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White and bright kitchen, with timber top stools and black pendants

The kitchen island is the heart and hub of the modern home. Here’s how to create one that suits your house and lifestyle.


Island design

The multi-functional kitchen island has become the centrepiece of open-plan living. The optimum size and position will depend on its use, the layout of the kitchen and the available space. (Remember you will need to have ample room for people to move around it.) Laminate benchtops come in a standard width of 900mm, which allows for a row of cupboards and drawers on one side, and an overhang of around 300mm on the other for a breakfast bar or shallow cabinetry.

If space and budget permits, and the plan can accommodate a bigger island, custom benchtop sizes are available in both laminate and solid surface materials. It’s worth noting that the nominal size of an engineered stone slab is 3000mm by 1400mm, so anything larger than that will result in visible joins.

For ease of use, position an island directly behind the cooktop or sink. Ideally, the aisle between the island and other countertops should be at least one metre to allow space for two people to work back-to-back. This distance will also leave room for stools that need to be pulled out. If appliances are placed opposite each other, that space should be increased from one metre to more than 1200mm.  

A monochrome kitchen with gold hardware and accessories

Storage matters

A good-sized island can fit plenty of storage – as a bonus, it has no tricky-to-access corner cupboards. The working side is ideal for deep drawers, which are more efficient than cupboards for pots and pans, with a long drawer for cutlery and utensils. The fascia could also include shallow cupboards to keep tableware on hand for the dining area.

If placing appliances in or on the island, consider what would be useful to have close by, such as a smaller pull-out pantry for oils and condiments near the cooktop, or hidden bins next to a dishwasher. The ends of an island are ideal for displaying items like cookbooks, and can also be a complementary design feature.

White kitchen island with a marble-look benchtop and white shaker style cabinets

Placing appliances

Consider integrating a microwave, dishwasher or wine fridge into the design of the island bench, which saves space and helps to hide them from view.

There are pros and cons to including a sink, cooktop, or both, in the island, A good-sized sink means the island can be used as a food preparation area, but if the chef tends to be untidy, it might not be a good idea. Islands also look best without a draining board, which is another consideration. You’ll also need to plan whether the dishwasher, rubbish and recycling bins will need to be included within easy reach of the sink, and therefore in the island.

Cooktops take up less room underneath the bench than a sink. However, there is a safety concern for families with small children or pets, as hot surfaces and pan handles will be within reach. It’s also worth bearing in mind that fitting an over-the-island rangehood could be tricky in homes with high ceilings, although pop-up styles – (ones that sit on or in the island) – are an option.  

White modern, scandi-style kitchen

Choosing benchtop materials

As the on-show finish for the island, the benchtop needs to be both good-looking and durable. Hard-wearing engineered stone comes in a range of striking patterns and colours that mimic natural stone, as do more budget-friendly laminate surfaces. Timber benchtops are also popular, but vary in durability and will require ongoing maintenance.

Black kitchen cabinets and island with a timber benchtop feature

Light up the space

An island and a statement light are a classic design pairing. If the kitchen island is the designated food prep area, fittings that cast a bright light downwards are essential. Shades made of glass or open-weave materials such as rattan will provide good ambient light, but supplementary downlights might be required. One of the trickiest things to get right is the proportion: – look for broad fittings or a series of narrow pendants to create a sense of balance with the bulk of the island. And of course, lighting must always be fitted by a licensed electrician.

Island style suggestions

1. Let it flow: For cohesion in an open-plan room, use materials that complement the surrounding areas. When it's free of appliances, a benchtop looks more like a piece of furniture than a workstation, which can help to blur the boundaries between practical (kitchen) and pretty (living spaces).

2. Timber tones: Incorporate timber to add warmth and texture. Inset timber shelves, a drop-down bar or a timber upstand to hide mess.

3. Mix it up: Consider creating a two-tone scheme with the front-facing panel in a different, but complementary, colour and material.

4. Add a table: “Create a table as an extension of your island, positioned at a lower level and using a different surface,” suggests Kaboodle Kitchen marketing manager Lisa Mayski. “It will maintain an open space while also discreetly creating zones for a variety of uses.”  

Close-up of cabinet drawers in a kitchen island, featuring a dining table extension

Is an open-plan kitchen on your renovation plan?

Design one that fits seamlessly into the home with our guide on how to make an open-plan kitchen work. 


Photo Credit: Sue Stubbs, John Downs, Cath Muscat and Kaboodle


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