Introduction: Kitchen Island

About: Ordinary guy with no special skills, just trying to change the world one backyard invention at a time. See more at: On Twitter - @300MPGBen and at

After we moved into our house, we had a small housewarming party. All the guests stood awkwardly around our low kitchen table. In addition, the size and shape of our house didn't give us very good options for storage.

So, we decided to do away with a dining table entirely and instead make a standing-height kitchen island and maximize our storage inside it.

A kitchen island can be a great way to organize pots, pans, utensils, flatware, and small kitchen appliances AND provide you with a nice countertop, eating area, and workspace.

In this Instructable, I'll show you what went into designing a kitchen island to make it into the centerpiece of our home. In fact, if you follow any of my Instructables, you've probably already seen my kitchen island, as it doubles as my photography and video studio.

Step 1: General Design

To start with, you need to ask yourself some questions.
What do you want this furniture to do? What specific items to you want to store? How do you want to access them? Anything special or unusual you want to include?

We decided that we wanted a large counter-top work area which could be used for cooking, meals, and entertaining. The island specifically would have an organized spice drawer, a bread drawer (no room for a breadbox on our counter) and a LARGE utensil drawer. I've lived in too many places where flat or narrow drawers jam because a potato masher doesn't quite fit right. We wanted space for lots of pots, pans, and baking sheets, silverware, utensils, and storage containers.

We needed space for a trash can and recycling bin.

We also wanted to seat two people, with flexibility for many more.

We wanted storage space for books and videos. (The kitchen and living room are one space open to each other. The island also acts as a divider.)

We wanted to be able to use electric kitchen appliances on that counter.

We also wanted something that would match our existing kitchen and bathroom cabinets.

Once we decided what we wanted, we looked through books and magazines to get style ideas. We also started noticing the details of other people's kitchen islands - how tall, how wide, what materials, how big was the overhang.

From there, we made a collage from magazine clippings of the features and styles we would like for the island, and I made sketches showing what I would want included.

One of the key components of the kitchen island would be the butcher-block top. I've always liked the look and feel of wood counter-tops. Although granite has been popular for a while, it has always felt too cold and hard for a kitchen. Wood naturally seems to have a warmth and glow to it. My father had a very large, very beat up, butcher block top in the corner of his shop. He gave it to us, and we designed the entire kitchen island to make the best use of the size of the top without cutting it.

I also took photos of our kitchen and bathroom cabinets and some other woodwork. We provided the collage, sketch, butcher block top dimensions, and photos to our friend-of-the-family cabinet-maker, and allowed him to design the exact dimensions of the kitchen island.

He returned to us two drawings and estimates, one for a simpler style, and one for a more ornate one. We chose the simpler style, which we liked, and it would be more affordable.

I am not much of a wood-worker, and on a large and complicated piece of furniture like this, it made sense to leave much of it to a professional. That said, I installed all the brass knobs, painted the cabinet, papered the shelves, installed the electrical, and oiled the wood butcher block.

Step 2: Drawers and Cabinets

The drawers and cabinets were laid out according to my sketches. They maximized the width of the counter-top and the extra height of the kitchen island allowed for more drawers vertically, and they are all plenty deep.

This is a "frame-less" design. There is no space between the drawer or cabinet faces. All the drawers feature soft-closing, are full extension (you can pull them all the way open WITHOUT fear of them falling out) and have the track with a quick release UNDER the drawer, so they look nice even when they are open.

The left-most drawers from top to bottom are
1) Assorted Utensils Drawer - includes odd-shaped things like an electric carving knife.
2) Spice Drawer - Is deep enough so that all our favorite spices can stand up, and are labeled on top.
3) Bread Drawer - This extra deep drawer is plenty big for loaves of bread and other dry goods.
4) Food storage container drawer - finally a place for all out containers and lids!

The middle drawer is wide and flat for all the most used utensils, like pizza cutters, can openers, measuring cups, etc.

The right-hand drawer is for flatware, chopsticks, and knives.

The middle cabinet is for pots and pans. It has an upper and lower shelf. I originally planned on this having slide-out shelves, the the extra material for the shelf sides and rollers would have taken up just enough extra space to make the shelves a tight fit. In the house I grew up in, we had a cabinet that was like that and it often got jammed or had items falling out of it.

The right-lower cabinet is a slide out for trash.

The cabinet hardware is all brass pull-knobs. These are the same shape as the knobs in our bathroom, but are brass to match the rest of the kitchen cabinet hardware. I got a whole bag of knobs for $3 at a rummage sale.

Step 3: Trash and Recycling

We also didn't have a very good place for trash in our kitchen, so we designed it as part of our island.

The farthest right cabinet door pulls straight out and houses two 13 gallon trash cans. The front is for our garbage, and the rear one is for recycling. A magnetic catch holds the slide-out shut.

Having the trash in front and sliding out makes it easy to pull out the trash and sweep crumbs or other discarded materials off the top of the island and directly into the garbage can.

We also made sure of the position between the kitchen island and existing counter-space wouldn't conflict with each other. For example, with the dishwasher door open, the garbage can drawer is still far enough over to be able to fully open.

Step 4: Bookshelves

One of the major considerations on this project was deciding how to best use the space on the "back" of the kitchen island.

Because of the design of our house, (open-concept, window and door placement, etc.) we actually have very few walls to put anything against. That means that it's hard to find a place to put a bookshelf or entertainment center.

We had plenty of cookbooks we needed to find a place for in the kitchen AND we had DVDs and even VHS tapes we needed to find space for in the living room. We decided that the best use of space was to make the entire back of the kitchen island be a bookcase.

The island features six shelves. Two are simply the very bottom of the cabinet. The other four are of plywood construction that mounts on pegs, so that they are adjustable by height. Shelves are 8.5" deep.

While I painted the entire cabinet, I instead decided to use self-adhesive shelf paper on the wooden shelves. I figured that the shelves would take plenty of wear from placing and removing items, and that paint would get scratched and worn-off. Shelf paper is easy to apply, durable, and easy to replace.

Step 5: Electrical

One thing I knew I would want on the kitchen island is electric power. I wanted to be able to use a blender or run a Crock-Pot without running an extension cord across the floor.

I also wanted the electric outlet out of the way, so I couldn't spill liquids in it, and have it be visibly unobtrusive. As such, I decided the best place for it was in the upper corner of the bookshelf.

I had the cabinet maker create a hole in that corner while building the cabinet.

After we got the cabinet into my house, and decided exactly where it would go, I marked and I drilled a hole in the hardwood floor for electrical cable to pass through. I had an existing GFI outlet not far away in my crawlspace that I would connect to. I used an old 12 gauge extension cord with the female end cut off to wire to the back of the kitchen island outlet.

The outlet was installed in a "remodeler's box" in the cabinet, and the power cord runs behind the left-hand drawers, and through a hole I drilled in the bottom of the cabinet.

This makes for only one small hole in our hardwood floor and a very simple electrical connection. Should we ever remove the kitchen island (or sell the house to somebody who does) the electrical can be easily removed with only one very small hole left.

Step 6: Seating

The kitchen island was designed to seat a minimum of two people (my wife and I) but is large enough to hold a combination of sitting and standing for up to ten people.

We bought a pair of "standing height" chairs in the clearance section of a furniture store. The light and dark woodwork of the chairs ties together the light kitchen with some darker woodwork in our living room.

While we designed the overhang on the one side of the island for sitting at, it's still easy to pull up a bar-stool anywhere else around the island. The entire setup works well for entertaining, with one person cooking, while still being right near guests who are standing or comfortably seated.

Step 7: Chalk Board

Because we have a stainless-steel refrigerator, we can't use magnets on it to pin up notes. So, I decided we should have some sort of message center on the island.

A friend of mine had salvaged an old school that was closed, including removing and reusing the traditional chalkboards. I got one of the chalkboards from him and cut it down for a child-sized chalkboard in our hall-way. I cut the chalkboard so as to minimize waste, including making one of the "cut-off" pieces an appropriate size for the end of the kitchen island.

The chalkboard measures roughly 3/8" thick by 14" high by 26" wide. It is mounted to the end of the island with wood screws and four metal clips designed to hold bathroom mirrors in place.

The chalkboard works really well for leaving notes, reminders, and to-do's.

Step 8: Other - Odds and Ends

Other odds and ends, notes and thoughts:
  • The dimensions of the top of the island are: 60" wide by 45" across by 41.5" high. The maple butcher block top is 1.5 inches thick.
  • I based the height of the kitchen island on the height of my elbow when I am holding a beer. I literally held a beverage and then measured from the floor to my elbow. 
  • Kitchen island acts as a giant step-stool to reach into skylight, and water plant on hanger. The island is centered under the skylight for both symmetry and maximizing natural light. During the day, NO artificial light is needed.
  • Designing the island also means designing the space AROUND it. I made sure that even with all the doors or drawers open, that they wouldn't hit the oven door or dishwasher drawer. Likewise, I made sure there was plenty of room between the island and the fridge.
  • Near the chalkboard is a Coca-Cola bottle opener. I found it in the junk drawer of my in-law's basement a long time ago. Since my in-laws are no longer with us, it's a nice little reminder of them every time I look at the bottle opener. My parents have also had a nearly identical bottle opener in their kitchen for as long as I can remember. The bottle opener is on the same side of the island as the refrigerator, and is very convenient to open the fridge, grab a drink, and pop it open on the opener, and then put the cap in the recycling bin.
  • I have a pizza peel, which I use all the time, but never had a really good place to put it. I added a small brass hook to the far side of the island, and hang the pizza peel there. It's decorative and functional.
  • In event of the butcher block top becoming permanently stained or marked, it can simply be sanded and then apply a thin coat of mineral oil.
  • I also considered sight-lines. The longest view in the house is from my desk in my home office to the wood stove. It's nice to be able to see the stove (especially in the winter) and having this view makes a smaller house feel much bigger.
  • Make sure any custom cabinets fit through your front door. On our kitchen island, the main portion of the cabinet was "door-max" size, and the decorative bottom trim "feet" were installed once the island was in place, then the countertop was installed.

Although I had a cabinet-maker build most of the kitchen island, I did the following:
  • Overall concept and design
  • Located butcher-block top
  • Bought and installed drawer pulls
  • Painted the entire island
  • Papered the shelves
  • Helped transport, carry, and install the cabinet
  • drilled hole in floor, wired and installed electric outlet
  • designed, created, and installed the chalk-board
  • installed bottle opener

I've never built anything that couldn't be improved on at least a little, but I've only really noticed two things that I would change on the kitchen island.
1) I think that pots and pans space could be improved by adding some vertical dividers and storing all pots and pans on edge.
2) I like the look of the decorative "feet" on the bottle of the island, but it makes it harder to sweep. Dirt and Cheerios always seem to really get in there. For a room that gets as much use as a kitchen, a strictly functional square-edged bottom to a cabinet might be the best way to go.

I hope you've enjoyed looking at my kitchen island. I'm really happy with how it turned out. It's an extremely useful piece of furniture that has become the center of our house. If you are looking to build your own kitchen island, I hope I have given you some good ideas and useful advice for you to help build your own!

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