Kitchen Cart vs. Kitchen Island: Which Is Better for Your Home?

Ginny Bartolone
Written by Ginny Bartolone
Updated September 7, 2021
A kitchen island in a kitchen with rustic elements
Bulgac/E+ via Getty Images

The ultimate decision between a cart and an island comes down to your budget, style preferences, and which option blends with your one-of-a-kind kitchen.

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When you have free reign to reimagine your kitchen, the cart vs. island debate is a common conundrum. After all, with your cabinets and counters locked in place, the center of the room offers an opportunity to add your own flair to the kitchen layout. We'll walk through the pros and cons of both a kitchen cart and a kitchen island and which is best for your unique space.

Kitchen Cart: Pros and Cons

A kitchen cart with a dining table on the foreground
Pernilla Hed via Getty Images

The kitchen cart comes in all shapes, styles, and sizes, but every model shares a handful of details. In a broad sense, the cart provides extra storage and counter space in the kitchen, dining room, or even the living room. Kitchen carts often come on wheels and include shelves, basic cabinetry, and a flat countertop. 

Roll it against the wall to create a microwave or coffee station. Set it in the center of the kitchen floor to roll out your cookie dough. Or even place it between your kitchen and dining space to mark a transition in an open floor plan. If the cart includes a fold-out counter, add a stool next to the cart to create a flexible breakfast nook.

You'll find kitchen carts made of wood for rustic-chic homes, stainless steel for industrial or minimalist kitchens, and glass and metal for a retro bar cart look. 

The kitchen cart does have its ups and downs, however. Let's take a look.

Pros

Perhaps most importantly, the kitchen cart offers flexibility. A small or oddly shaped kitchen space benefits from a versatile piece of furniture that is easy to tuck away when you're done using it. Creative use of the cart can even make your kitchen look larger.

Additional perks of the cart include:

  • Can cost as low as $100

  • Provides extra storage

  • Adds flexible counter space

  • Easy to move from home to home

  • Adds seating options to a small room

  • Doubles as a home bar or coffee station

Cons

On the other side of the coin, rolling counter space is not the ideal option for every space. A cart cannot match the stability of a kitchen island secured to the floor. Because of this, you can't add plumbing or appliances like sinks, garbage disposals, or cooking ranges.

The most common downsides of a cart are:

  • May be unstable and therefore dangerous around small children

  • Cannot handle wiring and appliance hookup

  • Harder to customize to match your kitchen design

  • Only accommodates 1–2 diners

  • Typically smaller than kitchen islands

Kitchen Island: Pros and Cons

A woman preparing salad on a kitchen island
Bonfanti Diego/Image Source via Getty Images

Whether you want a freestanding kitchen island or a bar-style, it can transform the style and functionality of your kitchen. Think of the island as a hosting, dining, food prep, and storage unit neatly rolled up into one superstar piece of furniture. Permanently fastened to the floor, the island is stable, can often handle appliances, and provides more space for people to gather.

You do, however, need to pick the right type of kitchen island to avoid throwing off the natural flow of your room. Too small a space and your kitchen may look cramped with the interruption. 

Also, kitchen island installation costs an average of $3,000 to $5,000, so it's important to work with a pro to find a design that compliments your layout before making the leap.

Let's check out some other considerations.

Pros

Kitchen islands provide a sturdy, durable space to live your best home chef life. They often feature the same strong stone countertops as the rest of your kitchen and provide complementary accents in the room like lighting and seating.

The additional benefits include:

  • Storage space for pots, dishes, and silverware

  • Highly customizable to your space

  • Sturdy for appliance and plumbing

  • Ample space for stools or chairs

  • Additional food prep area

  • Doubles as a dining area or workspace

  • Adds value to a kitchen

Cons

A kitchen island can be a significant investment. Much like installing new cabinets or counters, the cost to add a kitchen island can run into the low thousands. The very details that make it so stable and stylish also add to the final price tag.

Here are some kitchen island downsides to consider:

  • Requires a lot of kitchen space

  • Very difficult to DIY the installation

  • Locked in place once installed

  • More expensive to repair or replace

  • Can throw off the flow of a room

Kitchen Cart vs. Kitchen Island

A kitchen island and a cart with wooden cabinets
Oksana_Bondar/iStock / Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

The time has come to put these two kitchen-counter favorites head to head. Which is a better investment for your home? Well, it depends. The cart and the island vary in each category—some have a clear winner while others depend on your unique kitchen layout.

Appearance

Which option looks better? Like all renovations, the answer comes down to your home style. Kitchen carts add a touch of balance to a smaller space without making the room look cramped and cluttered. 

Large rooms, on the other hand, benefit most from a kitchen island. The addition of an island is clean, grounded, and welcoming for a large group of guests.

In other words, we have a tie in the category.

Cost

There's no question here—a kitchen cart costs less than installing a kitchen island. Even the price of the fanciest rolling carts—that resemble kitchen islands—hovers around $2,500

Kitchen islands require the cost of labor, materials, design, and extra perks like plumbing, electrics, and appliance hookup. Costs can add up to over $10,000 with all the bells and whistles.

We're rewarding a point for the kitchen cart.

Flexibility

Despite their differences, both the kitchen island and the kitchen cart provide excellent flexibility when it comes to usage. Use the extra counter space to store appliances, organize papers, or pull up a stool for breakfast.

Kitchen carts are much easier to transition if you have a unique space. If you need a bit more room, tuck it into the corner after you're done making dinner. You can even roll it into the closet when hosting guests.

On the other hand, you can't add a sink to the center of a kitchen cart. Unlock far more uses for your island if you choose the permanent addition. The island is also best for dining, cocktail parties, or even using it as a work-from-home space.

For this reason, we have another tie.

Customization

There's no question that the kitchen island is a great opportunity to show off your flair for design. Installing an island requires the help of a renovation team who will help you choose the countertop material, base material, and style of the island itself. 

For example, a floating kitchen island gives the appearance that the structure hovers effortlessly a few inches off the ground. You can also give your kitchen island a makeover as you renovate the rest of your space instead of starting from scratch. 

While the kitchen cart does come in many designs, it is typically pre-assembled, making it trickier to customize to your room. 

And so, this is a point for the kitchen island.

Ease of Installation

Do you need extra counter space in the next week? The kitchen cart is your best bet. Order your favorite design and have it in your space in just a few days. 

An island requires a minimum of a couple of weeks to complete. While the installation itself should only take a day or two, the process to find the best contractor, choose the island, and prep your space requires far more planning.

We'll give this category to the kitchen cart.

The Winner

The kitchen cart pulls slightly ahead in our comparison, but this doesn't mean that it's the best pick for everyone. If you have the space for a kitchen island, it can truly transform the way you utilize your kitchen counters, host guests, and design the rest of your space. 

The kitchen cart is a movable, versatile piece of furniture that can add a few more square feet of prep and storage space in a cozy space.

When in doubt, speak with your local kitchen remodelers for a quote. If the island is not the best bet for your space, the cart is there to offer a bit more flexibility.

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