14 Creative Kitchen Islands and Carts

Think beyond ready-made kitchen islands and store-bought carts. Make a statement in your kitchen with ideas from these upcycled, DIY, space-saving and otherwise unusual designs.

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February 16, 2016
By: Amanda Lecky
Related To:

Photo By: Martin Knowles; Design By: Kerr Construction

Photo By: Louis Habeck; Design By: Nick Pancheau, AIA, Collaborative Design Architects

Photo By: Will Marx for GHIFY, GHIFY.com

Photo By: Alison Hammond; Design By: Egon Walesch, Egon Walesch Interiors & Flowers

Photo By: Andrea Rugg Photography; Design By: Jeremy Power, Bella Custom Homes

Photo By: Martin Knowles; Design By: Kerr Construction

Photo By: Sabine Klingler Kane, KK Design Koncepts

Photo By: Chipper Hatter; Design By: Kristianne Watts, ASID, LEED AP, KW Designs, LLC

Photo By: Chipper Hatter; Design By: Kristianne Watts, ASID, LEED AP, KW Designs, LLC

Photo By: Steve Williams; Design By: Roy and Jen Leone, Leone Design Studio

Photo By: Lee Manning Photography; Design By: Jeff Troyer, AIA

Photo By: Herb's Furnishings, HerbsFurnishings.com

Photo By: Crate & Barrel

Photo By: Carmen Brantley; Design By: Anthony Baratta

Photo By: Brooke Norsworthy

Photo By: Brooke Norsworthy

Roll Play

For flexibility in a small kitchen — or any multifunctional space — consider an island on wheels instead of a built-in version. The creative minds at Kerr Construction worked movable versatility and sustainability into their design for an island in this warm, modern kitchen. “The island base is a midcentury workshop machine, and the counter is locally resourced and made from reclaimed wood planks. We refinished the planks to match the medium-tone wood cabinets,” they say.

Tool of the Trade

“Our client had the fantastic idea to use rolling tool cabinets in her kitchen,” says architect Nick Pancheau. “We designed a simple kitchen island combining seating and storage in a single movable piece. We selected a lime-green finish to match the fritted glass lamp shades made by the client; a subtle dark-green soapstone countertop rests atop the cabinets.” 

Industrial Inspiration

Instead of springing for a built-in island, consider a freestanding one made from recycled materials. Case in point: the Industrial Recycled High Bench Table, shown in Shabby Chic White, $1,999, designed by Will Marx for GHIFY. Handmade in Brisbane, Australia, of native Australian timber, the design was inspired by the architecture of Queensland. Says GHIFY, “This island is one of our signature designs, which has been hugely popular as a kitchen island for added counter space, as a high bench dining table for the eat-in kitchen and as a workbench/desk. It is a timeless industrial recycled styled table that can be custom-built to any size, color or finish. Each table comes with a 10-year warranty.”

Store More

To give a London kitchen a striking focal point (not to mention acres of built-in storage), designer Egon Walesch had a haberdashery display cabinet from a department store cut down to size to create a unique kitchen island. “Toughened (or tempered) glass provides an excellent work surface, and the drawers, previously used for storing gloves, scarves and hats, provide excellent space to accommodate and display treasured crockery and table linens,” says Walesch.

Modern Rustic

Wondering how to keep an all-white kitchen from looking bland and boring? Simple: Just layer in plenty of natural texture. In this cottage-style space, for example, Jeremy Power of Bella Custom Homes used the center island to add warmth and interest. “We built the island using reclaimed barn wood and topped it with a honed Carrara marble countertop,” he says. The “X” details on each end are a subtle nod to the home’s country roots. 

All the Angles

You’ve heard the old chestnut, “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” When working with a space that has awkward or unusual lines, designers often have to make the best of the situation — and truly talented pros turn the oddity into a design feature that looks absolutely intentional. When designing the kitchen for a home with corners dramatically out of square, Kerr Construction embraced that architectural quirk and emphasized it with the design of the kitchen island. “The unusual shape of the island matches the corners on that side of the home, and the recessed ceiling above the counter,” they say.

Historic Character

When updating a historic home in the Hancock Park area of Los Angeles, Sabine Klingler Kane designed the kitchen around her clients’ butcher-block island. “My client had the island long before we started the remodel,” she says. “It looks perfectly vintage, but it is actually a reproduction made from reclaimed wood. It is ideal for their young daughter as she does not need to be careful with her crayons and spilling food. It has drawers on both sides, and wine storage underneath as well as shelves for cook books. But the best thing is: Two compartments on top have been outfitted with electrical outlets to plug in tablets, laptops, phones and small appliances. It also has towel bars and a bottle opener attached to it — it is not only great looking, but also totally practical and functional.” 

Exotic Accent

To give a California ranch-style home a fresh, modern twist, designer Kristianne Watts used a mix of materials in the kitchen. “On the island we used reclaimed boat wood from Indonesia. With the original paint still on each plank, it brings an authentic feel to the space,” she says. “The raised bar is Portland cement, which can be broken and recycled. The countertops are a quartz from Silestone/Cosentino. The custom cabinetry on the perimeter is an environmentally friendly wood veneer, FSC-certified Shinnoki pre-finished wood panels in Midnight Ash.”

Packed With Storage

If you’re planning a built-in island, take advantage of every inch, outfitting it with drawers, shelves, cabinets and even under-counter appliances. “We added a pull-out spice drawer on this island to store frequently used items in an easily accessible space,” says designer Kristianne Watts. It also features a wine refrigerator and a raised dining bar.   

Sliding Scale

In a compact kitchen, a narrow, wheeled cart can be a space-savvy alternative to a traditional built-in island. “This custom-made walnut and stainless steel kitchen island was designed to save space and provide flexibility in the kitchen,” say designers Roy and Jen Leone. “The countertop is character-grade walnut butcher block ordered online, while the stainless steel base was fabricated by a local shop in Brooklyn. The island design allows stools to tuck under and out of the way when not in use or during a party. Also, the entire island can be rolled and then locked into place with locking casters.”

Strong Personality

Giving a brand-new kitchen timeless character and rich personality is a challenge for the best architects and designers. One way to solve this problem is by repurposing a furniture piece for the workspace — but it’s not always easy to find the right fit, as architect Jeff Troyer discovered. He says: “We searched for months for the kitchen island, seeking something with warmth and character that would also fit the space. My clients and I finally found this antique school science lab table online and had it shipped from Ohio. We had to purchase this sight unseen, but it ended up fitting perfectly and the wood is beautiful.”

Sustainable Style

Waste not, want not: Instead of heading to the lumber yard, more and more furniture designers are looking to the past for their materials. This Reclaimed Wood Kitchen Island, $475, from Herb’s Furnishings is one great example. Handcrafted of 100% reclaimed wood from Baltimore, Md., the island’s frame is crafted from old beams, and its shelves are reclaimed pine paneling. The butcher's block top is made of reclaimed hardwood flooring, which is sealed with food-safe mineral oil and beeswax. The island sits on leveling stems to ensure a flat cutting surface, and it includes a steel bar with S hooks for hanging pots and other utensils.

Stone Age

You don’t have to wait for a custom-made island to enjoy the style and functionality of a stone countertop. The Bluestone Kitchen Island, $1,999, from Crate & Barrel is crafted with reclaimed pine from old buildings and doors and topped with a lustrous slab of bluestone for a high-end look. Inside, two roomy drawers open with antiqued iron pulls, while spacious open shelves and two iron towel bars provide additional storage. The top slab of bluestone is wet sanded and waxed to a smooth finish that reveals its organic character. Two counter-height stools can be tucked inside for casual, in-kitchen dining. 

Hip (Not) to be Square

It may be by far the most common kitchen island shape, but the rectangle isn’t your only option. Angled and even curved designs can work better in your space, like this stunning oval designed by Anthony Baratta. The oblong island, which mirrors the shape of the recessed ceiling, is a custom design built in English sycamore wood, with a Pyrolave countertop in a custom lime color and reverse-painted glass door panels.

DIY Design

Island construction is essentially simple; it’s a project most experienced woodworkers could manage fairly easily. Designer Brooke Norsworthy took on the project herself, building an oversized island with seating for four. She explains her process: “Using Ana White’s kitchen cabinet plans, I built these cabinets by hand using PureBond plywood with poplar trim. The island consists of four cabinets: two 24" bases and two 21" bases. 

Mixed Materials

"I made the frame for the counter using plywood and 2x4s and took it to my local metal shop to be wrapped in stainless steel," says designer Brooke Norsworthy. "I screwed the legs directly into the countertop just before I glued down the metal, creating a very spacious 4' x 8' kitchen island.”

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