Modern kitchen designs are leaning more and more toward the open plan model. In the process, the importance of one central design concept is growing: the kitchen island.
A kitchen island is almost infinitely versatile, depending on the design of your kitchen.
It can be long and slim, just large enough to be a family gathering spot or a dining table, or it can be large enough to act as a veritable food preparation station, with ample storage space for all your tools and ingredients.
With that in mind, here are 20 ideas for kitchen islands with seating that you can incorporate into the design of your ideal kitchen.
Tips for Building a Good Kitchen Island with Seating
In an ideal world, you would be able to fit any kitchen design that you fancy into your kitchen. Alas, designing your real-world kitchen island means taking many different factors and limitations into account. The key objective is to make it look good and perform its role well at the same time.
Allow us to explain.
Pay Close Attention to Efficiency
The kitchen island, no matter how small or compact you build it, will still be a sizable element in your kitchen’s floor plan. Without careful arrangement, your kitchen island could easily become an obstacle that does a disservice to your kitchen’s overall design.
For example, an oversized or badly-placed island will block movement in and out of the cooking area. If there are multiple cooks in your family, you may bump into one another more often as you work. Not only is this annoying and time-wasting — it’s also potentially dangerous. If one of you is holding something sharp or carrying something hot, a traffic jam could easily turn into a disaster.
For this reason, it’s crucial to pay attention to efficiency while you’re brainstorming your kitchen island’s dimensions and placement. This is a topic that’s so involved that we have an entire article dedicated to the best kitchen layout (including kitchen island placement).
Here’s the gist of that.
On either side of your kitchen island are aisles where you can move back and forth. You’ll want to make sure that each of these pathways is 42 inches wide at a minimum. And that’s for a single cook. If your household has two or more people who cook together, the aisles should be 48 inches wide or more.
How to Design Kitchen Island Seating
You may be surprised to learn that there are professionally-measured specifications for designing seating for a kitchen island. According to guidelines from the National Kitchen and Bath Association, the seats for your kitchen island must suit its height and allow for a minimum of 12 inches of knee space.
Ample elbow room is required, too. You don’t want your guests to feel cramped or constantly bump elbows with their neighbors. To prevent both of those, the space surrounding each seat must be measured well.
This chart shows the measurements for the most optimal seating space relative to the height of the kitchen island’s countertop, according to the NKBA.
Following this chart will ensure that all of your guests can sit comfortably around your kitchen island.
What Kind of Seat to Choose for a Kitchen Island
The best type of seat to choose will depend on the height of the kitchen island.
If you have a tabletop-height kitchen island that measures around 30 inches high, you can either pair it with low stools or standard dining chairs. Whichever you choose, make sure that they are between 17 and 23 inches.
Most kitchen islands will have a countertop that’s 35 to 37 inches high. In this case, standard counter stools measuring from 23 to 28 inches will work.
For a kitchen island on the higher side, from 41 to 43 inches high, we recommend using standard barstools. These typically have a seat height between 29 and 32 inches. Some barstool designs will have adjustable heights, so sitters can adjust them to their liking.
Finally, for the highest kitchen islands, from 42 to 46 inches high, your best option is spectator-height stools (aka extra-tall barstools). Anything shorter, and your guests will likely be uncomfortable due to the height difference between the island’s top and the seats.
Spectator-height stools have tall legs and usually measure 33 to 36 inches from the floor to the seat, making them perfect for taller islands.
The Best Kitchen Island Ideas with Seating
Kitchen islands are highly versatile, so you have a lot of options for what to do with yours. Here are our ideas:
1. Add and Mix Various Storage Options
One of a kitchen island’s many potential roles is as a storage space when the cabinets and drawers begin to feel cramped. It just requires a little creativity.
For general storage purposes, cabinets and drawers will be your best assets. Depending on the amount of cookware and utensils you have, you can use a combination of drawers, cabinets, and shelves to stow away everything and keep your kitchen tidy.
Plus, since everything now has a place, you’ll be less likely to lose things.
Nevertheless, don’t limit yourself to just cabinets and drawers. Over the years, designers have thought up many storage solutions for the kitchen island that are simply ingenious.
A stellar example would be this kitchen island design from Hill Farm Furniture Ltd., which incorporates a mini fridge into an empty cabinet. Pull it out for fresh, cool drinks and snacks to treat your house guests and yourself!
Combine the mini fridge with a wine refrigerator built into the side of your kitchen island, like in this sample from Dick Clark + Associates, for a veritable bar to hang out at with your guests.
There are so many storage options out there, we can’t really name them all here. But we did name quite a few in this article dedicated to kitchen storage ideas. Check it out if you’re still curious about the topic!
2. Extend the Kitchen Island with an Add-on Table
As we mentioned at the beginning of the article, a kitchen island is almost infinitely versatile. Depending on what you need your kitchen island to do for you, it can be designed to fill several different roles all at once.
For an example, check out this kitchen island design from Erik Kitchen Design.
On the other end of the kitchen is a standard kitchen island that’s obviously designed for food preparation. You have an abundance of countertop space to slice, dice, and otherwise prepare food ingredients. A stovetop is built right in the middle, so it’s even more convenient to start cooking. Plus, a small oven can be seen integrated into the cabinet underneath.
Overall, nothing new as far as a kitchen island design goes. What’s new, though, is the add-on dining table affixed to the side of the kitchen island.
It’s undoubtedly a smart design. As you can see, the central stovetop doesn’t leave much dining space on the main island. The add-on table gives you extra room to enjoy your meals on, and you don’t have to carry them far.
Just remember to add a few stools!
3. Create Task Zones Using Contrasting Colors
If you have enough space, there is another option to turn your kitchen island from single-role to multi-role besides attaching a big add-on table to its side, and that is to create different “task zones”.
Task zones are designated areas of your kitchen island where one and only one task is done. Most multi-role kitchen islands are usually separated into two zones: a food preparation zone and a dining zone. To make it easier for people to tell the two apart and use them accordingly, you can incorporate contrasting colors.
In this design sample from Kitchen Distributors, the kitchen island is zoned into two separate areas through the use of differently-colored timber.
The coloring visually breaks up the design, creating clear-cut borders that separate one zone from another. The light-toned wood surface denotes the food prep area, while the dining area is marked by the darker, burgundy-colored wood. True to form, counter stools are arranged around the dining area for seating.
Zoning with contrasting colors is a simple, yet highly effective method. It also has the advantage of being a fairly “gentle” way of breaking up the island’s design. The colors are different, but the material and texture of the island is the same.
This gives the design a more congruous feeling compared to this next idea that we’re about to show you.
4. Boldy Set Task Zones with Contrasting Materials
Another way to set task zones is through the use of contrasting materials. This is a significantly more dramatic method than just using different colors. When designed well enough, the island could easily become a statement piece for your entire kitchen.
The general design of this kitchen island here from Allbright Bullock Architects is simple and minimalistic. Nevertheless, it manages to stand out thanks to the use of mixed materials on the countertops.
The countertop itself is formed from a single sheet of black granite. This is the primary working surface of the kitchen island, where food ingredients are processed and meals are made.
Once plated, the food is transferred to the other side of the island — the dining area — for enjoyment. This area is clearly marked by a large, thick cut of sapele wood. A row of barstools are seated at this side.
Despite their very different characteristics, these two materials complement one another, allowing the kitchen island to stand out beautifully.
5. Integrate a Small Library into Your Kitchen
Your kitchen island can double as an entertainment or lounge area with the right details. For instance, a built-in bookshelf will give you a convenient place to store cookbooks or other reading material to accompany your meals.
6. Let it Double as a Home Office
These days, with growing numbers of people working from home, a home office is increasingly valuable. If you don’t have one yet, why not convert your kitchen island into one? It’s quite simple and doesn’t require a lot.
First, you can wire up your kitchen island with power outlets. This may take some effort to route the wiring underneath, but it can be worth it to avoid stringing power cables across the kitchen.
Many custom kitchen islands these days come with outlets pre-built into them. Some may even have clever “doors” to hide the outlets when they’re not needed — protecting them from spills or childrens’ tampering.
With the outlets set up, all that’s left is to find a good, comfy seat and voilà — you can work from home while keeping an eye on your cooking food.
7. Be Creative with the Design of Your Kitchen Island
Kitchen islands usually come in the form of rectangular blocks. There are good reasons for the popularity of this form factor, as it provides more countertop area and storage space compared to other shapes.
However, that doesn’t mean your kitchen island must follow this convention. Feel free to disregard tradition and make up a unique design of your own!
The kitchen you see in this sample from Hadrian Stone Design Studio is inside a beach house. To emphasize the aquatic theme of the space, the kitchen island is built in the shape of a mussel. That explains the organic curves of the island’s primary structure.
The main countertop for the island is made from concrete, coated to resemble natural stone and zoned for food prep. On one side, it supports a spectacular full cut of babinga wood that acts as a bar or dining counter, under which counter stools slide snugly.
8. Dine In-House with Banquette Island
The kitchen island can function as a gathering spot for family and friends. If this is your intention for your island, a row of counter stools isn’t the best seating scheme for easy conversation. Instead, consider a banquette seating scheme.
In a banquet seating scheme, circular benches oppose one another. This allows diners to converse without turning their bodies into uncomfortable poses or straining their necks. The direct line of sight with one another promotes an easier flow of conversation compared to a typical counter.
Benches also mean diners can comfortably sit shoulder-to-shoulder, creating a more intimate space that’s perfect for family gatherings.
As an alternative to the circular layout, you can arrange the benches in an L-shape. The angle will still allow kitchen guests to easily talk face-to-face.
These elegant navy blue benches are built to the backside of an L-shape kitchen island, forming a continuous design. Textiles with eye-catching patterns, like the cushions of the benches and throw pillows, add visual interest to the design. The result is a very welcoming, but no less aesthetically pleasing, look for the entire area.
9. Size Up Your Kitchen Island
If you’re one of those lucky people whose kitchen has plenty of space to spare, then consider sizing up your kitchen island to suit it.
For a kitchen island with seating, it’s usually best to expand lengthwise. That way, you can seat more people along the sides of the island, basically turning it into a grand dinner table. On party nights, the chairs can be moved elsewhere to turn the island into a cocktail bar.
The large kitchen island in this farmhouse-style kitchen can seat five at once while leaving plenty of room for food prep.
And because this island is so large, there is no need for a dividing line between the food prep and dining areas, as each half has ample territory of its own.
10. Size Down Your Kitchen Island
Not all of us are lucky enough to have cavernous kitchens, but a smaller kitchen doesn’t mean you can’t have a kitchen island. Just size it down to fit!
This compact kitchen island has a foundation of light-toned wood like the rest of the cabinetry. The same approach is also used for the island’s countertop, which is carved from the same quartz as the counters along the wall.
By matching the color and texture of the island to the rest of the kitchen’s cabinetry, you can achieve a sense of harmony and purposeful design.
The countertop hangs over two stools that let it function as a makeshift dining table. However, its small size means that you’ll want to clear off your food preparation before serving the meal.
11. Add a Mini Kitchen Island for Maximum Space Efficiency
For very small kitchens where space is at a premium, consider adding a miniature kitchen island. This is about as small as kitchen islands get.
Other than acting as an extra working surface, a mini kitchen island has its own charm. You can see that charm in action in this design sample from HA Architecture.
Though the square footage of the sample kitchen is quite modest, the island doesn’t seem to crowd it. Instead, the mini island has a uniting effect on the rest of the L-shaped kitchen, resulting in a more cohesive overall design.
Due to its small size, a mini island is primarily meant to be a food prep surface. However, seating can still play a part: a stool at the side allows the chef to be more comfortable while working. And when the countertop is cleaned, it may be used as a small dining table for one.
12. Add Dynamic to Your Kitchen Island’s Dining Zone
You can add further interest to your kitchen island’s dining zone by giving it dynamism. Basically, the objective here is to mix up the kitchen island’s composition with a variety of different design details, materials, colors, and textures.
That may sound abstract, so maybe it’ll help to see it in action. Check out this dynamic kitchen island from Heartwood Corp.
First up, we have a curvy, elevated stretch of countertop that can be used as a cocktail bar. At the end of the kitchen, a circular section is carved into the island, which can be used as a tray for placing drinks or food. It may also be used as a small dining table for one.
Three bar stools are arranged at the front as seating.
At the back, the lower section of the island is allocated for food prepping. The sink, cabinets and cupboards can be easily accessed from here.
This kitchen island is a mixture of a variety of materials and color tones. White marble with black veins serves as the material for the countertops. The light wood of the cabinets contrasts with the deep red hardwood floor, while colorful tiles adorning the walls add vibrance and energy.
Although such a blend of materials is uncommon, it can be effective at making a kitchen island (and cocktail bar) more welcoming.
13. Expand Legroom with a Free-Floating Design
Legroom can be a big problem for kitchen islands with seating. Since half the appeal of a kitchen island is the extra storage space in the form of cabinets and drawers, some compromise is usually required.
But if you’re going to attach a dining table to your kitchen island, you can maximize legroom with a free-floating design. You probably already managed to guess what this means: removing supporting legs altogether.
Such an eye-catching design, like this one from Vladimir Radutny, makes for an exceptional addition to a contemporary kitchen.
A single sheet of glass is burrowed deeply into the main island’s structure, supporting it enough that it needs no additional legs. This frees up a lot of leg space for sitters. Aesthetically, the free-floating design combines with the clear glass sheet to look and feel stylish and contemporary.
14. Draw Attention with Overhanging Lighting Fixtures
The kitchen island — especially one with seating that is expected to serve guests — should be the center of attention for anyone who walks into your kitchen. It should draw people to gather around it. That focus means it is an opportunity to make a great impression for guests.
There are many different methods that you can use to draw attention to the beauty of your kitchen island. One of the most effective involves lighting fixtures. These can subtly guide your guests eyes towards where to look — and walk.
This kitchen design features three pendant lights hanging over the kitchen island which leave no doubt that it is the kitchen’s centerpiece. Their large size makes them more prominent in the field of view, while their blackness unites them with the island’s base and contrasts with the white cabinets in the background. When turned on, they’ll illuminate the marble island below, highlighting your culinary masterpiece — and setting up great photos.
15. Embolden with Accent Lighting
While large hanging lights attract attention to the lighting fixtures themselves, you may also lead people’s eyes using accent lighting. The primary job of accent lighting is to create a visual attractor, which is exactly what we’re trying to achieve.
Accent lights come in many forms. They can be small spotlights strategically arranged to highlight a certain detail in the kitchen (in this case, the kitchen island).
Or they can be LED light strips running around the perimeter of the object that you’re trying to emphasize. The kitchen island in this sample from Nar Design Group has warm-toned light strips installed on its underside, granting it an inviting glow.
While it certainly looks good, do note that this lighting scheme is best suited to contemporary designs. It may clash with more traditional or rustic designs that shy away from artificial lighting.
16. Use Bold Colors to Enliven the Space
The right color in the right place can completely transform the atmosphere of any space, including the kitchen. If you want your cooking space to be an energetic, lively place, try infusing it with bold, vibrant colors.
Because the kitchen island stands on its own and it’s at a central location in the kitchen, it’s one of the best places to add some color and make it pop. In a kitchen full of pure white and clean lines, the island here creates a feeling of connection to nature with its terracotta coloring.
17. Cool Down the Kitchen with Softer Colors
While many people like their kitchens full of energy, for others it’s a place to relax and unwind. If you’re one of the latter, choosing cooler, more subdued colors can help you create that mellow vibe.
The island in this rustic kitchen sample from Holmes Hole Builders LLC is painted a cool blue-gray tone that matches the cabinets. Working in concert with the organic wood tones of the room around it, it evokes a sense of comfort and belonging.
18. Improve Convenience with an Overhead Storage Shelf
Need extra storage space? Consider adding an overhead storage shelf.
In addition to giving you more space to keep your things, an overhead storage shelf can be much more convenient than cabinets and drawers. Put your best glassware there and you can retrieve it in seconds. The shelf makes a great display, too, as you can see in this sample, courtesy of Darren James Interiors.
A custom stainless steel shelf hangs from the ceiling over this long kitchen island. On it, glassware and bottles are on tantalizing display, ready to be retrieved in seconds when you’re in the mood for a drink. But that’s not all — the shelf also pulls double duty as a lighting fixture, with LED bulbs built on its underside illuminating the kitchen island below.
19. Be Versatile with a Movable Kitchen Island
A kitchen island doesn’t have to be rooted to one place. Plenty of kitchen designs incorporate a movable kitchen island that can be pushed around and re-arranged quickly and easily.
In one position, the kitchen island functions as a typical food prep station. Then, when the food is ready, you can load it on the island and push it closer to the center of the room to serve as a dining table. Got a meeting and need a desk ASAP? Push the island next to a wall, place a stool under it, and you’re ready for business.
There are two popular forms of movable kitchen islands.
The first one is simple enough. It’s made to be as small and light as possible, so one person can push or carry it wherever it’s needed. It’s basically an unusually tall and thin table.
The second type of movable kitchen island has caster wheels installed, making it easy to move around even if it’s large and heavy.
20. Double Up with Two Kitchen Islands
This idea is only applicable for kitchens with plenty of square footage to spare. If your home has multiple cooks or hosts a lot of large gatherings, it may be worth investing in two separate kitchen islands.
Having two islands essentially doubles every benefit that a kitchen island offers, from storage space, to work surface, to the number of seats available. Moverover, it lets you fill out your floor plan with something useful.
Do note, however, that it’s very important to measure the room carefully to determine the right proportions for your islands. If the islands are too large or close together, they could make the kitchen feel cramped.
Designing (or re-designing) a kitchen can be a pretty intimidating and headache-inducing task, even with the aid of a professional designer and a good contractor.We hope these 20 ideas for kitchen islands with seating have given you some inspiration for your kitchen design. If so, feel free to send the list to your designer and contractor with notes on your favorites. That way, you can work together with them to create the kitchen of your dreams!
Luna Regina is an accomplished writer and author who dedicates her career to empowering home cooks and making cooking effortless for everyone. She is the founder of HealthyKitchen101.com and HealthyRecipes101.com, where she works with her team to develop easy, nutritious recipes and help aspiring cooks choose the right kitchen appliances.