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Think You Haven’t Got Space for a… Kitchen Island?

Check out these ideas to get the benefits of extra workspace, storage and social spots in a small kitchen

Katie Levell
19 December 2016

Kitchen islands can fulfil a lot of functions, but they do need a fair amount of room. Designers recommend at least 800mm walk space between units, and we don’t all have that luxury. However, don’t despair, as there are other nifty solutions that can work just as well.

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Keep things in proportion
Even if you only have a small amount of floor space, you could try fitting in just one unit with a work surface on top. It will provide you with more room to chop, serve or store, and yet not dominate the room. A centrally positioned workspace can be great, as it’s accessible from all sides.

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Claw back some space with a peninsula
Perhaps the most popular nod to the island aesthetic for the smaller room is the peninsula. Like the land mass from which it takes its name, a peninsula will be connected to the main run of units.

If your wall runs out, it doesn’t mean you have to stop the kitchen there. A couple more units to continue the run can contribute much-needed storage and extra worktop space, too. It’s a more efficient use of floor area than an island, as you only need to ensure you have the walk space around three sides, rather than four.

In this kitchen, the peninsula broadens out to accommodate units back to back, maximising storage and wrapping the work surface around the corner.

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Reach out with a bar peninsula
Another common use for the peninsula is to create an extra side to the kitchen, even if there isn’t a wall to back up to. This effectively gives a kitchen footprint without the need for full walls. It’s a useful technique to employ in open-plan rooms where the kitchen shares space with an eating or living area.

The clever design here brings the kitchen cabinets around the corner, with the wider worktop creating a breakfast bar. Choosing wood for this section defines the eating area nicely.

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Opt for light and airy
You don’t need to fill in the space under a peninsula. Sometimes, leg room and a view straight through can stop things seeming too overcrowded.

This floating work surface is a deft addition to an already well-furnished kitchen. To add in cabinets below might have been too heavy. A simple curved continuation of the work surface gives a little space to sit and rounds off the kitchen neatly.

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Slide in seating at the end of a run
Maybe you’re hankering after a sociable kitchen where friends and family can join the chef as he or she rustles up something delicious, or perhaps it’s just handy to have a pit stop for quick meals? Either way, consider whether you have room at the end of a run of a units to put a couple of bar stools, then work that in to your kitchen design.

Some clever tricks to achieve this include popping in some slim storage at the back of the space, such as wall cabinets on legs. Then wrap your work surface over the end of the run to keep the space discreet.

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Plan to the room’s strengths
Sometimes, the position of windows and doors can actually mean an island or peninsula is the most efficient use of floor space. If you have a lot of interrupted stretches of wall in your kitchen, try looking to the centre of the room.

In this small kitchen, the one free wall has been filled with floor-to-ceiling cupboards and appliance housings, so the worktop, sink and hob need to go elsewhere. A peninsula from the window wall provides a neat block for these essential, plus there’s still room for a little bar seating from the other side. The overall effect is sleek and tidy, with the light streaming in from window and doors.

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Live flexibly with wheels
If your room is open-plan and used for a variety of functions, consider attaching strong casters to the base of your island so it’s easy to reposition.

When a dining table needs to be extended and lots of people seated, for instance, you can wheel the island over to another part of the room. Alternatively, when the kitchen is being used to its full potential, the island can be trundled further along to maximise the flow around the work areas.

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Create something multi-purpose
Is it an island? Is it kitchen cabinets? Is it bench seating? Yes it is. Why not make the back of your kitchen units into some bench seating? It makes a lovely breakfast nook for a table to tuck into, and from the other side it gives access to great storage and an extra stretch of worktop.

A separate island plus a table with chairs might have been too much of a squeeze in this space, but combining the two creates a neat, multi-functional arrangement with plenty of character.

Discover how to create a dining area in a small kitchen

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Swap for a table instead
Sometimes, a simple table can fulfil more useful roles in a kitchen than a built-in piece. As a work surface, it can occupy the same space as an island and be just as useful.

Bear in mind, though, that as tables are lower, you may need to consider sitting to work at this spot. However, unlike a fixed island, you can reposition your table when needed and, of course, it’s there ready and waiting to host family meals and informal suppers, too.

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Bring in a butcher’s block
Continuing with the flexible theme, a small butcher’s block on wheels can be a handy workmate in a busy kitchen. Bring it out into the centre for an easy-access prep area, or slide it alongside a worksurface when you just need to extend a run of space. When you’re finished, it can slot into a corner out of the way.

Find more clever furniture for compact interiors

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Pop in a pull-out worktop
Hideaway features are always a great idea when you’re pushed for space, and a pull-out worktop can be incredibly helpful.

Whether it’s to create an impromptu bar area, as here, or provide some extra prep area in a tiny kitchen, this is one useful bit of kit. If your kitchen is already built, opt for a fold-down worktop, attached either to the units or to the wall. Folded out of the way until needed, it’s the ultimate kitchen island in waiting.

What do you think of these alternatives to the traditional kitchen island? Share your thoughts in the Comments below.

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