5 mistakes we make when designing kitchen islands – and how to avoid them

Top kitchen designers advise on what not to do – and what to consider – so you get it right first time

Mistakes when designing a kitchen island
(Image credit: Lundhs)

There are some simple mistakes that are commonly made in the design of kitchen islands. Make these design errors in your kitchen remodel, and this hub of the kitchen might still function, but it won't be giving you 100%. 

However, with the right advice, they are easy to avoid. We asked five kitchen specialists for their top tips so you can get this central kitchen feature right the first time – and we've illustrated each point with five beautiful designs to speed the process along. 

For kitchen island ideas – including more design advice and tons of pictures to inspire you, don't miss our dedicated gallery.

5 mistakes to avoid when designing a kitchen island

Use these simple guidelines to get the aesthetics and practicalities spot on.

1. Your kitchen island is too big

Mistakes to avoid when designing a kitchen island

(Image credit: Harvey Jones)

One of the most common mistakes is choosing a kitchen island size that’s simply too big for the space, as Matt Baker, Kitchen Designer at UK-based Harvey Jones explains. ‘Many customers seem to think the bigger the island, the better. Wide islands are sure to make a big impact in a kitchen, however they’re not a very practical solution, as you have to be able to reach the middle when cooking, so try to keep it no deeper than 1400mm (front to back).

'The same goes for walkways, if your island is too big, the space between that and your wall units can be compromised.

‘The most important consideration when planning an island has to be the walkways around it. As a rule of thumb, they need to be 1000mm wide in order to be safe and practical in a kitchen.’

2. Your island looks beautiful but doesn't address your needs

Mistakes when designing a kitchen island

(Image credit: Lundhs)

A kitchen island should enhance the rest of your scheme - a seamless design feature if you will. It shouldn’t jar visually and it should feel like it’s always been there. However, it should also address the one element your kitchen really needs, be that more storage or seating. 

Hege Lundh of Norway-based Lundhs Real Stone explains, ‘True focal points and statement pieces, central islands play an integral role in kitchen design. How you choose to integrate an island into your scheme will have a profound effect not only on how you use your kitchen but also its overall appearance. 

'From waterfall worktops to integrated breakfast bars, there are a number of ways to be creative with your kitchen island. If you have the space, make sure you integrate seating into your kitchen island.’ 

See: Kitchen island seating ideas – ways to use bar stools and dining chairs

3. Your island is too small

kitchen island with metallic finish with glossy green splashback

(Image credit: Roundhouse/ Darren Chung)

‘A well designed island will ideally include space for food preparation, cooking, storage and eating/socialising thereby forming a symbolic hearth of the home that brings people together to partake in a variety of activities in one central zone,’ says Gary Griffin, UK Sales Manager at global Rational Kitchens

‘With a change in our living styles over the past 30 years, where cooking is no longer a solo activity and many kitchens have been incorporated with dining and living spaces, it isn’t surprising that the kitchen island has become a "utility/social hub" to serve a variety of different functions.’

4. You've chosen the wrong surface material

Mistakes when designing a kitchen island

(Image credit: Ledbury Studio)

The countertop is like the icing on the cake – the fabulous finishing touch that can offer value and style to the whole scheme. But there are practical considerations. For example, although stunning, marble is porous and can be high maintenance, so it’s a case of spending a little time doing your research first as Charlie Smallbone, Founder of London-based Ledbury Studio advises:

‘With so many materials to choose from, picking a worktop for an island can be a daunting decision, so the first task is to do some research. Before working with a particular material, I always ask myself some very simple questions: what are the thermal properties of this material; how does it respond to the acids present in certain foods and drinks; will edges chip if hit by metal saucepans? And if any of these things do cause damage, can the damage be repaired? To my mind, this limits the choice of products that are genuinely suitable for use as kitchen island work surfaces. 

'I have no hesitation in recommending quartz – a material I have used very successfully many times. It’s hard wearing and hygienic, as well as heat, stain and scratch-resistant, so is perfect for a well-used island worktop. In addition, we’ve worked a lot with Quartzite. Not to be confused with quartz, Quartzite is a really interesting but fairly high-cost material. It is harder than granite and has good resistance to acid.’

5. Your kitchen island isn't well lit

Kitchen island with seating and statement light

(Image credit: DesignSpace London)

This is perhaps one of the most common mistakes people make - not considering the lighting. Yet if you’re going to use your island for food prep, cooking on/washing the dishes and as an entertainment hub, then lighting is key. 

‘When planning a kitchen island, make sure it fits the lighting plan,’ explains Matt Baker, Kitchen Designer at Harvey Jones.

‘The island needs to be well-lit, as it often serves as the main food preparation area – whether opting for spotlights or lanterns, ensure that the center of the island in particular is bright.’ 

Pendants lights work really well and look great in rows. Consider making them dimmable so you can adjust them depending on the task you’re doing.