18 small kitchen island ideas – to add an island whatever size space

A compact room needn't stop you including this kitchen staple

If your kitchen is more compact than cavernous, you might have thought a kitchen island was out of the question. However, these small kitchen island ideas may prove otherwise.

It doesn't matter if your small kitchen isn't square or rectangular either. It can be possible to include an island in an L-shaped or galley kitchen too, particularly if the floor space is too small for a dining table but too big to waste.

Small kitchen island ideas

'A bespoke island that is small but mighty will allow you to maximise space in the smallest of rooms,' says Al Bruce, founder of kitchen company, Olive & Barr (opens in new tab). 'Alternatively, harvest tables or bakers tables are great options for those who are tight on space as they can easily be positioned around the kitchen to suit the task in hand.'

'Islands provide more worktop space for preparation, cooking and socialising, they are as practical as they are stylish' says Graeme Smith, Head of Retail and Commercial Design at Life kitchens.

Whatever your budget or style, there are a number of options when planning a small kitchen island.

1. Include a preparation area

Include a preparation area

(Image credit: Future PLC/ Racheal Smith)

Locating the sink in your island can be a worthwhile option, if you're short on worktop space. Or if the small kitchen layout suits a long run of cabinets with most of the appliances on one side of your kitchen.

'For a smaller kitchen a simple prep island can be sufficient,' says Graeme Smith, Head of Commercial Design at Life Kitchens (opens in new tab). 'This will give the illusion of a larger room, whilst offering increased preparation space, storage and functionality without needing as much space to walk around.'

2. Consider a slimline option

Kitchen with white cabinet and wooden countertop

(Image credit: Future PLC/ Colin Poole)

Slimline islands can be beneficial when it comes to how to make a small kitchen look bigger. 'Narrow, yet long, these islands are purely for cooking, storage or food preparation rather than an area for seating,' says Darren Watts, Wren Kitchens Design Director.

'If you’re thinking this might sound like a good option for your kitchen, then just ensure you still have enough room to move around and open any drawers or cupboards.'

'Another simple trick is to choose a kitchen design with smooth lines and a glossy finish,'  says Brian McCoy, Head of Kitchens & Appliances at B&Q. 'Reflective surfaces amplify the room around you, creating the impression of more space.'

3. Define your island with panelling

Define your island with panelling

(Image credit: Future PLC/ Robert Sanderson)

Another way to define a small kitchen island subtly, is by cladding it with timber panelling. Painted in the same colour as your cabinetry it will blend easily with the rest of the kitchen, whilst maintaining its own distinct character.

'The ideal clearance space between the island and the opposing kitchen counter is around 1m. This still allows it to look like it is part of the actual kitchen as well as giving you ample space to move around,' says Darren Watts, Wren Kitchens Design Director.

4. Create a breakfast bar

Create a breakfast bar

(Image credit: Future PLC/ Dominic Blackmore)

Work out your priorities for wanting a kitchen island. Is it that you need more storage space or would you like a casual spot to dine? If it's the latter, a slim counter with a generous overhang on each side will make a great breakfast bar idea. It will also serve as a stylish room divider in an open plan space.

5. Go for a modular unit

Go for a modular unit

(Image credit: Future PLC/ David Parmiter)

If you're concerned that a built-in island could take up too much floor space in your kitchen, opt for a modular piece that can be moved to another room if or when necessary. A deep console or a tall sideboard can double up as a kitchen island, providing extra cupboard, drawer and surface space, without breaking the bank.

Look for one you can customise with colours, worktops and handles of your choice to give it a bespoke feel that's unique to you and your home.

6. Choose the shortest side for seating

kitchen with white wall white cabinets wooden counter and white chairs

(Image credit: Future PLC/ Colin Poole)

It may still be possible to have a breakfast bar on a small kitchen island. Instead of having the seating along the longest side of your island, extend your worktop over the shortest side, so you can tuck a couple of bar stools beneath. That way you can max out the small kitchen storage idea and locate the seating away from cupboard doors.

'In terms of materials, breakfast bars need to be durable, hardwearing and easy to clean. Quartz is a beautiful resilient surface. It’s smooth and easy to clean, while also largely scratch and stain resistant,' says Melissa Klink, Harvey Jones’ Head of Design.

7. Think about the flow

Think about the flow

(Image credit: Future PLC/ Colin Poole)

'When factoring in overhang for dining, it's important to ensure you leave enough room between your counters and island for a clear walk space' says Brian McCoy, Head of Kitchens & Appliances at B&Q (opens in new tab). 'This is typically around 1200mm.'

'Whichever side you decide to place the overhang, just make sure you are taking note of the flow of your kitchen. Think about how you already use the space, doorways, cupboards. Then make your decision based on these factors.'

8. Make space for a pit stop

Make space for a pit stop

(Image credit: Future PLC/ Colin Poole)

It's not necessary to surround your island with seating. If you prefer to use the space for storage and need good access to cupboards, a single chair on either side is sufficient. This  provides a relaxing spot where you can take a break. Yet still gives a welcoming feel if a friend drops in for tea.

In a country kitchen, traditional wooden seats will add to the farmhouse feel. Accessorise with gingham for additional rustic flair.

9. Opt for a freestanding model

kitchen with white wall table

(Image credit: Future PLC/ Jamie Mason)

A freestanding piece of furniture can be a far more cost effective way to include an island in a small kitchen. It won't have the bespoke elements of an island from a kitchen design studio, but there are some brilliant models on the high street and online. Many for under £1,000.

Brands such as The Cotswolds Company offer a variety of island configurations. With cupboards, drawers, bottle racks and shelving in different places, numerous colour choices and sizes, there's something to suit most kitchens.

10. Introduce a pop of colour

Introduce a pop of colour

(Image credit: Future PLC/ Polly Eltes)

'In a neutral kitchen, consider a pop of colour on an island for a contrast that will bring a muted scheme to life,' says Graeme Smith, Head of Retail and Commercial Design at Life Kitchens. There are small kitchen paint colours  that make a big improvement to the feeling of space so plan carefully before getting out your paintbrush.

Repeat the colour with other tones in the same palette elsewhere, such as on the fabric for window blinds or with pretty crockery out on display, to give your kitchen character.

11. Choose open shelving

Choose open shelving

(Image credit: Dunelm; Churchgate kitchen island)

Open shelving gives a more spacious feel than cupboards, so if your kitchen is on the small side an open island will make it feel roomier. This style is best if your priorities are for more worktop space and a breakfast bar.

The storage space is on display, so think about what you want to store here and how. Wicker baskets will add a charming touch and keep things neat and tidy. They're great for storing tea towels and table linen too.

12. Make space for a hob

Make space for a hob

(Image credit: Future PLC/ Robert Sanderson)

'Islands tend to become the home theatre of cooking, putting the cook at the centre of the layout,' says Graeme Smith, Life Kitchens. 'It can act as a natural room divider between the kitchen and another space, such as a dining area. If the island features a hob, ensure it has enough space for food prep and plating up. Storage under the hob for utensils will prove useful, as well as integrated bin and a chopping block.'

13. Bring in a butchers block

Bring in a butchers block

(Image credit: Future PLC/ Colin Poole)

Freestanding butchers blocks make a fantastic alternative to fixed units and are a great DIY kitchen island idea. ‘Islands play an essential part in functional kitchens providing a handy area to prepare food, store equipment or even sit and eat,' says Naomi Dean, Furniture and Showroom Designer, Harvey Jones.

'However, if your kitchen is small, consider a moveable butchers block. It will provide extra space for food preparation and storage. When not in use the butchers block can be pushed conveniently out of the way, therefore avoiding a cramped look in smaller kitchen layouts.’

14. Customise a workbench

Customise a workbench

(Image credit: Cult Furniture)

Kitchens don't always have to be fitted with standard kitchen cabinetry and furniture. Think outside the box and get creative by considering other items that could work just as well.

We're loving this old work bench that has been given a good scrub down and now serves as an island-cum-breakfast counter in this compact country kitchen. Head to your nearest reclamation yard to scour for salvaged work benches and other vintage pieces you can customise.

15. Improvise with 'off the shelf'

Improvise with 'off the shelf'

(Image credit: Cox & Cox; Eaton kitchen island)

In a compact space, it may still be possible to improvise with a piece of furniture that can act as an island in your existing layout. Many companies offer stand alone pieces.

This kitchen island caught our eye. It's made with mango wood, so has a raw, rustic finish. Plus it's topped with a slab of marble and finished with hand-crafted iron handles, giving it a wholesome, farmhouse feel. The drawers are great for storing crockery and cutlery, while the hooks on the side are handy for hanging tea towels and oven gloves.

Buy now: Eaton Kitchen island, £1275, Cox & Cox (opens in new tab)

16. Accessorise with bold accent colours

kitchen and dinning area with white wall white counter wooden cabinets and green chairs

(Image credit: Future PLC / David Giles)

In a small kitchen having an island in the same materials as the rest of the cabinetry and worktops will create a seamless look that's easy on the eye.

However, if you're concerned about a small island disappearing into the background, bring in a bold accent colour. Accessorising your kitchen island with a pop of yellow to make it stand out just enough. Make sure you repeat the colour elsewhere too, so it doesn't look lost on its own. Small kitchen lighting is a good place; it's a small area, so won't be overpowering.

17. Use the ceiling above to maximise space

Use the ceiling above to maximise space

(Image credit: Future PLC/ Brent Darby)

Whatever the size of your kitchen, it's worth making use of any available space. The ceiling (or fifth wall as it's sometimes referred) may not immediately spring to mind but it can be a handy spot for an extractor fan or extra storage for pots and pans, particularly when situated above an island.

Make sure your ceiling is sturdy enough to take the weight and ensure it is secured properly and professionally.

18. Shop for a vintage design

Vintage celebration

(Image credit: Future)

It isn't always necessary to go to huge expense to install an island in your kitchen. 'Perfect for smaller kitchens, harvest tables come with a range of creative storage solutions, such as built-in chopping boards, oak slat shelves and easy-access drawers, as well as wooden worktops for that extra counter space,' says Al Bruce, founder, Olive & Barr.

As with the rest of the rooms in our homes, tracking down vintage items to mix with newer pieces not only adds character, it's a great way to save money and protect the planet for your kids and grandkids. Set up alerts on ebay, gumtree, facebook marketplace and sign up to new homeware app, Narchie for fabulous furniture finds, such as a second hand harvest table or butchers block.

Can you put an island in a small kitchen?

'Absolutely, there are a number of ways you can install an island in a small kitchen,' says Darren Watts, Wren Kitchens Design Director. 'Kitchen islands are usually rectangular to offer the greatest amount of usable space. However, square-shaped islands can be practical for smaller kitchens. If you do opt for this then the island should have a central appliance, i.e. the sink or the stove, as well as some worktop space for food prep.'

Slim-line islands can suit kitchens that are L-shaped, as well as galley kitchens that can have awkward amounts of floor space. There may not be enough room for a small kitchen table and chairs but there’s wasted space that could be utilised for an island.

How much space do you need between an island and a counter?

'It's important to consider the available space and the circulation around the island. Typically around 1200mm between the cabinetry and the island is required for a scheme that flows easily,' says Graeme Smith, Head of Retail and Commercial Design at Life Kitchens.

What is the smallest island you can have in a kitchen?

'The minimum size of a kitchen island is 1000mm x 1000mm,' says Lizzie Beesley, Head of Design at Magnet. 'A sink or hob would not be recommended for this size of kitchen island. This is due to safety requirements and lack of practicality. Gas safety regulations state that there should be a minimum of 300mm from the end of the hob to the end of the worktop on both sides. Induction hobs need 150mm, on either side.'

Jacky Parker

Jacky Parker is a freelance interiors & lifestyle journalist, specialising in modern interiors, design and eco living. She has written for Future’s interior magazines and websites including Livingetc, Homes & Gardens, Country Homes & Interiors and Ideal Home for over fifteen years, both as a freelance contributor and inhouse, with stints as Acting Digital Editor, Livingetc and Acting Style Content Editor, Country Homes & Interiors. Her work also features in national and international publications including Sunday Times Style, Telegraph Stella, The Guardian, Grand Designs, House Beautiful and more. With years of experience in the industry Jacky is privy to the insider view and the go-to places for interior inspiration and design-savvy décor.