As with most features in your home, the way you design your kitchen island should be a matter of functionality, personal taste, your budget, and your lifestyle. This week’s quick tips will help you design an island that is not only on trend style wise, but also functional and comfortable.
1. Design a Single Level, Counter Height Kitchen Island
On only very rare occasions do I see a brand new house with a 2 level kitchen island. Those 2 level islands have a 36 inch, counter height working surface, plus a 42 inch, bar height eating surface. Two level islands were very popular about 20 years ago, but not anymore. In fact, some realtors and kitchen designers say 2 level islands could turn some buyers off at resale. One level kitchen islands at the standard 36 inch counter height are by far the most popular design seen in new construction today.
Listen, there’s nothing definitively “wrong” with a 2 level island. If you love that design and you don’t plan on selling your home in the near future, go for it. But most kitchen designers and homeowners agree that since one level, counter height islands don’t have that tall bar surface obstructing the sight lines in the kitchen, counter height islands make kitchens look bigger and more open and airy.
For years, the main argument for a 2 level island was that the taller bar height surface would hide dirty dishes and kitchen messes from guests. But unless you have only very short guests who never sit at the kitchen island, that bar top won’t significantly block the view of potentially messy countertops. Average sized adults walking near or sitting at a 2 level island can easily see over the bar top. So, hiding a kitchen mess is not the best reason for a 2 level kitchen island.
Not only are single level islands a more up-to-date option that can make your kitchen feel more open, but they give you a larger working surface as compared with a 2 level island. This large, practical surface is perfect for spreading out food during a buffet dinner or during parties.
2. If You and Your Family Members Are Tall, Consider Raising Your Counter Height Island to 37 or 38 inches (1 or 2 inches above the standard 36 inches)
Now, a standard 36 inch counter height island will work well for most people. But the taller you are, the more a taller island surface makes sense. As a rule of thumb, the most comfortable counter height is around 3-4 inches below the level your elbow when it's bent at a 90 degree angle.
If you currently have standard 36 inch countertops and can work at them comfortably, stick with a 36 inch island. But if you experience back strain after chopping and prepping at your 36 inch counter, consider a slightly taller design for your island. You can keep the perimeter countertops at the standard 36 inches, even if you go with a taller island, since that standard height will be better for shorter family members. Adding a pull-out toe kick step stool to a taller kitchen island can help shorter family members and friends can work there comfortably (this is a great idea even if you go with a standard height island). Keep in mind, standard counter height stools may not work for a 38 inch island, so adjustable stools may be your best bet.
3. Consider an Island Foot Rest
A kitchen island without a foot rest works well for quick meals and snacks. But if your family members or guests tend to linger at the kitchen island, an island foot rest may be a good idea.
Granted many counter height and bar height stools are designed with foot rests that make sitting in those stools a bit more comfortable.
But over an extended period of time, stool foot rests are not the most ergonomic solution. They don't put your legs and knees at the most comfortable angle since, on a stool foot rest, feet and legs usually extend backward, instead of forward. An island foot rest will allow your feet to either rest flat down or allow them to extend forward a bit. This puts less strain on the back, so an island foot rest better positions your legs for long periods of sitting.
Now, you don’t want to forgo stools with foot rests altogether, because, again, those stool foot rests are comfortable for short term sitting. But if your family and guests tend to spend a lot of time at the island, in addition to choosing stools with foot rests, also consider designing the actual kitchen island with a foot rest.
Foot rests can be incorporated into the design of the island or you can add a separate, metal, bar rail foot rest, similar to what your often see at commercial bars.
With both stool foot rests and an island foot rest, people of different heights will be able to choose which is more comfortable.
Kitchen island foot rests usually vary from 6 inches to 11 inches high and 6 to 9 inches deep. The taller your stools, and the shorter the people are who typically sit at your island, the taller you want your foot rest to be. One size won't fit all, and there’s no way to please everyone, but having both a stool foot rest and an island foot rest will give people the option to use either.
You may think this foot rest business is much ado about nothing, but if you’ve ever sat at an island or bar without a comfortable foot rest, for an extended amount, you know how unpleasant that is. If your kitchen island will only be used for quick meals or snacks, and not long conversations and long meals, you probably don’t need to invest in a separate island foot rest.
Finally, you might be afraid that the island foot rest will be an unattractive eye sore, but remember, it will be at the bottom of your island and will be hidden by stools and/or people sitting in stools most of the time.
Well, that’s it for this week. I hope you found those quick tips helpful. Thanks for stopping by.
Please remember that the purpose of this podcast is simply to educate and inform. It is not a substitute for professional advice. The information that you hear is based the only on the opinions, research and experiences of my guests and myself. That information might be incomplete and it’s subject to change, so it may not apply to your project. In addition, building codes and requirements vary from region to region, so always consult a professional about specific recommendations for your home.
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