Design and Decor

How Much Space Around Kitchen Island

In this guide we will show you how much space there should be around the kitchen island. It is your complete resource to have a well-planned kitchen island layout that provides enough space for food preparation and for cooking food. The main reason why most people like to have an island is to have additional counter space. However, having a well-planned island will not only provide additional work surfaces, extra storage but it will also make your entire kitchen beautiful. Most importantly, it will be more functional. On the other hand, a poorly planned island layout will provide the opposite because it will make your work harder. This is especially true if your island is obstructing your easy access to the main work areas such as the range, sink and refrigerator.

Fortunately, all the information that you need to know when building an island is just the click of finger away. Below are the basic guidelines in order for you to have a beautiful and functional island.

Determine If Your Kitchen Has Enough Room For An Island

Before even thinking about the design, the paint color and type of cabinets that you would like to have for your island, you need to know first if  your kitchen size or space is even capable of having an island. Ideally, it should be at least 150 square feet or 14 square meters to have an island. Your kitchen should have a width of at least 13 feet or 156 inches or more. A good rule of thumb when putting up an island is that there should be 42 to 48 inches of open space around the island excluding chairs or stools. For U-shaped kitchens, there must be at least a 10 ft opening to add an island.

How To Determine The Right Size Of The Island

In terms of the island size, it is highly dependent on 2 factors namely the square footage or room size (at least 150 square ft) and your kitchen layout. Its size should be proportional to the space or size of your kitchen. Your island size is pretty determined by the available open space around it. Obviously, a smaller kitchen can only accommodate a compact one while larger kitchens can accommodate a large island or it may actually need a larger island to make the kitchen look balanced. For example, a small kitchen island that has standard dimensions will look odd if you place it in a pretty spacious kitchen or a large kitchen island can definitely crowd a small kitchen.

For the 2nd factor, the layout of the kitchen, it will help you to know if an inclusion of an island is feasible and if it will be useful or be an obstruction. Kitchens with U shaped and L shaped layouts are most likely suitable for an island. However, one wall kitchen layouts or Pullman style kitchens can also accommodate an island provided that the surrounding space is big enough or meets the minimum distance between the island and cabinetry. For a galley kitchen or a narrow kitchen layout with two rows of cabinets facing each other, it most likely can not have one.

Remember, an island that is too big will make your cooking area look cramped and have a poor workflow which can mean that even walking through  can be a chore. Also, having a gap between the cabinetry and the island wider than 48 inches will make the cooking area less efficient and less comfortable to use as well. Therefore, it is necessary its dimensions are proportional to the entire kitchen area.

How Much Space Around Island And More

Having an island is not only limited to a larger kitchen because a small kitchen is also capable of having one even though there may not be much room. A good kitchen designer will offer you a kitchen island design with customized depth,height, or extra-large cabinet that is specifically based on your needs and the available space that you have. Below are the space requirements around an island and other factors to consider when you’re planning to have one.

Define Your Clearance Space/Zone

How much space around kitchen island

By definition, clearance space or commonly known as clearance zone is the open space between cabinets and an island. The ideal clearance zone to have is at least 39 inches. However, the National Kitchen and Bath Association recommends that an island should have a clearance zone between 42 to 48 inches. These measurements will give you enough room to safely move around the island and throughout the entire kitchen. Aside from that, it will allow you to freely open cabinet doors, drawers, the dishwasher and other items without restriction.

Average Kitchen Island Size

The minimum size of a fixed kitchen island is 40 x 40 inches or 24 x 48 inches if using standard size of base cabinets for the island. If you have a small cooking area that does not have an ideal clearance zone between 39 to 48 inches, the use of 40 x 40 inches may be for you. This size of the island requires a minimum clearance zone or open space of 31 1/2 inches. This will allow one person to work safely within the kitchen.

Island Standard Height

The standard height of an island is 36 inches but you also have the option to raise your counter up to 42 to 48 inches if you prefer. If your island has a seating area, use a low stool for islands with a height of 36 inches and bar stools for islands with a height of 42 to 48 inches.

Minimum Distance Between Kitchen Island And Walkways

The minimum space or distance between your island and walkways is at least 36 inches. However, if your kitchen has two walkways that are perpendicular to each other, one walkway should have at least 42 inches open space.

The Best Spot For Your Island

The best spot for your island is not always in the center of your kitchen. You need to consider the three primary work centers which are the range, sink and refrigerator when finding a spot for your island. The distances between these three major work areas usually form a work triangle. A work triangle concept has been the standard when it comes to kitchen design as it provides an efficient workflow which helps you to accomplish your task faster and more effectively. Following this work triangle concept, the best spot for your island is where there is no more than 12 inches of a work triangle leg that cross or intersects with the island.

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For a cooking area with Pullman layouts where the range, sink and refrigerator are placed on one wall, the work triangle is not applicable and the center of your Pullman style kitchen is the best and perfect spot for your island.

Furthermore, position your island based on its main function, if your island’s main function is for food preparation, it should be placed next to the oven and refrigerator while for islands that will mainly be used for clean up, the best spot for an island is near to the sink, dishwasher and garbage can. However, if you want your island to have both functions, for meal prep and for clean up, then have a galley island layout. This is done by positioning it parallel or behind the main work areas such as the range, refrigerator and sink with a clearance zone between 39 to 48 inches. This type of island layout will allow you to work on the island and with just one turn on your heel you will be able to reach these work areas easily and safely. However, if the open space or clearance zone is beyond 48 inches, most kitchen users would need to fully turn and take additional steps to access all work areas, cabinets and appliances during meal preparation or cooking.

Standard Distance Between Cabinetry And Kitchen Island

How much space around kitchen island

Photo Credit: starcraftcustomuilders,com

When kitchens include an island, the travel distance from the island to the three primary work centers, range, sink and refrigerator should be at least 48 inches and not more than 108 inches or 9 feet based on the Universal Design Guidelines standards.

Consider Your Countertop Material Maximum Size Limit

Be sure to consider the island’s countertop size when planning your kitchen. Certain types of countertop materials have a maximum size before requiring a visible seam. This should be avoided if at all possible. Also be sure to check if the countertop material of your choice will go or fit inside your house and into your cooking area before making the final decision of ordering it. If it should happen that your chosen countertop would not physically fit into your home, you might want to consider reducing your island size for the countertop to fit in one piece and to avoid having unwanted seams

How Much Overhang For Island With Seating?

Kitchen islands with heights of 42 inches need to have a 12-inch overhang and at least a 15-inch overhang for a 36 inch height island. Depending on the countertop material, you may need support underneath. If this is the case, you will need to use corbels or metal braces. Corbels will protect your countertop from tipping or breaking and serve as a decorative piece for your island. Follow this rule when buying countertop corbels, it must be at least half the overhang’s depth and match the countertop material’s support needs. Also, you need to provide at least 20 to 24 inches between seats to have a comfortable space for those seated along the island.

How much island overhang should be unsupported?

Below are the solid-surface countertops that can overhang without support:

  • 6″ plywood deck overhang
  • Quartz overhangs 14 inches.
  • Three-inch granite overhang .

Add Some Interesting Detail To Your Island

Utilize decorative corbels, trim moldings, hardware, countertops and paint colors to add decorative details to your kitchen island. A kitchen island painted with a different color that complements the paint color of the cabinetry together with a beautiful countertop can turn your island into a beautiful focal point of your kitchen.

Options For Smaller Kitchens

Change The Layout Of Your Kitchen

How much space around kitchen island

Before Picture

How much space around kitchen island

After Picture

If your cooking space is too small and you really want to have an island, you might want to consider a kitchen remodel to change the layout of it like opening your kitchen to create a more adequate space for an island. This may involve removing a wall to create an open-plan space and extending the foot print. This actually is what we did when we renovated our 1950-s kitchen, we removed the wall that separated the kitchen from the dining and living room area and extended it by a foot towards the dining area. Even though we extended the foot print, the space is still too small for an island that is why we added a peninsula. A peninsula shares the same functions and qualities of an island but only that it is fixed on one end. It also does not require the same clearance zone compared to an island which also means peninsulas take up less floor space. The option of a peninsula is a really great and functional choice for kitchens with insufficient space as it also provides extra space and functions.

Make Your Small Island Multi-Functional

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Design your small island with a raised breakfast bar. The raised bar is a great design if you like to entertain on a regular basis. The raised countertop is the perfect spot to place your finger foods and beverages for your friends to enjoy. Aside from that, it helps you to hide your clutter and it defines a clearer line between the cooking area and the living room which allows you to interact with your guests without interference.

Use A Smaller Scale Size Of Island

If changing the floor plans of your cooking area is not feasible, the use of a smaller scale size island such as moving islands and trolley are a great way to add additional work space when there is no space for an island. These may be small but they can be really functional because they offer additional space or storage space and most importantly, are more affordable than a fixed island. Below are some of the compact size islands that can definitely be functional and give additional storage to your kitchen.

Utility Cart with narrow butcher block top, storage drawer and cabinet.

Rolling Cart with drawer, adjustable shelf and towel racks. Also available in black and cream white.


I hope that this guide gives you an idea about how to come up with the right kitchen floor plan suited for your perfect kitchen. Remember to always follow standards when it comes to room design as this provides ease of use to all of the primary work centers of your kitchen and therefore you will experience much enjoyment while you are preparing food for your loved ones.

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