For years, the kitchen island has been a design darling, playing a key role in aesthetics and function. However, with homeowners more motivated than ever to enhance functionality in their homes after the pandemic, are islands still driving kitchen design? 

“Yes, they are. And even more,” says Molly Valdez, owner and principal designer of Molly Valdez Studio. “Regardless of if it’s a remodel or new construction, everyone wants an island and even two sometimes.” 

blue kitchen island with barstools
Kitchen islands are still one of the most sought-after design elements. Photo Credit: Adobe Stock

Are kitchen islands still trending? 

The Houzz 2023 kitchen trends survey indicates that kitchen islands are still popular with homeowners with 55 percent either adding an island or upgrading the one that they have during kitchen remodels.  

This survey shows that kitchens on average are increasing in size, and that the majority of homeowners that have islands are dedicating a lot of kitchen real estate to them, with 74 percent of respondents having islands that extend six feet or longer. 

Islands are not new in kitchen design, reportedly emerging in the 1800s as a worktable placed close to the kitchen fireplace to facilitate prep. In the 1930s, Frank Lloyd Wright created an island that is closer to the design we are familiar with today, with the kitchen workstation enclosed from the living and dining areas with a glass partition- in a separate but connected space.  They’ve been a fixture to a varying degree ever since. 

Today, in part because of the popularity of open-concept design, busy lifestyles and a re-kindled love for hands-on cooking, kitchen island design and aesthetics are evolving.  

What’s more is that homeowners are clear on what purpose their kitchen island should serve. 

“I see a lot of people who are looking to remodel because they don’t have an island, or because their current Island is not working well for their layout,” says Kendal Cavalieri, founder and principal designer of Kendal Cavalieri Design

Trending are different island shapes, multiple islands and enhanced functionality. 

Design considerations for a kitchen island 

The main criteria for kitchen island design?  

“First and foremost, what’s important is the space,” says Valdez. “Is the island enhancing the workflow or inhibiting it?” 

“Let’s say you have the range on the back wall and then centered directly across from it is the island. Make sure that there is adequate space between those two work zones. You might have two people working simultaneously so you don’t want it to get congested,” says Valdez. 

Homeowners also need to decide if they want the island to feature as a dining area. “Make sure that you have enough space, which is 24 inches per person,” says Valdez. 

Appliances integrated in the kitchen island 

Homeowners also need to decide if they plan to house appliances in the island, which is becoming more popular. 

Kitchen island with sink and stovetop
Photo Credit: Adobe Stock

In the “old” days, the stovetop was relegated to the kitchen perimeter, because having the cooktop in the island would generally have meant a monstrous hood fan blocking the sightlines. Now sleek downdrafts either pop up or are embedded right in the island, and the homeowner can be cooking front and center. 

Microwaves are commonly tucked underneath in a base cabinet. Also popular are beverage fridges and wine coolers. 

Some homeowners find it handy to have the dishwasher located in the island, particularly if that is where the sink is located. 

Adding charging stations and outlets in the island (often in the drawers) provides a power source close at hand, so your device can be charging when following a recipe. It’s also easy to plug in the mixer or food processor centrally in the prep area. 

Adding storage to the kitchen island 

While islands are stylish, they are a function-first design piece, especially when it comes to storage. Open-concept design, often the floorplan of choice in new construction homes, favors long and wide sightlines, but less walls mean less cabinetry and less storage. 

Pull-out drawers can house everything from small appliances to spices to dishes and cookware with in-drawer configurations that provide easy access.  

Kitchen islands shape shifting 

While the most popular kitchen islands are still rectangular, other shapes are becoming more common. 

The formal dining room has made a resurgence, which means that for some households, the island is purely for prep and storage, with perhaps casual seating at a peninsula or breakfast bar for a quick bite, or for kids to do homework while supper is being prepared. 

For homeowners combining prep/entertaining/dining on their island and in the main kitchen area, design that communicates purpose and defines zones is preferable.  

When space allows, having two islands works well, with one devoted mostly to prep and storage and the second to seating. Depending on the size and configuration of the kitchen, the homeowner could choose to run two islands parallel to each other.  

A T-shape or L-shape with two islands can also connect homeowners with their family or guests while cooking, but allows for a division of space, particularly important if there is a cooktop in the island.  

Shape and dimension can also delineate zones for specific purposes, particularly useful in an open-concept design.  

Generous curves add an element of visual interest and signal the distinction between dining and cooking.  

Also becoming more popular are tiered islands, where the prep space is elevated, and the dining table extends at a lower level. 

Kitchen islands contribute to decor 

The island’s role in kitchen décor is clear: creating contrast. It’s an eye-catching design element that adds depth, texture and character to the kitchen. 

Central and prominent, but not visually overwhelming, “the island is a good place to use an accent color,” says Cavalieri. The low and level location of a kitchen island naturally lends itself to a supportive décor role to tie the aesthetic together. 

The island can also provide contrast with material choices, for example with a butcher block counter, or with wooden or stone detailing on the island base cabinetry. 

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