Small kitchen island storage ideas – 11 ways to plan a practical prep space

Utilize every inch with these small kitchen island storage ideas

Two kitchen islands in farmhouse style kitchen with grey cabinets and grey pendant lighting
(Image credit: Unique Kitchens & Baths, Stacy Zarin Goldberg)

You need to give careful thought to your small kitchen island storage ideas to ensure this kitchen layout works for you.

Storage needs vary from household to household, so our design experts have catered for all with space-savvy solutions for cabinets, drawers, and open shelving, as well as budget-friendly add-ons that utilize every inch of space. 

Remember,  clever kitchen island ideas are those that suit not just the space itself, but the way you use and move around your kitchen. Figuring out exactly what you use it for will help to streamline storage ideas and improve your kitchen layout for the better – perhaps even your cooking, too! 

Small kitchen island storage ideas

Ultimately, the end goal is a streamlined kitchen that’s easy to cook in, so planning a kitchen island should really be done in tandem with organizing a small kitchen. That way, you can work out which items are best stored inside it. 

‘When deciding what goes where, you’ll need to be intentional about what you’re choosing to store. If your island is primarily a prep space, it may be best to prioritize storage for cutting boards and other cooking utensils. 

Don’t forget to factor in the rest of your kitchen layout, too. "The side facing the stove could hold pots, pans, and baking dishes, while the side facing the dining table could hold linens and serve ware," says Amanda Wiss, Founder of NYC-based home staging company Urban Staging and home organizing company Urban Clarity

1. Don't be afraid to mix things up

Wooden kitchen island drawer with vertical divider, contains nesting bowls, jugs and glassware

(Image credit: Neat Method, Martin Vecchio)

If you’re limited on closed storage within your small kitchen island, you might have to get a little creative with what goes where. Cabinets are commonly used for storing crockery and serveware, but a deep drawer can work just as well, for example. 

"Use high-sided dividers to keep stacks in place, or for a more versatile solution, try the Rev-a-Shelf pegboard organizer from Target; the dowels can be adjusted to separate dinnerware sets, plates from bowls, and so on," says professional organizer Michelle Urban, founder of The Organized House.  

"As well as cutlery and utensils, shallow drawers can play host to knives, spices, and coffee pods thanks to niche inserts, and with a little customization, could even double up as charging points for laptops and phones, too. Whatever your configuration, there are ways to make it work for you – you just need to think outside the box a little," she adds. 

Look at what storage your kitchen island offers – drawers, cabinets, open shelving – and use kitchen organizers to utilize them to best effect; drawer dividers for cutlery, shelf risers and Lazy Susans for bottles and jars, pull-out shelving for pots, pans, and small appliances, and so on. 

2. Make cabinets work harder

Lady wearing jeans placing kitchen linens into a divided kitchen island drawer

(Image credit: Neat Method, Martin Vecchio)

If you're wondering how to organize kitchen cabinets in a small kitchen, it's worth knowing that most cabinet shelving is actually adjustable. Depending on what you’re trying to store in your kitchen island, you could create height for appliances, cubby holes for wine, or add in an extra shelf or two for kitchenware, serveware, or cleaning supplies.  

Installing cabinet organizers such as drawers, racks, or these customizable Slide-A-Shelves, from Wayfair will make a huge difference in terms of usability, allowing you to reach items right at the back with ease. Be sure to measure the height and width of the shelf before committing to a mechanism – you ideally want a snug fit, so you’re not left with any dead space.  

"From food storage containers and mixing bowls to pots and pans, nest whenever possible to save space in kitchen cabinets. Just be sure not to nest items used for different purposes as it can make access more difficult," advises Ashley Murphy, co-founder and CEO of NEAT Method.  

3. Divide drawers

Kitchen island drawer with cutlery divider and a selection of utensils and table linens

(Image credit: Neat Method, Martin Vecchio)

With so many different items to store, organizing kitchen drawers can quickly descend into chaos without proper dividers in place. Group what you want to store by category; knives, cutlery, table linens, pens and notepads, laptops and chargers, etc, then choose a drawer organizer to suit your space – consider adding labels for extra organization. 

If you have any extra-long items, like a rolling pin, salad servers, or a large wooden spoon, try the Brightroom Slanted Tools & Gadget Drawer Organizer from Target. The 5-compartment configuration provides space for bulkier items, and the small corner cubbies left can be handy for smaller kitchen utensils and equipment.  

More commonly used for organizing clothes, a lightweight honeycomb design like the Poeland Drawer Divider at Amazon is great for holding napkins and rings; position it neatly on top of a stack of slim placemats for a space-efficient storage solution. 

4. Introduce portable storage

If you’ve decluttered your small kitchen and you’re still struggling for storage space in your island, don’t be tempted to cram everything in – increase your storage with portable kitchen island ideas, instead. Ideal for a small kitchen layout, they can be tucked alongside or underneath the existing island or wheeled out of the kitchen altogether when it’s not in use. 

Look for designs that offer a mix of drawers, shelves, and cabinets to maximize storage potential, or opt for a practical butcher’s block if it’s counter space you need. If you're after a quick and budget-friendly solution, the Amazon Basics Utility Kitchen Cart is a great buy at just under $40 and is perfect for minimalist kitchen islands.

5. Utilize the sides

White kitchen island with wooden island next to it, beams and pendant lighting hanging from ceiling

(Image credit: Unique Kitchens & Baths, Stacy Zarin Goldberg)

Focusing on cabinets and drawers is common, but don’t overlook the sides of your kitchen island – there’s plenty of untapped storage space just waiting to be realized, and in prime position, too. 

"Prioritize items you need easy access to. The Command Designer Hooks from Target are ideal for dishcloths and hand towels, but for something a little more permanent, mount a rail. You can add hooks onto the Ebern Designs Metal Straight Wall Mounted Rack from Wayfair as well as wire baskets for holding silverware, smaller items, or any utensil that doesn’t have a hole in the handle," says Michelle. 

You could even make a feature of your favorite cookbooks by fixing picture ledges to the side of your kitchen island or try a ready-to-hang option, like the Syler Modern Metal Wall Shelf, from Wayfair

6. Style up open shelving

Open display wooden kitchen island in sage green kitchen

(Image credit: Michelle Berwick Design, Mike Chajecki)

Opting for an open-sided island can create a spacious feel (worth noting if you’re dealing with small kitchen ideas). It also gives you the chance to inject personality with well-styled kitchen shelving ideas – think pretty plates, sleek appliances, vintage cookbooks, etc.  Just be sure to keep on top of tidiness to avoid a cluttered feel. 

"When space is limited, open kitchen shelving needs to be practical as well as pretty, so line them with stylish cutlery caddies, chunky glass jars, and wooden canisters to hide your less ‘sightly’ kitchen items. Natural materials are a good option as they suit any kitchen scheme. Opt for designs with handles, like these Wire Storage Baskets from Amazon for example, so you can pull them out on the countertop and move them around easily as you cook," says Emily Lambe, Deputy Editor, Real Homes. 

7. Think vertically

Going high instead of wide is a great storage hack when you’re short on space, particularly when dealing with narrow kitchen island ideas. Line shelving with stackable containers to contain smaller items or pantry ingredients – transparent versions, like the iDesign Plastic Organizer Bins from Wayfair are great as you can quickly access what you need. 

Similarly with baking trays and chopping boards, cutlery, and utensils; position high-sided dividers, plate racks, and heavy-bottomed canisters inside narrow, pull-out cabinets. You could even store glassware this way too, just be sure to use Gorilla Grip Drawer Liners from Amazon to avoid any breakages. 

"If you have the DIY prowess (or professional budget for it), invest in hanging storage so you can take advantage of vertical space over the island for things like pans, cooking utensils, or other kitchenware," says Amanda. 

It's important to choose a rack that matches the size of your island, so it looks nicely balanced. We like the simplicity of the SKYSHALO 32-inch Hanging Pot Rack Ceiling Mount Ceiling Pot Rack from Walmart.

8. Use the door

When it comes to organizing a kitchen island, utilizing the doors can go a long way towards keeping essentials close to hand, yet neatly hidden away. 

A small shelf or rack provides single-row storage for oils, condiments, and other everyday ingredients, ensuring they won’t end up obscured by other items. It’s a great way to store spices, too. 

"We like to use tension rods or these Chrome Over the Cabinet Double Baskets for cleaning supplies and this Chrome Over the Cabinet Lid Holder to contain those pesky lids, both from The Container Store. Both options do not require tools and add a significant amount of storage space to the kitchen island," says professional organizer Shannon Krause, co-founder of Tidy Nest

9. Create a functional focal point

Vintage wooden kitchen island with pendant light above and basket of artichokes in centre

(Image credit: Unique Kitchens & Baths, Stacy Zarin Goldberg)

Decorative items may look lovely, but if you haven’t got vast amounts of counter space, you’re better off choosing a centerpiece that’s both stylish and functional, to boot. A good-looking crock pot is ideal for storing (good-looking) utensils you use every day. 

"From farmhouse style enamel containers to modern sleek ceramics, it’s important you find a crock or canister to complement your kitchen aesthetic. Choose the same style of storage or utensils that look good when grouped together, for a coherent look," says Shannon.

Sleek appliances, elegant fruit bowls, and stylish canisters are all great kitchen counter decor ideas that double up on style and function, while potted herbs make for a more useful alternative to a vase of flowers. 

10. Mount a magnetic rack

If you use your kitchen island primarily for prepping, a magnetic strip positioned on the side of your island or on the back of a door is the perfect spot for storing larger, more awkward-shaped utensils that have a tendency to get trapped in drawers. 

This eco-friendly bamboo design from Amazon looks super stylish and has the added benefit of being resistant to stains and cooking smells. You could even use it to show off your cheffy knife collection, too – just be sure to position it well out of reach if you’ve got little ones in the house. 

11. Create multi-functional work areas

Sinks and cooktops are great kitchen island features, but they often wind up as dead space when not in use. To make them work harder, invest in a custom-fit chopping board that sits neatly across the top, or use the Costway Over Sink Dish Drying Rack, from Target to keep dirty dishes off the counter. 

There’s also a stylish storage opportunity to be had by displaying good-looking pots, pans and cookware on the cooker top – handy if you’re struggling for space in cabinets and drawers. 

Meet our experts

A picture of Amanda Wiss, a woman wearing a purple top in front of gray shelves
Amanda Wiss

Amanda Wiss is a design expert and founder of Urban Clarity, a home organizing company. She is also the founder of home staging studio Urban Staging, whose design-savvy team gets homes — and tired bedrooms — market ready.

Professional organizer Michelle Urban, founder of The Organized House
Michelle Urban

As a professional home organizer, Michelle Urban knows how hectic life can get. With years of experience as a working mom, wife, and owner of 'The Organized House', she offers advice and guidance on decluttering homes and restoring harmony in living spaces.   

Ashley Murphy, Professional organizer, co-founder and CEO of Neat Method
Ashley Murphy

Ashley Murphy is the co-founder and CEO of NEAT Method, a home organization brand committed to creating simple and versatile organizational systems for its clients’ homes and lives.

Emily Lambe deputy editor of Real Homes headshot
Emily Lambe

Emily is deputy digital editor at Real Homes, bringing the latest decor trends, inspirational ideas, and the best budget-friendly buys. She lives in a rented apartment, making the most of small spaces and using accent pieces to make things pop. 

Shannon Krause, professional organizer at Tidy Nest, a woman with long brown hair picutred in a garden with pink flowers in bottom right corner
Shannon Krause

Shannon Krause is a Certified Professional Organizer and owner of Tidy Nest, an award-winning organizing and relocation management company. Her unique approach blends her expertise in professional organizing with her skills as a Certified Reiki Master, integrating energy work to enhance her client's experiences. 

As we've hopefully proven, a small kitchen island doesn’t have to limit your storage opportunities, it just requires a little more thought in order to make it work for you. 

With so many solutions to choose from, it can be tricky to know where to start, so we’d recommend considering what you currently like – and don’t like – about your existing  small kitchen storage ideas. Knowing what the problem areas are and how your kitchen island could aid them is a great first step towards improving efficiency overall. 

After the arrival of her second son – and subsequent departure of any free time outside of his unpredictable nap schedule (!) – seasoned writer Tara King decided to move on from her position as a Content Editor and enter the exciting world of freelance, covering interior design, DIY and lifestyle. Alongside features for, Tara writes for Ideal Home, Style at Home, Country Homes & Interiors and other interiors publications. When she’s not working or ‘mumming’, she can be found (hiding) in the garden, attempting DIY projects… with varying levels of success!