5 effortless ways to make a kitchen island look more expensive

An island is central to any kitchen design and elevating this space will enhance the whole look of the room

Open plan kitchen designed by deVOL
(Image credit: deVOL/Our Food Stories)

Usually, a  kitchen island makes a wonderful feature in a home. The additional surface area, storage, and good looks that they can provide are an asset in the cooking space. However, if yours is on the side of tired-looking, it could date your entire kitchen space.

Thankfully, a remodel is not always necessarily to make your kitchen island look more expensive and luxurious, plenty of quick fixes are available. From something as simple as styling out the space with some foliage to simply decluttering the space, elevating and island needn't take too much time, energy, or money. We asked designers for their top tips too. 

How to make a kitchen island look more expensive

Think of these expert-inspired tips as mere ways to enhance the best parts of your island. Whether you have had yours for longer than you can remember, and it has lost its spark, or if yours is quite new but feels a little too 'off the shelf,' much like when making kitchen cabinets look more expensive, a little thought and small design edits can go a long way.

1. Start with a clean slate

White kitchen island with three wooden stools

(Image credit: Jessica Isaac)

Purging unnecessary items from your island, especially decluttering countertops will instantly tidy up its look. 'A really quick way to elevate your kitchen island is to make sure you keep it clutter-free,' shares Laetitia Wajnapel, Interior Designer and founder of Cinquiéme Gauche.

'There are a few options to consider when elevating a kitchen island,' adds Ami McKay, creator of PURE Design: Interior Design, Build & Shoppe, who invites us to consider what we keep on our island, recommending we declutter for a fresh start, 'I love a clean palette and frankly, I don’t have anything on my island!'

Laetitia Wagnapel
Laëtitia Wajnapel

Laëtitia Wajnapel is the creator of Cinquième Gauche, a full-service interior design studio based in LA. Wajnapel who was born and raised in Paris, started her career as a journalist before branching out into styling. Her design practice is led by a love of storytelling, making each project truly unique to the client.

2. Wrap your island in interesting materials

Luxurious kitchen island with tiled oven hood and green cabinets

(Image credit: Janis Nicolay)

McKay recommends changing the material of your countertops to a fresh and earthy material like concrete or stone, in particular. 'In my home, we formed the island out of concrete, and it looks like a beautiful sculpture. 

'For our clients, we will wrap the top, front, and sides of their islands with one material that is not predictable such as scalloped millwork, tambour wood, tile, stone, marble, or soapstone. Choose something interesting that makes it stand out and this will instantly upgrade your island.'

It appears that marble island countertops are still the best option for a luxurious finish, bear this in mind if designing yours from scratch. Wajnapel agrees with McKay, saying: 'Natural stone to me is a must. 

'This doesn't mean you have to have the most expensive marble known to man, but certainly, even a simple slab of marble gives a beautiful organic touch to a kitchen island. I also really love working with natural wood veneers to add warmth.'

Ami McKay headshot
Ami McKay

Ami McKay founded PURE Design in 2000 on the belief that design is found in the art of giving. The work that she puts into each project reflects her personal life experiences and she believes they are at the heart of her business. Today, she is proud to be named one of Canada’s Top Five Interior Designers.

3. Install statement lighting above and below your island

Luxurious kitchen island in modern space with checkerboard floor

(Image credit: Janis Nicolay)

Good lighting can drive maximum design impact, especially when it comes to kitchen island lighting, do not underestimate its power to bring more elegance to even the blandest island our designers say.

‘To elevate the sense of luxury in your kitchen island, consider installing an oversized pendant light overhead to create a striking lighting feature,' recommends Internationally celebrated interior architect, designer, and property developer, Shalini Misra

For the most luxurious results, focus not just on accent and task lighting, but remember ambiance, 'Adding beautiful lighting at the base of your island adds a glow and is visually interesting,' suggests McKay. 'Adding stunning sculptural pendant lamps will also instantly add a high-end look to your kitchen.'

Shalini Misra
Shalini Misra

Shalini Misra, an internationally celebrated interior architect, designer, and property developer, has shaped exceptional spaces for over two decades. Her design studio, with offices in London, Milan, New York, Delhi and Dubai, is dedicated to creating elegant, timeless, and sustainable interiors that prioritize the well-being of inhabitants. Often collaborating with artists and galleries to curate bespoke collections, in 2022 Shalini also launched Curio, an evolving and ambitious collection of handcrafted objects, beautiful art and imaginative designs from around the world.

4. Edit cabinet fronts and hardware boldly

White kitchen island with glass-front cabinets and leather-topped round stools

(Image credit: Lisa Romerin)

If your island is to look expensive and make a design statement, you might want to start looking to bolder design movements for a modern kitchen finish: 'Change your cabinet hardware to something updated and be brave!' says McKay, encouraging us to nod to more sculptural and artistic forms that are unique. 'Think of different shapes, curves, and forms for visual impact.'

If you want to refresh the cabinets without painting, changing the fronts could also bring an element of luxury to your island. 'Opt for glass cabinets to showcase your finer dishes and give the illusion of a larger space,' suggests Joshua Smith, Principal, and Founder of Joshua Smith Inc. 'This way, it becomes its own statement piece while still being functional!'

Josh Smith
Joshua Smith

Named a Rising Star by House Beautiful and part of Traditional Home's New Trad Class of '23.

With projects on both coasts, Joshua Smith Inc, offers full-service residential interior design – and life-changing spaces. Joshua draws on decades of experience transforming functional spaces into inspiring environments that engage the senses and nourish the soul. By cultivating the connections between mind, body, spirit, and space, he helps his clients elevate their experience each day.

5. Create visual interest on the island

kitchen renovation rules, pink and green kitchen with pink island and wall cabinet, shades of green backsplash tiles, brass hanging rail, dark grey floor tiles

(Image credit: deVOL Kitchens)

A small houseplant or bigger more sculpted objects can take an island's look far. While you do not want to make your kitchen island look overly fussed, a very good-looking centerpiece will be noticed for all the right reasons.

'A beautiful bouquet of flowers, or some greenery goes a long way also. The more dramatic the better when it comes to your centerpiece!' Suggests Wajnapel.

Similarly, McKay, who starts an island with a clean slate before dressing it recommends what should feature here: 'But an oversized vintage vessel with big beautiful branches or flowers draws the eye for a visual and textural impact. If you want to create a simple tablescape on the island choose a few well-curated items in different scales and forms.'


How can I make a small kitchen island looks luxurious?

There is beauty in function. Smith tells H&G: 'If you have a small kitchen island but you still want the luxury of a kitchen island, make it work in your favor by adding additional storage.'

To make your island work double duty, McKay notes how organizational components for drawers will help keep the space in good shape. 'An elevated island will have the most amazing drawer organizers where everything has a home and is impeccably organized.'

Is a particular kitchen island shape more elegant than others?

Does a rectangular or curved island shape make a drastic difference? We asked Wajnapel.

'I don't believe there is a set shape that makes the island more expensive, but a custom-made island (and more generally custom-made cabinetry in the kitchen) definitely adds more cachet.' It seems that smooth edges might prove more popular for islands.

'A lot of my clients have hired me because I design some unusual islands, often including eased edges or full curves. They create a very unique focal point in a kitchen. But if curves aren't your jam, you can also focus on sourcing beautiful materials to make the island stand out.'

We are all at risk of committing the occasional kitchen island mistake over time but nod to a couple of simple edits to make this space look far more expensive and luxurious, and if you are going to focus anywhere in a kitchen the island is the place.

Camille Dubuis-Welch
Contributing Editor

Camille is the former deputy editor of Real Homes where she covered a broad range of topics, including house tours, small space design, and gardens. She studied English language and Italian at the University of Manchester and during a year abroad studying linguistics and history of art in Bologna, Italy she started documenting her adventures and observations in a blog. Camille is always creating and spends her downtime painting, taking photos, traveling, and writing short stories.