Homeowners are looking for ways to create an informal, relaxed eating area that allows their friends and family to interact, while they both prepare and eat food. Kitchen seating areas around islands and peninsulas, are gaining in popularity.
Kitchen remodels in order to add kitchen seating, is on contractors and diy-ers to-do list everyday. But there are a few items that need to be kept in mind as you plan your kitchen island design:
1) Kitchen Size
First, you should consider the size of your kitchen. There not only needs to be enough room to accommodate the island or peninsula, but also the countertop overhang and the seating. Too often homeowners plan for the size of the island or peninsula, but forget to account for the seating and lack of walkways. Often, one of the major routes of passages in the kitchen becomes blocked or congested; causing the social design of the kitchen to become useless.
Photo: Fine Homebuilding
Rules of Thumb:
Your design should allow for an efficient work triangle—the imaginary work triangle formed between the sink, fridge and stove top.
When designing a kitchen, consider the island as another counter or work surface and decide how it will be a part of the kitchen work triangle.
Many designers suggest a separation distance of a minimum of three feet from the island to any other counter top. The distance really depends on the layout and how the kitchen is used. The decision for the distance between the counter and the island should consider the number of cooks using the kitchen and the location of appliances. If a refrigerator or an oven door will swing into the space between the island and counter, ensure that there is adequate space for someone to get between the door and the counter.
2) Kitchen Layout
Kitchens come in many sizes, but they also come in many layouts. Common layouts include: one-wall kitchens, L-shaped kitchens, U-shaped kitchens and G-shaped kitchens. Each layout can accommodate an island with the seating.
For a one-wall kitchen, adding an island essentially turns it into a galley kitchen layout. L-shaped kitchen island designs can improve traffic flow by allowing for two ways of entering and exiting the kitchen space. The nice thing about both the L-shaped and one-wall kitchen island designs is that they allow for counter seating on the non-kitchen side of the island. This can help keep those not helping with food prep out of the kitchen work triangle but still in the company of those in the kitchen.
Other layouts such as U and G-shaped kitchens can also support an island but are generally not for the faint of space. Considering a minimum spacing of 3 feet between counters and an average counter depth of two feet it's easy to see that the minimum width for these layouts with a small (2 foot wide) island would be 12 feet. But that said, a 12 foot wide U or G-shaped kitchen would have a very cramped work area and the island could just end up being an obstacle.
The biggest difficulty with kitchen island designs for a U or G-shaped layout is that the existence of an island invites people into the kitchen to hang out. If the island does not have adequate aisle space around it (more than four feet) to accommodate those extra people, it will be impossible to cook in this kitchen. This type of layout requires a fair amount of space to avoid traffic congestion.
No matter what your kitchen floor plan, it is imperative to consider traffic flow. Ideally traffic will not flow through the work triangle. Some kitchen island designs can create a very awkward traffic pattern. Walk through various kitchen use scenarios to test each kitchen design you are playing with. Consider as many scenarios as possible. Think about setting the table, serving the meal, and cleaning up afterwards. If you find that a given design has you running a marathon for a daily use scenario it's time to re-jig the design or perhaps start all over.
3) Sizing Kitchen Islands Countertops
Determining the best size for the actual island countertop depends on the space available and how you will use the island. The minimum width for usability is two feet. This size of island works well with a one wall kitchen where there will be no seating on the opposite side. For a very small home this small island could also serve as the eating area and the living room could be on the non-kitchen side of the island. This creates a comfortable open floor plan with the feeling of separation between the kitchen and seating areas.
For most kitchen island designs, if there will be seating at the island, you'll want to have a minimum width of three feet. The countertop can overhang the cabinet to allow for leg room. With this type of cantilevered countertop, it is usually best to have some kind of braces supporting the counter overhang. When installing your countertop, the overhangs need to be handled very carefully. When in place, the countertop is essentially held in place by gravity. But it is still important that it needs to be properly supported. The Original Granite Bracket was the first bracket designed by fabricators to support all types and sizes of countertops. Without the correct support, a countertop could be unstable and might even tip, if someone were to sit on it.
Photo: The Original Granite Bracket - Hidden Island Support Bracket
The maximum width of the island depends on the available space but going beyond a width of four feet makes cleaning the countertop difficult. The decision for island shape depends from which other work surfaces you wish to access it. If you look at the drawing of the L-shaped kitchen kitchen island design you'll see that this island is accessed from both the oven and the sink. One or both of these sides of the island could be used for food preparation.
4) Seating Choices
When it comes to kitchen island seating the big question is always - "should I use stools or chairs?" Well, there's no hard and fast rule here because it's really a matter of taste, both in style and functionality. But to help you out, let's take a closer look at the possibilities and the pros and cons of each.
Stools (we're talking about the backless, armless type of seating here) make for handy island seating because they're smaller, easier to negotiate around and non-obtrusive. Their small size means you can sometimes fit more of them around an island as opposed to larger chairs that take up more space. They're typically lighter and more easily moved around.
Stools also make it easier to sit down and get back up. There's no need to work your way around to the front like you do with chairs. With most stools you just approach from behind and slide over it to sit down. Chairs require that you pull them away from the island and move along the side to the front to sit down. Then you usually have to snug them in closer to the countertop. If you have a lot of chairs bunched tightly against one another it just makes the sitting process more cumbersome.
Stools don't offer a lot of visual clutter either, the way that chairs with backs sometimes do when crowded around an island. Consider how chairs will look from various sight lines in your kitchen and whether they might provide visual distractions.
And here's another benefit -- stools can usually be tucked under the island's overhang. This is a nifty feature because it makes your island and kitchen a bit more versatile. It's much more convenient to just slide the stools under the island counter when you want to use it as a buffet-like serving center. People can just walk up and help themselves with no obstacles. The stools are out of the way and there's no need move them someplace else. Then when serving time is over and someone wants to make conversation while you're tidying up, they simply slide the stool out and take a seat.
The down-side of stools is that some varieties can look pretty utilitarian, with not much more than a flat piece of wood set atop four legs. Sitting on a stool for an extended period of time can also be tiring, particularly on your back.
Chairs on the other hand offer more in the way of comfort than stools. The ability to lean back against some form of support goes a long way toward relieving back fatigue. A more comfortable seat usually makes for a more enjoyable experience.
Kitchen island chairs come in a wide variety of styles too. Whether you want wood, metal, leather or a combination of materials, you shouldn't have too much trouble expressing your style when using a set of chairs.
The drawback with chairs is that they can be more cumbersome. They're usually heavier and bulkier than stools and you have to pull them out from the countertop to sit down. Because island seating tends to be more closely spaced than say, a dining room table, they can sometimes look too cluttered, depending on the particular style and the height of the back.
One more point to consider is the specific role of the island. A kitchen island with seating could likely be the primary dining location. If that's the case then it's important to consider the experience that the type of seating you choose will offer. Chairs offer a more comfortable atmosphere for "lingering" after a meal to enjoy good conversation.
Regardless of which choice you make just remember that there's no design police. Use seating that's comfortable and easily accessible, considering the mobility of the users and the space you have. Get what appeals to you the most, now that you have some idea of the benefits and drawbacks of each.
5) Seating Height
The important point to remember about buying seats for your kitchen island is to get the correct height. Kitchen islands can be built with seating areas at a variety of levels. If you have an island custom built you can specify whatever height you want.
Photo: ivy de Leon
In general, islands are built with a seating area either at countertop height (approximately 36 inches from the floor) or a level that's higher. The seating area on taller kitchen islands is sometimes called a breakfast bar or a bar-top.
Kitchen island stools and chairs are built at various heights too. "Countertop" seating is usually 24 to 26 inches in height (measured from the seat to the floor), similar to those shown on the right in the picture below. Taller island "bar" seating is usually 28 to 30 inches tall, like those shown on the left.
If you want the best of both worlds there's even adjustable seating. Styles tend to lean toward the more modern look but if you want the versatility of an adjustable seat, they're available.