What Space Do You Need Around A Kitchen Island?

Hindsight is a wonderful thing. What is not quite as pleasant is having everyone tell you where you went wrong or what you should have done after the fact! Where were these experts when you were busy installing your (first ever) kitchen island in your home? Nowhere to be seen, I assure you. Why couldn’t they answer one simple question before I began?

What space do you need around a kitchen island? 42 – 50” (107 – 127cm) seems to be the consensus. You want to allow enough room for safe and easy movement around the island, even when drawers, cabinets, and appliance doors are open. This also allows for doors etc., that surround the island.

That simple question, correctly answered, would have made all of the difference to my project. Instead, I’d focused on the perfect measurements for a wonderful island, with drawers and shelving to die for, a gorgeous hardwood top with cutouts for peelings, and more. Much more. That was the problem…

I went overboard with the project, never having done something of this kind before, and I was determined to create something sensational, which I certainly did. Before cutting (Measure twice, cut once and all that), I ensured that there was enough space to move around the island.

Unfortunately, although there was enough space for me to walk comfortably around it, I had not considered the opening of cabinets and drawers, an error which left me with four inches in which to stand when rummaging – a hopeless situation. My suggestion that you could always stand to the side when you opened these was met with derision by all, and even my cat hasn’t entered the kitchen since I built the thing.

Consider Your Reason For Adding A Kitchen Island Before Going Further

There are several very good reasons for adding an island, and each one fulfills a different function:

  • Upgrade – adds value to your home
  • Storage – General use with cabinets below and ample storage on top
  • Cooking – You’re in the best place to access all points
  • Washing up – Keep your clean-up tasks in one place
  • Serving – Will the family sit around the island for meals?
  • Prep Station – Prepare everything on the island before moving to the stove

You can combine one or two of these reasons for an island, but I tried to fit them all in – FAIL! (One annoying neighbor’s comment comes to mind: “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”) Who the heck needs wisdom after the fact?

Common Mistakes When Considering A Kitchen Island

  • Making The Island The Wrong Size
  • Making it too large – Already covered ad-infinitum, consider that you will have to bend regularly if the island is to be functional. Drawers, dishwashing machines, ovens, cabinets, etc., all require that you have sufficient space to back up and bend down to use them. Enough said.
  • Making it too small – If you have insufficient space on the island for your specific needs, it might be wiser to use a butcher’s block or a table, or reassess what you will use the island for. According to my research, less than four feet wide and two feet deep is impractical for most applications.
  • Poor Lighting

Working with hot pans or chopping vegetables with your favorite Japanese blade can end in disaster if you can’t see clearly what you are doing. Bright prep or cooking areas are always pleasant to work at but consider installing dimmers if you plan to take your meals at the island.

If you decide to do your cooking on the island, you will need a hood, so consider the shadows cast by the hood and plan accordingly. Directional lighting is a breeze, but downlighters alone will not cut it. Even the best downdraft fan cannot deal with the worst cooking odors, so f you want to lose the fried calamari smell, you will need to install a hood.

  • Not Considering Plumbing

Having a sink on the island – space permitting – may be a lifesaver if you plan to use the island as your main food prepping area. A quick rinse of a knife here and a sieve there can make your tasks so much faster and more enjoyable. For this, you will need access to mains water.

  • Not Considering Plug points

This is obvious if you plan to do your cooking on the island, but even the prep island will benefit from plug points for blenders, food processors, and many more. Remember that adding an island is for ease and efficiency in your kitchen, so if you elect to prep on the island, you’d rather not have to continually turn to the surrounding counters every time you want to use an appliance for prepping.

  • Not Considering Access During Construction

If access to your kitchen is via a tight passage or staircase, bear this in mind when choosing your island top. If it is too large for access, it will have to be cut, which might result in an ugly join that will always be an eyesore to you.

My Kitchen Is Small – What Can I do Regarding A Kitchen Island?

Now that I have done the research I should have done months ago before attempting my own island, it is clear that the smallest island realistic is a butcher’s block, usually 24 x 24” (61 x 61 cm). Even here, you would need at least 32” of walk-way, which would only just allow the opening of most appliances like refrigerators, stoves, etc., on the surrounding sides.

If you have sufficient space for a bigger island, you can still get away with the 32” of clearance around the island, but that changes the moment you add any of the following:

  • Cabinets
  • Oven
  • Dishwasher
  • Seating of any kind
  • Bar Fridge

If any of the above are added, you need a realistic minimum of 42” to allow access.


People love to gather in a kitchen, particularly around a communal space. An island works great for prepping and serving food and even cooking the meal, so it’s a great addition to your kitchen. Give thought to exactly what you will use it for, and then sketch it out with all measurements, including clearance, before deciding.


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