Basic Types of Kitchen Islands

White kitchen island with marble countertop and brown bar stools in front

The Spruce / Christopher Lee Foto

Kitchen islands range from simple and inexpensive to complex and pricey. The important dividing point is between the portable or mobile kitchen island and the permanent or fixed island.

Portable kitchen islands are not required to have electrical service. Running power is costly and invasive. It's especially an issue when your house foundation is slab-on-grade since this requires cutting into the slab or running wires from above. 


One option is to run wires down from the ceiling: one or two pillars run up from the island to the ceiling, acting both as structural supports and possibly disguising cables.

No matter what kind of island you get, make sure the placement is functional: Even the nicest island won't feel helpful or practical if it's awkwardly placed or too large for the space.


Click Play to Learn About the Different Types of Kitchen Islands

  • 01 of 06

    Rolling Cart Island

    Rolling Cart Used as Kitchen Island

    Home Styles

    Rolling carts are more like portable prep areas that you keep to the side of the kitchen rather than featuring prominently and permanently alongside your primary counters. The butcher block cart is a familiar type of rolling island.

    • Affordable

    • Can be moved

    • Wheels may become unlocked, causing rolling

    • Heavy to move

  • 02 of 06

    Small, Non-Portable Kitchen Island

    Small Fixed Kitchen Island

    Home Styles

    These islands differ from the portable, rolling cart islands listed above in that they do not have wheels on the bottom. More importantly, they actually strive to emulate a traditional kitchen island. 

    At 38 inches, they are the right height for prepping food. They don't have the tendency of those rolling carts to slide away when you're trying to cut something.

    To avoid triggering the electrical code's requirement for the installation of receptacles, do not affix this type of island to the floor. You may also be surprised at the smallness of these islands: Since they are sold flat-packed and are often freighted or mailed to you, they need to be rather compact, and four feet long tends to be the maximum length.

    • Simple and straight-forward

    • Looks like an island more than a cart

    • Flip-up leaves often fall down

    • Difficult to move around

  • 03 of 06

    Kitchen Island Table

    Table As Kitchen Island


    It's often hard to classify a table placed where an island normally would be. It's got four legs and a flat top, so it's a table, yet it's positioned where the island usually is, so it must be an island. It's nothing more than a table that's used as an island for preparing food.

    • Easy to bring in and set up

    • Easy to remove

    • No receptacle, sink, or backsplash

    • Can shift with too much pressure

  • 04 of 06

    Base Cabinet With Countertop

    Built In Kitchen Island

    Creative Publishing International

    This is an island built out of pre-existing materials: a base cabinet (or two or four) topped with countertop material.

    Up to this point, an electrical code has not required that receptacles be built into the island because the islands were portable. Now this type of built-in island, which is fixed to the floor, is considered to be permanent. As long as the countertop dimensions are 12 inches by 24 inches or greater, electrical receptacles are required.

    • Easiest built-in kitchen island

    • Flexible

    • Countertop material must be cut to size

    • Must be built

    Continue to 5 of 6 below.
  • 05 of 06

    Fully Functional Island (Electricity and Water)

    Fully Functional Kitchen Island

    All Wood Cabinetry

    The fully functional kitchen island does everything that the primary countertops do: electrical, sink, drainage, and ample countertop space.

    The installation costs for this kind of island skyrocket due to the addition of plumbing. The sink's supply and drainage do not conveniently tap into the main sink's lines (in the same way that a dishwasher, located next to the sink, will do). Your island's lines will have to run into and under the floor, eventually meeting up with main supply and drainage lines.

    • Practically doubles kitchen work space

    • Adds value to home

    • Expensive to install

    • Difficult to remove if you decide you don't want it

  • 06 of 06

    Double-Tiered Cooking/Eating Kitchen Island

    Double Tiered Kitchen Island With Eating Space


    Is it a kitchen island for cooking or is it a kitchen island for eating? It can't quite make up its mind, so it has decided to be both. This island combines the two functions but still delineates them so that cooking is done on a lower level and eating on a higher level.

    This type of island is ergonomically correct: optimal counter height for a standing cook is 36 inches, and the best height for a bar top is 42 inches. But the ledge from the cooking surface to the eating surface cuts back on total preparation space.

    • Ergonomically correct

    • Highly functional

    • Inconvenient division of space

    • Can cut off kitchen from adjacent area