No More Huge Islands

By Christine Brun

October 19, 2017 4 min read

Let's hear it for smaller kitchen islands, please! It is time to dispel the myth that a 5-by-10-foot island is a must-have in every gourmet kitchen worth its salt. Sometimes the island in a generously proportioned home is so large that you cannot even clean it properly without awkwardly crawling on top of it. And it can leave a kitchen feeling cold and impersonal. We need to release ourselves from one of the last remainders of the McMansion era and get the size of our islands just right.

Huge kitchen counters came into vogue when we were addicted to oversized and overrated estate-size homes of 8,000 to 10,000 square feet during the 1990s. "Bigger is better" was the theme at that time. Then, the work of architect Sarah Susanka came along in 1998 with the first of her books, "The Not So Big House," and a new conversation began. Susanka started discussions about the notion that bigger is not necessarily the most desirable goal. Her premise was, and remains to this day, that smart and careful design is better. Naturally, one would imagine appropriate reducing the size of the island when shrinking the overall size of a home.

If you carefully analyze a kitchen work triangle, you know that there is nothing to be gained by having to take three steps to a work surface. We attempt to keep the distance between counter surfaces at a minimum of 36 inches and an optimum of 42 inches. Obviously, some kitchen cavities are not large enough to embrace an island. I know that if you are in love with the concept of an island and learn that there just won't be enough room for one in your remodel, there will be disappointment. Over the years, I have worked on a few projects where we had to build a kitchen mock-up to prove to our client that there was simply not enough space.

In a compact kitchen, try a narrower island like the one seen here. The twin cabinets at each end are 24 inches deep, and the depth of the full island is 36 inches. This design is in scale and in proportion to the size of the room. There are not six bulky barstools but three simple stools. If you are remodeling in a post-World War II building in Manhattan, New York, you might only have room for a small 36-inch-wide counter and no island. It is much wiser to design your kitchen carefully and in direct proportion to the entire house.

Keep in mind that any island with seating requires an overhang of at least a foot for comfort. Standard depth of the typical kitchen cabinet is 24 inches. So, generally speaking, if you are using standard cabinets, the minimum depth of an island will be 36 inches. However, if you are working with custom cabinets, you might be able to install 18-inch-deep cabinets with pullout drawers and then add the needed 12 inches to the top depth for the overhang, making your island a total of 30 inches deep.

Another way to craft a petite island could be to find a vintage buffet that is at least 36 inches high, have it finished on the backside and then add a countertop of whatever depth will cantilever safely. For instance, if the piece of furniture is 48 inches tall and 22 inches deep, you could use a finished piece of granite or glass that is 54 inches tall and 36 inches deep for the top.

Photo Credit: Rust-Oleum

Christine Brun, ASID, is a San Diego based interior designer and author of "Small Space Living." Send questions and comments to her by email at [email protected] To find out more about Christine Brun and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

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