A guide to kitchen island sizes – how big should they be?

Getting the right kitchen island size is crucial for a great room design. Here’s what you should know

After buying a period farmhouse, Anna Bennett and Rob Stannard created a kitchen that worked for them – but it meant moving it to a new location
(Image credit: VERONICA RODRIGUEZ)

Kitchen islands are ultra desirable features, creating additional storage, space for tasks such as preparation and cooking and, frequently, introducing a place to sit as well. A kitchen island can also make use of what might otherwise be a redundant area in a large room, or increase the functionality of a smaller kitchen.

But kitchen island size is crucial. The dimensions of the island shouldn’t impede access to the counter or passage around the room. And if it has seating, adequate space for each sitter is essential.

Whatever kitchen island ideas you have for your home, get the lowdown on kitchen island average size and how to fit yours to your room.

How much space do you need for a kitchen island?

If an island is on your list of kitchen ideas, be mindful that it does require a relatively generous space. The kitchen island average size is 40 by 80 inches (around 1 by 2 metres), but it’s vital to leave adequate space around it. 

Think proportion first. ‘Kitchen islands should take up between one tenth to one fifteenth of your overall kitchen area,’ says Volodymyr Barabakh, co-founder and project director of Fortress Home. ‘You therefore generally want to err on the smaller side in comparison to your overall kitchen floor space. One fifteenth of your overall kitchen floor space is what you want ideally.’

Can your kitchen be too small for an island? ‘In most cases, you should have a kitchen of at least 150 square foot (14 square meters) to comfortably have an island,’ says Volodymyr Barabakh. Don’t despair if your room is on the small side, though. For more compact rooms small kitchen island ideas can help you get the counter space you’re hankering after. 

How big should a kitchen island be?

We’ve talked about the kitchen space, but what about the kitchen island size? Elyse Moody, kitchen design expert at Designer Appliances agrees that its proportions depend on the size of your kitchen, but she adds that also important is ‘whether you intend to use your island for prep only or as a seating area.’  

There’s another consideration that’s often missed in thinking about kitchen island size. ‘Many people dream of having a large kitchen island, but they fail to consider the maximum size that their countertop material comes in,’ explains architect Mona Ying Reeves, founder of Kickstart House.

‘Exceeding a standard size or length could add substantial cost to your island, or introduce unsightly seams. Solid slabs often max out at 8 to 10 feet (2.4 to 3m) depending on the material, and butcher blocks are limited as well due to production and transportation constraints.’

If your kitchen is really large, it’s not only the countertop material’s length that should be considered. ‘Almost any kitchen island will naturally be proportional to the space, as the size is typically dictated by three sides of base and wall cabinets which will determine the length of the center island,’ says Jay Kallos, senior vice president of architecture at Ashton Woods.

‘If you have a really wide space where this guidance isn’t present, your guiding factors are what works aesthetically and ergonomically in the space. This might be an instance where two square islands in line work best by providing access at the midpoint of what would be an island big enough to park a car on without the break. For an extra deep kitchen, two parallel islands work really well, allowing one to be a “working” island and the other left to dining, studying or partying.’

How much space should there be between the island and the counter?

When you’re thinking kitchen island size, the distance between the island and the counter is absolutely crucial. 

‘If it’s just an island and you don’t have bar stools on one side, you need to have at least 3 feet (1m) and not more than 4 feet (1.2m) between the island and the surrounding counters or wall,’ recommends Elyse Moody.

‘If you have bar seating that traffic will flow behind, you need at least 4 feet (1.2m) of space behind the stools, between the island and the adjacent counters or walls.’

Mona Ying Reeves agrees: ‘Make sure you leave adequate walking and working room on either side. Local codes will dictate what those minimums are (typically 3 feet (1m)) and it’s good to leave more space (42 to 48 inches (1 to 1.2m)) for working areas where appliance doors open.’

How much overhang should a kitchen island have?

If your kitchen island is used as a seating area, it will need an overhang. ‘A standard counter overhang is 12 inches (30.5cm),’ says Elyse Moody. ‘Whether or not it needs support underneath depends on your countertop material.’ 

Jay Kallos agrees. ‘A good overhang for eating is 12 inches (30.5cm) but, as with anything, an even deeper overhang is better.’ 

Ben Neely, owner/president of Riverbend Homes also favors sizing up the overhang. ‘Make sure there is at least 14 inches (35.6cm) of overhang for seating,’ he recommends. ‘This should allow you to fully push any style of barstool in and for the countertop to be comfortably underneath you when eating.’

If your overhang does need support, think about where this is positioned. ‘If the overhang will have braces or corbels, plan their size and location carefully,’ says kitchen and bathroom contractor Jeremy Boulanger of Boulanger Construction. ‘They should be symmetrically spaced and be installed between seats. The overhang should extend a few inches past them, so a 16 inch (40.6cm) overhang would have 12 to 14 inch (30.5 to 35.6cm) corbels while a 12 inch (30.5cm) should not have one bigger than 10 inches (25.4cm).‘

How much space do you need for seating each person at a kitchen island?

Kitchen island size affects how many people can be comfortably seated at it. After all, everyone needs sufficient elbow room. 

‘You should plan on 20 to 24 inches (50 to 60cm) for each person along an island,’ says Jeremy Boulanger. ‘So a 4 foot (1.2m) island would sit two people comfortably, etc.’

Bear in mind that if kids will generally be seated at the island, a width at the smaller end of the range should be just fine.

More space for each person won’t go amiss. ‘Make sure that there is at least 28 inches (71cm) width of space per seat,’ advises Ben Neely. ‘This allows ample space for all your family or guests to sit comfortably together and not be rubbing shoulders.’ 

The style of your bar stools could mean you need extra space per person. ‘At a minimum, take your stool width and add 6 inches (15cm) for spacing – and that will grow even more if your stools swivel,’ says Jay Kallos.

Don’t forget to plan kitchen island lighting if it’s to be a dining area to make it a cozy place to share food.

How wide is a kitchen island with seating?

The width of a kitchen island with seating will depend on the dimensions of your kitchen and more, and the expert advice above will give you all the numbers you need. However, we recommend that a kitchen island with seating should be at least 36 inches (90cm) wide with the overhang included.

Be mindful of practicalities when it comes to kitchen island size, though. ‘Once the island gets so deep that someone needs to climb up on the countertop to clean it, you have an island that is too big,’ says Jay Kallos.

Sarah Warwick
Sarah Warwick

Sarah is a freelance journalist and editor writing for websites, national newspapers, and magazines. She’s spent most of her journalistic career specialising in homes – long enough to see fridges become smart, decorating fashions embrace both minimalism and maximalism, and interiors that blur the indoor/outdoor link become a must-have. She loves testing the latest home appliances, revealing the trends in furnishings and fittings for every room, and investigating the benefits, costs and practicalities of home improvement. It's no big surprise that she likes to put what she writes about into practice, and is a serial house revamper. For Realhomes.com, Sarah reviews coffee machines and vacuum cleaners, taking them through their paces at home to give us an honest, real life review and comparison of every model.

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