12 clever kitchen island design ideas

Add storage, extra worktop space, bags of style and plenty of smart features with a standalone kitchen island unit

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As icons of luxury living, it’s little wonder that a kitchen island unit tops our ‘most-wanted’ list when planning a new kitchen. An attractive island can prove a real saviour in open-plan kitchen diner and living spaces, providing the perfect link between the kitchen and living/dining areas. In smaller kitchens, a slimline kitchen island will really make the most of every inch, adding essential prep space and, with a small overhang for kitchen island seating ideas, such as bar stools, the opportunity to rest between chores. 

We cover the whole range of kitchen island ideas from storage to kitchen island lighting ideas.

Related features: Plan your kitchen island seating with these ideas, too | Buy the best bar stools with our handy guide

Positioning and sizing your kitchen island

The best kitchen islands are carefully positioned to aid easy travel around the kitchen – aim for at least a 90cm to 110cm wide walkway in high traffic areas around the fridge and sink. And don't forget to allow space for dishwasher doors and extending drawers. Incorporating a sink and/or hob helps to centralise food preparation, bringing the chef into the action. Be unashamedly bold with your island lighting to ensure it takes centre-stage.

1. Choose glass doors to display china and glassware

Nobody ever complained of too much kitchen storage, but it needn’t all be purely practical. Glass doors provide a pretty dresser-style display feature that’s perfect for showing off vintage glassware and treasured ceramics. Bespoke kitchens from Martin Moore’s English Collection start from £35,000.

Martin Moore's English Collection

(Image: © Martin Moore)

2. Find a slim fit kitchen island for narrow rooms

If space is tight, freestanding kitchen furniture, such as a sideboard can be repurposed to add extra prep areas and storage without crowding you out. Do make sure the rear of the cabinet is smartly finished (some have back panels in a cheaper, thinner board). We love the aged copper worktop added to this Sebastian Cox Kitchen sideboard by deVOL, priced from £2,700.

Sebastian Cox Kitchen sideboard by deVOL

(Image: © deVOL)

3. Divide the cooking and dining areas with an island

In large open-plan kitchens, an L-shape island is a fantastically flexible way to define the cooking area while adding oodles of worktop. This stylish design features a generous breakfast bar – the perfect spot to park guests while you rustle up supper. Burbidge’s Gresham range in Antique grey Chamois and Putty starts from £12,000.

Burbidge’s Gresham range in Antique grey Chamois and Putty

(Image: © Burbidge)

4. Make your kitchen island a sink station

Installing the sink in your kitchen island is a sociable option that allows you to look out into the room – and possibly garden beyond – while you work. This bespoke undermounted sink is in the same honed Arabescato marble as the worktop for a sleek, seamless finish. Add a boiling water tap for speedy brews. Charlie Kingham’s Shoreditch collection starts from £20,000. 

Charlie Kingham’s Shoreditch collection

(Image: © Charlie Kingham)

5. Minimise the kitchen island's proportions

It’s tempting to think big when planning a kitchen island but really large designs can prove overpowering. Dropping one corner unit creates a far more dynamic shape that feels less bulky. Pop on a cushion for a snug seating nook. This island features Ikea’s Uddevalla blackboard door, from £15; Ringhult door in high gloss white, from £22, and Säljan worktop in white, from £40. 

Kitchen island from Ikea

(Image: © Ikea)

6. Curve appeal

Gently curved kitchen cabinetry softens the sharp lines and hard surfaces found in kitchens, can help make small kitchens feel more spacious, and will improve the natural traffic flow around the island. They’re far kinder on small children’s foreheads, too! Magnet’s Somerton Duck Egg kitchen starts from £847 for a 60cm base unit.  

Magnet’s Somerton Duck Egg kitchen

(Image: © Magnet)

7. Include bold island lighting

Kitchen island lights can take your kitchen island to the next level. Use dramatic light fittings to anchor your kitchen island unit and ramp up the wow factor. A line of pendants can be especially effective – odd numbers work best – or go for a single outsized shade, like this Byron Pendant , £150, to really impress. Neptune’s Suffolk kitchen starts from £16,000. 

Neptune Suffolk Kitchen

(Image: © Neptune)

8. Dual worktops

Opting for split surfaces is a simple but incredibly effective way of adding interest to your kitchen island. Here, the breakfast bar is made from solid wood, which is kind on elbows and crockery, while the hardworking prep side is a more durable composite quartz surface. Masterclass Kitchens’ Ashbourne range, shown in Graphite, starts from £7,500. Choose the right kitchen worktops with our guide to worktop materials.

Masterclass Kitchens' Ashbourne range

(Image: © Masterclass Kitchens)

9. Enhance a small kitchen with an island on legs

Elevating a kitchen island on legs is a fast-track way to give modular furniture a lighter appearance and make the most of statement kitchen flooring. Mowlem & Co’s Virtuoso kitchen, painted in Farrow & Ball’s Railings, starts from £30,000. 

Mowlem & Co’s Virtuoso kitchen

(Image: © Mowlem & Co)

10. Stretch space with mirror magic

Keep the kitchen island unit love alive by thinking outside the box in terms of both shape and materials. Wren’s Mirage Island, £4,948 as shown, is a compelling combination of geometric quartz and mirrored glass that can’t fail to impress.  

Wren Kitchens' Mirage Kitchen Island

(Image: © Wren Kitchens)

11. Give your kitchen island an industrial edge

This rustic island unit is made from salvaged oak beams, fused with hand-welded metalwork for an on-trend industrial touch. From Clayton Cabinets

(Image: © Clayton Cabinets)

Deliberately contrasting old and new can prove extremely arresting, and often a little kinder on the environment, too. This rustic, industrial-style kitchen island unit is made from salvaged oak beams, fused with hand-welded metalwork for an on-trend industrial touch. Bespoke kitchens start from £21,000 at Clayton Cabinets

12. Go for a contemporary take on the rustic look

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Get the balance right between contemporary and rustic styles by choosing a freestanding kitchen island that combines traditional craftsmanship with a modern feature, such as a sleek contemporary – and very practical – worktop

Easy and cheaper to install because these types of islands don't require plumbing or wiring for sinks or hobs, they're the perfect prep spaces for the keen cook. 

This design cleverly accommodates kitchen island seating and storage

Working open storage into your island to introduce added materials, such as wood and basketwork, and to create both storage and display space.

The clean lines and on trend – but also forever classic – grey kitchen cabinetry combine with the sleek worktop to create the perfect combination of contemporary and traditional design. 

The Weybridge Kitchen by The Main Company features classic handcrafted cabinetry and a light-reflecting quartzite worktop. 

The Weybridge Kitchen by The Main Company

(Image: © The Main Company)

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