Kitchen Island Designs & Layouts

How to Design an Island for Your New Kitchen

As you are designing your ideal kitchen layout, whether it is a remodel to your existing kitchen, a renovation, or you are building your dream kitchen in your dream house one of the major design features to consider is the size, shape, and functionality of your kitchen island. The kitchen island can add an element of style, not to mention provide additional storage, seating, and workspace.

It may seem that your kitchen size or layout would determine the island that would best “fit”. We are going to start at the basics though, considering how you use your kitchen on a daily basis. Whether you use the space for entertaining, feeding the kids, or testing out your culinary skills, you are guaranteed to take a liking to one of the six most common island types. Let’s take a closer look at the typical styles, the perks of each and the possible drawbacks. The information contained in this article will aid you in designing a kitchen island that fits with your lifestyle.

Island Layouts

L-Shaped Island

If you have a large open space in your kitchen and are looking for a generous workspace, storage capacity, and seating, an L-shaped island may be the right style. With the corner in the L-shaped island, you can add a lazy susan style attachment in the cabinet to maximize your storage space. If you are looking to add an appliance or two to your island, this style is a nice fit as well.

The key advantages of an L-shaped island are:

  • Large in size
  • Generous storage capabilities
  • Plenty of workspace for an avid cook or multiple cooks
  • Room for bar style seating

The possible drawbacks to the L-shaped island:

  • Due to their size and square lines, this type of layout can chop up your kitchen design, hampering your workflow.
  • Sharp corners can create a boxed in look and also decrease accessibility around the rest of the kitchen.

U-Shaped Island

This style also lends itself well to a large open kitchen space. With a U-shaped island, you still have a generous amount of workspace, along with the opportunity to storage and seating.

The key advantages of a U-shaped island are:

  • Very spacious.
  • Largest and most accommodating of all island types perfect for storage, workspace and room for seating.
  • Ample space for housing one or more appliances.
  • With an appliance in the island, the chef has plenty of workspace surrounding the appliance for prep or clean up as needed.

The possible drawbacks to the U-shaped island:

  • The size can also be the largest downfall, without a large kitchen space this island style can quickly overwhelm your kitchen.
  • Due to the large size, without careful planning, the U-shaped island can also close your kitchen off from the rest of your home if you are aiming for an open concept feel.
  • Similar to the L-shaped, with the corners to maximize storage you would want to feature a lazy susan or swing out device for storage, otherwise you have dead space.

U-Shaped Island Countertop with sink.

Galley Island

The galley island design is a no-frills, workhorse design for any kitchen. This style of island fits in just about any kitchen layout and provides extra workspace, seating, and storage, especially in a kitchen that may be on the smaller side.

The key advantages of a galley island are:

  • Simple and efficient and can be a good fit for any kitchen layout.
  • Maximizes storage, because there aren’t any corners and you can put cabinets back to back.
  • Great for bar style seating.

The possible drawbacks to the galley island are:

  • Could be considered bland/boring.
  • Can be too small to comfortably fit an appliance.

Circular Island

You might recognize circular kitchen islands from restaurants that are designed with visible cooking stations. Circular islands are a great choice if you are looking to expand seating space and create a central element.

  • The key advantages of a circular island are:
    Interesting visual dynamic which adds style and elegance to your kitchen.
  • Ample prep space.
  • Expansive seating areas, typically for table height seating rather than counter or bar height.

The possible drawbacks to the circular island are:

  • Counter is spread out and curved, which can limit the efficiency of the workspace.
  • Limited storage space.

Circular Island Countertop

Rolling Island

Both finished and unfinished rolling kitchen islands will make an impact on a small or large space. A versatile option, they can be rolled around, which makes it possible to refresh the appearance of your kitchen as frequently as you like. Portable and low-cost, rolling islands are available in various sizes, colors and materials.

The key advantages of a rolling island are:

  • Versatile
  • Great for smaller kitchens that lack prep space.
  • Can function as a food tray, worktop, or spare surface to place ingredients.
  • Easy to stow and move.
  • Affordable

The possible drawbacks to the rolling island are:

  • Small and compact design doesn’t lend itself to ample workspace.
  • Hassle to roll out.
  • Little to no storage.
  • No opportunity for added seating.

Furniture Style Island

A piece of furniture can be re-purposed to create a furniture style kitchen island. Quirky and unique, this type of kitchen island can be designed in many different dimensions. What’s more, assembly is achievable with a mixture of furniture pieces, such as a marble top and vintage wooden legs.

The key advantages of a furniture style island are:

  • Adds character to your kitchen design.
  • Decorative Element
  • Usually aren’t bulky in size.
  • Open design makes displaying decor easy.

The possible drawbacks to a furniture style island are:

  • Little to no storage
  • Durability – furniture tops won’t hold up the way granite or quartz will.

Design Style for the Island Layout You Have Selected

You have done the hard work – selected the layout that not only meets your kitchen size and layout but your practical needs and style as well.  Let’s explore a few design features that will impact not only the look of your island and overall kitchen, but your workflow as well.

Countertop Riser

This style features one countertop level for appliances and/or food prep and another level for seating.  The seating level can be shorter (table height), or taller (bar height). This may be a nice feature for the busy cook who also enjoys entertaining. You have the opportunity to cook, prep, and clean, while visiting with your guests yet they are somewhat separated from the food prep.

Waterfall Edge

Bring the countertop granite or quartz material down the side and you have a kitchen island with a waterfall edge. This waterfall design is an effective way of adding interest to the most basic of spaces.

Countertop Surface

Some individuals elect to go with a complementary style on the island rather than the same countertop.  How do you select the look that is right for you, you ask? Approximately 85% of people will use the same countertop as the rest of the kitchen. Stainless steel or butcher block are other options worth considering. You can even use a different edge style on the island as the rest of the kitchen to make it appear larger.


A Waterfall Edge with Bianco Antico Granite

Function of the Island

How you intend on using the kitchen island is completely up to you. Just keep in mind your main reasons for introducing the island, which might be to provide the kids with a space to do their homework, to create a space for additional kitchen amenities, to conceal clutter, or to complement existing materials and fixtures.

Storage Needs

If maximizing storage is your goal, you may want to consider wrapping your cabinet design around the island to offer storage on all sides.  As mentioned above, the style of the island will weigh into how much storage you are able to have.  Think about what you want to store out of sight inside the island and what you want to store clearly. Open shelving is perfect for providing extra leg space.

Seating at the Island

How many people would you like to provide seating for? The generally accepted industry standard is 24” of width per person for seating. However, for maximum comfort, we would recommend 30” per person, especially if they will be dining at the island. Countertop overhang at the island is also important when it comes to seating. Normal overhang length is 12” and is generally the same depth as that of a snack bar or cocktail bar. Keep in mind that the normal overhang length does not provide enough space for legs before they are hitting the base countertop. For optimal dining, 15” overhang is recommended.

Appliances in the Island

Counter space is always a premium in any kitchen, and placement of your appliances is key to maximizing your remaining counter space. If your island style is large enough, you can place a sink – either the primary sink or a smaller bar style sink in your island. Another option is your cooktop with a vent or hood placed in your island.

Tropic Brown Granite

Seating at an Island with Tropic Brown Granite

Since a kitchen island serves so many purposes, your design choices should not be made lightly. An interior design icon of the 21st century, kitchen islands can make a huge difference to the way you prepare meals, entertain, eat and everything in-between. So long as you pay thought to the way in which it will match your kitchen layout and consider your options in terms of countertop materials, sizes, and appliances, you can rest assured that your kitchen island will serve its function well.