11 genius DIY kitchen island ideas and upcycling tips

These DIY kitchen island ideas are the perfect way to revamp your space on a budget

A kitchen island not only gives your kitchen a storage boost, but it can help turn a kitchen into a sociable hub, a place for friends or family to gather while you prepare food. Whether you want to try a new kitchen island idea, give your existing one an update, or upcycle something to make a new one, there are a number of different DIY kitchen island ideas to try, many of which can be done in a weekend.

'When it comes to DIY kitchen islands, thinking outside the box can result in some truly unique designs,' says Kane Hughes, interior design expert at MyJobQuote. 'You can turn vintage sideboards or buffet cabinets into a kitchen island. These can be found for next to nothing in charity shops and look fantastic with a new coat of paint.' Whether you're about to dive into your first upcycling project or you're a pro with the power tools, these DIY kitchen island ideas are the perfect way to transform your space without spending a fortune.

DIY kitchen island ideas and upcycling tips

1. Build an island from reclaimed wood

kitchen room with exposed brick walls and kitchen chimney

(Image credit: Future PLC/Holly Joliffe)

A DIY kitchen island doesn't need to be costly, and it's easy to make a breakfast bar out of reclaimed materials. Take a look around your local reclamation yard for reclaimed scaffold boards. These area are thick and sturdy – perfect for a DIY kitchen island. Make sure each plank isn't bowed and ask for them to be cut to size. Then all you need to do is make your frame by fixing together the three sides and cladding the back with horizontal boards.

You can also find scaffold boards on eBay, or check out Facebook Marketplace for local bargains.

2. Tile a kitchen island

dining room with grey tiled flooring and table with stools

(Image credit: Future PLC/Dominic Blackmore)

Use tiles on one side of your kitchen island for an easy way to give it a fresh look. Choose a design that incorporates an accent colour to tie the look to your kitchen. Alternatively, pick a bold pattern to add interest to a simple colour scheme.

This budget-friendly kitchen island from Ikea has been given an upscale makeover using mosaic tiles in a calming neutral shade. You could even add antique mirrored tiles for a modern touch that will reflect light around the space – ideal for small kitchens.

3. Use reclaimed metal containers

kitchen room with wooden table having metal containers

(Image credit: Future PLC/Claire Lloyd Davis)

Add an industrial vibe to a kitchen island by storing kitchen essentials in reclaimed metal drawers or boxes. This is an easy way to add character (and valuable storage!) to a DIY kitchen island without a huge amount of work. Pick up vintage metal drawers from antiques fairs or websites like eBay or Facebook Marketplace.

Either slot the boxes or drawers into a narrow shelf, or stack them up if you have space. If you're looking for ways to organise your kitchen

4. Clad your DIY kitchen island in brick slips

kitchen room with white tiled walls and kitchen chimney

(Image credit: Future PLC/Colin Poole)

Nothing beats the look of exposed brickwork when it comes to adding character. Whether on a chimney breast or as part of a feature wall, you can easily apply this look to kitchen islands, too. If your kitchen island has seen better days, why not clad it in brick slips (thin slices of brick which are applied like tiles).

This simple update completely changes the look of an island. And if you're after a relaxed, industrial vibe for your kitchen, this one's for you. Make it even more of a focus with a statement kitchen island lighting idea, like this run of three contemporary pendant lights over the island.

5. Upcycle old shop cabinets

room with flower in vase and photoframe on wall

(Image credit: Future PLC/Katie Lee)

For a kitchen with the wow factor, you can't beat using vintage furniture, especially something like this old shop cabinet. Not only will it provide you with buckets of storage,  This type of unit is normally pretty big, and so it's great for a large open-plan kitchen space.

Turn it into a DIY kitchen island with a sociable breakfast bar for entertaining. Simply fit a length of worktop on top with a slight overhang on one side.

6. Transform an upcycled item with paint

kitchen room with wooden flooring and kitchen cabinets

(Image credit: Future PLC/Jamie Mason)

'One of the easiest ways to update a wooden kitchen island is to give it a fresh coat of paint,' explains Michael Rolland, interiors expert and MD of The Paint Shed.

'An island is a great way to add colour to the kitchen,' he says. 'Those wanting to try some of the latest trending shades in their kitchen but are too nervous to commit to painting all of their cabinets can add a splash of colour by painting the kitchen island instead.'

If you're a fan of a white kitchen, or you favour a more neutral scheme, why not be bold and choose a contrasting colour like this vibrant yellow shade? To paint a wooden unit like this one (and old science workbench), lightly sand the surface before painting. Then use a hard-wearing paint finish like an eggshell. It's hardwearing and will look good for years to come.

7. Use an old chest of drawers as a DIY kitchen island

kitchen room with white cabinets and plant in white vase

(Image credit: Future PLC/Joanna Henderson)

Turn a vintage chest of drawers into a statement DIY kitchen island. Here, extra depth has been added by attaching a row of kitchen base units to the back surface of the chest of drawers. This doubles up on the storage space.

Paint the drawers and the attached cabinets to match in a striking dark shade such as charcoal of deepest blue, then replace old knobs with shiny new gold ones. Top the kitchen island with contemporary white worktop with an overhang at the end to create a sociable spot to sit and chat.

8. Add a handy bookcase

kitchen room with sinks and wooden flooring

(Image credit: Future PLC/Barbara Egan)

If you need to boost your storage on an existing kitchen island, add a small shelving unit to either end. Then paint it in a bold shade like this vibrant blue to create a stand-out feature in your kitchen. Top with a single piece of worktop for a flush finish, and use the shelves to store your favourite recipe books.

Alternatively use glass jars to store dry ingredients and line those up on the shelves. Then you're ready to whip up your next show-stopping bake!

9. Create a portable island

kitchen room with wooden table and kitchen shelves

(Image credit: Future PLC)

Look out for vintage tables, especially ones with a low shelf, which are perfect for storing pots and pans. Add a set of castors to each of the legs to increase the height – this'll make it a better level for prepping food. This clever upcycling tip also makes the table a great portable kitchen island idea, as it can easily be moved around depending on your needs.

You can turn it from lunchtime vegetable prep station to an evening cocktail bar in a flash. Or, if you're anything like us, you'll want to wheel it to one side to make space for your kitchen disco!

10. Revamp a butcher's block

kitchen room with wooden flooring and kitchen cabinets

(Image credit: Future PLC)

For a small kitchen island idea, look out for a secondhand butcher's block to give you a much-needed bit of extra prep space. A lower shelf is ideal for storing pots and pans and you can attach a wall-mounted hanging rail to one side for tea towels and kitchen utensils. Leave the wooden finish natural for a classic country look that will add interest next to lighter kitchen cabinets.

11. Fit in a handy log store

kitchen room with white shelves and kitchen countertops

(Image credit: Future PLC/Colin Poole)

If you have a wood-burning stove at home, incorporate a log store into one side of your kitchen island so you can keep logs dry indoors. Ideal for a country-style kitchen, add a shelf to your island or leave a base cabinet without a door so you can easily pile up logs inside.

What can I repurpose for a kitchen island?

The answer is almost anything! The main thing to remember when upcycling something for a DIY kitchen island is to make sure it is the right height. Around 90cm is a good working height. Any lower and you'll be bending over awkwardly when prepping food. Any taller and it will be an uncomfortable surface to work at.

Some great items to turn into a DIY kitchen island include:

  • Vintage butcher's blocks
  • Chest of drawers
  • Old shop cabinets
  • Slimline console tables
  • Metal cabinets
  • Vintage tables
  • Dressing tables

Can I make a DIY kitchen island out of base cabinets?

Absolutely. This is a great way of creating a bespoke DIY kitchen island. You could use base cabinets without doors for an open shelving look, or choose doors in a different colourway to your main cabinets to make the island a focal point.

A single row of base cabinets is ideal for a slimline design, whereas two rows of cabinets facing away from each other will give you a lot more storage, but you'll need a bigger space to do it.

What kind of paint should you use for a kitchen island?

The best paint for kitchen cabinets will depend on the finish you want to achieve. If your kitchen cabinets are made of wood, an eggshell paint with a light sheen is a good choice.

Gloss paint will create a high sheen, which works well for a modern scheme, while chalk or furniture paint is a good idea for a country look, but it will need sealing afterwards with a lacquer or wax to keep the finish in top condition.

If you're painting a laminated kitchen surface, look out for a multi-surface paint. Make sure you read up on how to paint kitchen cabinets before getting started.

Amy Hodge

Amy Hodge has been working on interiors magazines for over 11 years. She's a freelance writer and sub editor who has worked for some of the UK's leading interiors magazines including Ideal Home, Style at Home and Country Homes & Interiors. She started at Style at Home just after it launched as food editor and is now chief sub editor for Ideal Home, Style at Home and Country Homes & Interiors.