For many homebuyers and homeowners, a kitchen without an island is a dealbreaker. Every model home, every home improvement show, and scores of magazines feature large, luxurious islands around which the family can gather and, of course, cook.
For all of its virtues, and there are many, a kitchen island does come with its own downsides. Especially if the addition of one is led by the heart and not the head. Here are a few things to consider about including a scullery sanctuary.
1. Not Every Kitchen Can Pull it Off
If your home has a smaller footprint or a closed-off kitchen, you simply might not have space for an island. Even a smaller version can be awkward in a tiny kitchen, and the logistics might not be worth the addition of a couple of extra feet of workspace.
“You have a drawer open on an existing cabinet and one on an island, and it can cause problems,” says Kelly Bacon, a Denver-based licensed general contractor with more than 40 years of construction experience. “You need more space than you think for access to your different areas of the kitchen.”
If you are longing for additional work and storage space in your smallish kitchen, consider a rolling cart with shelves to hold your essentials and a smooth top to use for food prep. Then, when you are done cooking, you can simply roll the cart to another spot in your home and have your floor space back.
2. If You Build It, You Will Fill It
No matter how much counter space you have at home, your other “stuff” seems to migrate to it and clutter up the room. Adding in a kitchen island is no different. It quickly becomes a mail-sorting station, spot to dry just-washed dishes, shopping purchase space. Just as it is easy to turn a dining table into a complete mess, an island often suffers the same fate.
Sometimes it also becomes a reason to keep adding to your kitchen arsenal. “That’s one challenge with all the different cooking appliances,” says Bacon. “You got your steam pot and your pressure cooker and who knows what else, and they just take up all your counter space..”
This is especially irritating if you have an open-concept kitchen/dining/family room—which are very common in newer homes. Every item you plop on the island will be visible from all vantage points.
3. Not the Best Seat in the House
One reason people want an island is to increase seating for eating or entertaining. In some newer homes, a dine-in kitchen island has replaced the breakfast nook as a place for families to share a meal.
But that set-up has its issues as well. Lisa Ogle, a Central Texas homeowner and mom of two, says the eating arrangement isn’t ideal. “Eating at one tends to reduce our ability to engage with one another like at a table since we’re sitting in a row.”
4. Work Hazard
Some islands are flat counters, and others include a sink or a stovetop, and how it is all arranged is important for functionality. And, as we all know, kitchens that don’t function cause frustration.
The ideal set-up for a kitchen uses a clear path from stove to sink to refrigerator, making it more efficient to cook and also easier for more than one person at a time to be in the space.
“There is a kitchen triangle you want to set up, and that is easily lost if you are sticking a dishwasher and a sink in an island,” says Deane Biermeier, a long-time contractor based in St. Paul, Minn. “In the end, you make the kitchen less user-friendly.”
5. Construction Dysfunction
If you do want to have an island where you wash the dishes or have your stove or oven, the key to success is in the planning.
“Typically if you have a kitchen large enough for an island, oftentimes that house has been built with a finished basement,” says Biermeier. “And gas, electric, and plumbing need to be put into that island. So then you have to take down the ceiling in the basement for the island and your cost goes through the roof.”
Don’t have a basement to worry about? Biermeier says you still won’t be able to get off cheap. “In those cases, if you do want to put utilities into the island, you will be going through a concrete slab floor.”
If you are putting a stovetop onto your new space, consider where the steam from your culinary creations will go. “You will have to put in a hood above it so you have to be concerned about exhausting your hood properly,” says Bacon.
Another expense for such an addition? Being able to see what you are making. “Lighting becomes an issue,” Bacon says. “You have to put in more lighting above the island."
If having a kitchen island is your dream, consider all the facets of the project first, as well as how your family would use the space. In the end, you want a functional kitchen where you love to be, island or no.