchen islands cover a range from the completely custom-made and custom-finished island to match your custom cabinets, to a much more economical island made out of standard size cabinets and countertops assembled in creative ways.
How to Customize Your Island
You can use any arrangement of wall and/or base cabinets which fits your space, to form the base of your kitchen island. Then you can customize it in many ways to create many different potential kitchen island designs:
- Change levels on part of the island, up to bar height or down to table height
- Make the island an unusual shape. Who says everything has to be rectangular? Try angles and curves: mock up the shape with cardboard and tape to see how it looks and how it works.
- Use several small movable islands pushed together to make one big island, or split them up and move them to where they are needed
- Match the island counter shape with a shape in the ceiling above – a dropped or raised section, an outline, curved track lights, a pot rack or vent hood.
- Don’t use cabinet doors at all – have an “all-drawers” island
- Add feet to the bottom of your base cabinets in the toe-kick area
- Add legs to the ends, or to support an eating overhang. Check antique tables for proportions and sizes: some island legs I’ve seen in magazines are way oversized and clunky-looking to my eye.
- Use small gaps between your base cabinets for cookbook shelves, bottle storage, display niches, cutting board or baking sheet storage, pull-out towel storage, narrow pullout racks for spices, etc.
- Do without a toe-kick and have legs or a pedestal instead, especially in historic houses where this would have been done in the original period. Try the pedestal idea before you do it, to make sure you can still work at the counter without banging your toes.
- If one side of your island faces the living or family room, and that side is not an eating counter, display cabinets with glass doors look wonderful lit from inside. Safety glass and a solid bottom part to the doors reduce the risk of accidents.
- Build your island in an identifiable style that contrasts with the rest of the kitchen: Craftsman, Victorian, Modern, Art Deco or Southwestern can all make an interesting change
- Use a countertop material different from that used on your counters round the edge of the room
- Order a special edge treatment: no matter what countertop material you use, the edges can be customized
- Use a custom-shaped countertop which overhangs the cabinets
- Combine more than one countertop material: perhaps a butcher-block prep area with a marble slab for pastry
- Include flip-up or pull-out worktop sections to extend your counter space
- Change cabinet finishes on the island: dark vs light cabinets, painted vs stained, antique-look vs modern
- Use two-tone finishes on the island cabinets: light and dark wood panels, distressed or antiqued paint finishes
- Customize the non-door ends and sides of your island: panel with decorative materials like beadboard or tile, panels or doors to match your cabinets, even wallpaper or fabric (varnished for protection). You could also use a translucent material and light it from the inside.
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- Use different hardware on the island, different in style, material or both
- Add rails, racks, pegs, hooks, holders etc wherever they’ll be useful
- ‘Dock’ a movable island or cart in or under a larger fixed island for flexibility
- Light your island with multiple decorative pendant lights: mini-chandeliers, art glass shades, industrial lighting, whatever fits your style. Dimmable, of course!
- Use corbels or brackets to support overhangs as well as or instead of legs. These could match corbels used elsewhere in the kitchen, perhaps supporting a hood over the range.
Appliances and Fixtures
- Add appliance drawers: fridge, freezer, dishwasher, or warmer.
- Include an interesting sink which would be impractical as your main sink: an odd shape like a trough or unusual material like copper
- An unusual or specialized faucet makes a great island feature too
- Instead of a standard cooktop in the island, use separate burners arranged in a row, or a mix of different fuel types, a grill, or induction units.
Potential Island Problems to Avoid
- Squeezing an island into a space which isn’t large enough
- creating a “barrier island” which interrupts the legs of the work triangle
- expensive plumbing work to have a sink in your island
- expensive ventilation work to have a cooktop in your island
- no visual break to hide sink- or range-side mess on the island
- too-short overhangs intended for eating, resulting in bumped knees
- cramped and too-narrow aisles round the island
- appliance doors which open into people sitting at the island
- pointy corners and edges on island worktops (ouch!)
- appliance doors on the island and perimeter directly across from each other, which interfere
- Lights not centered over the island when they should be
- Safety issues with cooktop too close to diners
- Electrical outlets in island cabinets interfere with interior fittings like pullouts or drawer slides
- Island legs which interfere with diners legs
- Making the island too narrow or too small altogether
Kitchen floor plans can benefit greatly from a custom kitchen island, but only if you can avoid the potential gotchas!