What Is the Best Type of Kitchen Island?

Gemma Johnstone
Written by Gemma Johnstone
Updated January 24, 2022
Family of three empties groceries around kitchen island
Photo: Monkey Business Images / Shutterstock

Choosing the best kitchen island for your home will depend on your budget, available space, and how you plan to use it

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Even if you have a formal dining room or comfy couch, chances are a lot of your conversation and snacking with friends and family takes place at the kitchen island. If the kitchen island is the heart of your home, installing a new one can offer more storage, work surfaces—and space for a few more people. 

It also provides an eye-catching focal point. The style you opt for will depend on your kitchen’s size and shape, your budget, and whether you plan to use it for storage, cooking, eating and socializing, or a combination of these things. 

To help you decide, here are some of the best kitchen island designs, along with their pros and cons.

1. Galley Style

Modern grey kitchen island with chairs
Photo: C Woods Photography / Shutterstock

One of the most popular kitchen islands, the classic galley style is simple, streamlined, and practical. It will work in all but the smallest of kitchens. 

Pros: Galley-style islands are ideal for narrow or one-wall kitchens with limited space. Galley islands won’t close off an open plan space or interrupt the flow in the way multi-work surface islands will. They often feature storage and bar-style seating, making them versatile enough for both practical food prep and social use. They’re also affordable, falling at the low end of the kitchen island cost spectrum.

Cons: Narrow galley islands won’t accommodate appliances or offer the versatility of multi-surface designs. Plus, for homeowners with a more adventurous sense of style, the island shape may seem a tad too conventional.

2. L-Shaped

Dark blue L-shaped kitchen island
Photo: pics721 / Shutterstock

A popular style for a slightly roomier kitchen is the L-shaped island, with two separate work surface areas.

Pros: The L-shaped island is perfect if you want a multi-functional design that offers a space for food prep, a dedicated seating area, and ample storage opportunities to tidy away your clutter. If you have multiple cooks in the family, there’s no need to jockey for space.

Cons: Not suitable for small, narrow kitchens, you need a decent-sized space to accommodate this style. If you have an open-plan kitchen or love clean lines, this island shape can interrupt the room’s flow. It's also more challenging to work across the entire kitchen space efficiently. The many angles and corners also break up valuable storage space.

3. U-Shaped

Big U-shaped kitchen island
Photo: pics721 / Shutterstock

If you are passionate about your culinary pursuits, love entertaining, and have an exceptionally spacious kitchen, why not consider going all out with a U-shaped island? 

Pros: This large kitchen island shape provides you with the most opportunities for maximizing storage, adding seating, and having tons of additional available work surfaces. Whether you want to add appliances like a stovetop, a sink, or even a dishwasher, there are endless opportunities with this design.

Cons: A U-shaped kitchen island will only work in the biggest of rooms. Even then, it can make the space seem closed off and difficult to navigate around. And, of course, these shapes don’t come cheap.

4. Double-Tiered

Large two-tiered kitchen island in white kitchen
Photo: pics721 / Shutterstock

If you are looking for an island that offers clearly delineated spaces for eating and cooking, then a double-tiered design might be for you. The lower-level side is perfect for standing to do food prep and offers extra cooking workspace. The higher level is ideal for popping bar-style seating on the other side.

Pros: For busy families that want to spend time together, a double-tiered island is a social and practical option. The ergonomically correct differing heights suit people concerned about back pain and posture.

Cons: The dining surface eats into the cooking space area, and it doesn’t look as streamlined or elegant as a classic galley design. Plus, this design is invariably more expensive than a traditional galley island style.

5. Circular

Half circle kitchen island
Photo: pics721 / Shutterstock

If you like to stand out from the crowd and want an eye-catching addition to your kitchen, then a circular island could be worth considering. You can opt for a full circle, oval, or half-circle design.

Pros: With this island shape, you get a large work surface ideal for prep and social seating arrangements. If you can accommodate one large enough, it’s a good choice if you love hosting guests. Your friends and family can gather around while you prepare the food—and then promptly eat it.

Cons: Circular islands don't make the most of available storage. It can be more difficult to incorporate appliances, and the curved shape means it isn’t as ergonomic when used as a prep space. This style won’t suit every type of kitchen shape, and they can be more expensive as they are not as common or in demand.

6. Fully Functioning Kitchen Island

Blue kitchen with big kitchen island
Photo: Joe Hendrickson / Shutterstock

If you have the budget and space, you can have your island plumbed in and electricity added so that it almost becomes a self-contained kitchen in itself.  You can add a sink and stovetop to your counter space, and some islands can also accommodate an oven or dishwasher in the cabinet space underneath.

Pros: These big islands are great for adding lots more storage and work surfaces, and they really do become the heart of the kitchen.

Cons: The biggest drawback with this kitchen island design is the cost. They require extra plumbing to reach the main water supply and drainage lines. This, along with new electrics, a new sink, potentially a gas line, and more, means it isn’t an option if you’re operating on an Ikea budget. In fact, a fully functioning bespoke island from a specialist kitchen designer could set you back well over $6,000.

7. Portable Cart

Light blue kitchen caddy
Photo: mavo / Shutterstock

If you have limited kitchen space and want a little flexibility when entertaining, why not consider a portable cart? Admittedly, this isn’t a true kitchen island, but it’s easily the next best thing. They’re perfect for providing additional prep or serving space and a little more storage. Best of all, you can tuck them away when not in use.

Pros: Carts are versatile, compact, much less expensive than a built-in island, and the wheels make them easy to move—even into other rooms in the house. They also come in a variety of different sizes and designs to suit your space and taste. Starting around $100, they can even be useful to buy as a trial run. Use it for a while, then decide if a permanent island is something you want to incorporate into your kitchen remodeling costs.

Cons: For homeowners looking to use their island for additional seating, lots of storage, or cooking elaborate meals, a small cart is not going to cut it! They aren’t always as stable or as durable either. Plus, moving them all the time may seem like a lot of hassle for some kitchen users—especially if the cart is a bigger model.

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