25 Winning Kitchen Island Design Ideas

How to save money to add, update and decorate an island or bar.

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September 27, 2016

Photo By: Jenn Ryan Designs

Photo By: Christopher Oquendo

Photo By: Haven Design Works

Photo By: Christina Wedge

Photo By: Lowe's

Photo By: Michelle Mentzer Interiors

Photo By: Christopher Oquendo

Photo By: Terracotta Design Build

Photo By: Haven Design Works

Photo By: Crates & Pallet

Photo By: Crates & Pallet

Photo By: Dwell with Dignity/Thomas S. England

Photo By: Dwell with Dignity/Thomas S. England

Photo By: NKBA/Greg Riegler, Design by: Cheryl Kees Clendenon

Photo By: NKBA/Roger Turk

Photo By: Jo Torrijos/A Simpler Design

Photo By: NKBA/Roger Turk

Photo By: Haven Design Works

Photo By: GordonDunning

Photo By: Janna Allbritton/Yellow Prairie Interior Design

Photo By: Janna Allbritton/Yellow Prairie Interior Design

Photo By: Lennar

Photo By: Christopher Oquendo

Photo By: Lennar

Photo By: NKBA/Roger Turk

Stylish Surround

Surround your island with salvaged items, like brick. You can get the same type of look as this kitchen, by Atlanta designer Jenn Ryan, by scouring building supply depots for thin non-structural bricks. For this inspiration room, Ryan used brick veneer tiles that were cut in quarter-inch slices from century-old bricks in Chicago.

Quick Touch Up

For a quick update to an existing basic wood island from Ikea, DIY blogger Dena Stormer simply painted the base and legs of her island white to match the rest of her kitchen. Then she added a vintage metal file cabinet for her recipes to the shelf below, along with retro kitchen accessories. 

Be Irregular

Remember that kitchen islands don’t have to be a traditional, rectangular shape. Designer Donna Mathis of Haven Design Works fashioned an unsually shaped island here out of necessity to make room for a breakfast area, and the result is striking. This can also be a great way to save money by using irregular countertop remnants. 

Enhance and Expand

Skip the demolition phase and keep the base of your current kitchen island to save money. Georgia designer Beth Johnson created a much larger island by using the base of the homeowner’s original island to support a larger countertop. She painted it and added molding to look like wainscotting. She replaced the dated laminate with HanStone quartz, and installed legs to support the counter’s extended width and length.

Create Your Own

Combine unfinished stock cabinets to create an island that puts your DIY skills to the test. A DIY project from Lowe’s uses stock boards and plywood to wrap the cabinets and a 21 1/4-inch wide by 56-inch long countertop. Painted a different color than the rest of the cabinets, this kitchen island cheat looks more like a custom piece of furniture than a money-saving project.

Follow Up With Furniture

Instead of painting or changing your current kitchen island, consider adding accent furniture to one end. Georgia designer Michelle Mentzer placed a colorful chest at the end of this island, extending the storage and display space and creating fresh visual appeal in the tradtional kitchen.

Add in an Antique

Whether wood or metal, antique or new, tables, chests and other furniture can provide prep space and storage just as well as a built-in island. This mobile, expandable island in decorator Clinton Rice's townhome came from an antiques market in Atlanta. An island like this is visually interesting and gives so much versatility for food prep and entertaining; plus if you need more room in your kitchen, you can move it to the side. 

Embellish It

Enhance the look of any island by adding stylish brackets, or corbels, to support the countertop. Choose weathered wood corbels for a casual rustic touch, or accentuate a traditional kitchen with ornate brackets. Metal supports create an industrial look. To complete the look, add comfort to wooden barstools with cushions or apply nailhead trim to existing stools. In this kitchen, Terracotta Design Build chose chunky, wooden corbels to give this traditional island a hint of rustic texture. 

Update the Top and Bottom

Bigger islands are all the rage, says designer Donna Mathis of Haven Design Works. She suggests upsizing a small island by adding table legs and expanding the tabletop, giving you counterspace and a place for bar stools. 

Cute Crate Project

Take your kitchen project up a notch by building an island out of crates that fits your storage and space needs just right. This DIY plan, from Mindi Carwin at My Love 2 Create, combines small and large crates, along with vegetable bins, from Crates & Pallet to create a kitchen island with multiple sides of pantry storage, as well as room for a cutting board, hanging dish towels and organizing cookbooks.

Get Ready to Roll

Build your own island using crates and plywood. This rolling DIY kitchen island project provides simple instructions for building the frame using plywood, then uses six large crates for the drawers on either side of the island, along with three vegetable crates in the center.

Go for Color

In a compact kitchen, it’s important to draw your colors together. This white bar, with shelves of open storage below, matches the white dining table and is topped with blue tiles that complement the walls and chairs in the adjacent area. Together, the blue and white features of the bar create an interesting and cohesive look for the two distinct spaces. This room was designed by Cody Ables, CEO of CODARUS, for Dwell with Dignity, a nonprofit that helps families struggling with homelessness and poverty. 

Tile the Top

Use colorful, inexpensive tile to cover a large space and create a focal point in your kitchen design. In this kitchen, designer Cody Ables, CEO of CODARUS, used tiling on top of an open cabinet to create a great bar area. He used the bar to create more prep space for the small kitchen and divide the dining and kitchen areas in the home, which was designed for Dwell with Dignity.

Mix Materials

Create an island with multiple levels and materials, and you may be able to get by with discounted remnants. This budget-friendly kitchen island mixes materials on its staggered surfaces in this 2016 National Kitchen + Bath Association Competition winner. Quartz, wood and stainless steel combine to make a stylish and functional island for the space.

Pick a New Pattern

Consider using tiles in place of large sheets of steel for a cost-effective modern look, and lay it out differently. Designer Diane Foreman wanted to carry the stainless steel she had used in the backsplash and sink of this kitchen to the bar area, but a curved sheet of stainless steel of that size would have been cost prohibitive in this 2016 National Kitchen + Bath Association winner. Instead, she saved money and created a sleek look using stainless steel subway tiles in a vertical pattern.
From: Diane Foreman

Choose Solid Surfaces

Get a modern classic look with affordable elements, like a black silestone countertop instead of higher-priced granite or marble, and cheerful furniture like these stools selected by Atlanta stylist and homeowner Jo Torrijos. These yellow barstools, which cost $260 for a pair, have a durable plastic seat to handle spills and messes.

Get a Leg Up

Finding unexpected pieces to accent your island or bar can give you a designer look without the price tag, says designer Diane Foreman of Neil Kelly Company. The whimsical curved table leg supporting this island was just $80 online, but Foreman says it’s often mistaken for a custom piece. 
From: Diane Foreman

Get Detailed

Choose elegant finishes and accessories to maximize style on islands in compact kitchens. This smaller kitchen, designed by Donna Mathis of Haven Design Works, proves that you can still have pizzaz on a petite island. A compact island saves money on finer finishes like marble countertops; plus you can add style by picking visually interesting bar stools with details like the nailhead trim shown here. 

Pick of the Garden

Add color and light to your kitchen with pendants and decorative vases on the island. This island, by Atlanta designers Cate Dunning and Lathem Gordon of GordonDunning, uses hydrangeas and greenery in blue and white china vases to add color to the mostly white kitchen. The greenery on the island accentuates the small pops of green in the background, while the Kichler Everly Pendant creates a spotlight for the arrangement.
From: GordonDunning

Use a Runner

Place a runner on a kitchen island to center your decor and tie together the room’s design, as in this farmhouse kitchen by Janna Allbritton of Yellow Prairie Interior Design in Texas.

Make Cast-Offs a Centerpiece

Create a centerpiece vignette for your island in your favorite style, whether it’s rustic, vintage or modern. Texas designer Janna Allbritton of Yellow Prairie Interior Design says if you’re going rustic, look in your garage with a fresh set of eyes for unexpected items to use on the island. An old picture frame or caddy, like on this island, could do the trick. Use one large piece to anchor the arrangement, then decorate around it, she says.

Just Add Dishes

Updating your kitchen island can be as simple as clearing it off and re-accessorizing. This chunky cutting board topped with an aqua pitcher and mugs brings the color of the dining area rug into the kitchen. The pop of green from the apples ties in the green from the rug as well, creating visual flow. 

Save on Stools

Offset an island splurge, like this waterfall-edge quartz countertop in an Atlanta home, with inexpensive bar stools. The homeowners worked with interior designer Thea Quillian on their kitchen redo, which mixed high-end design with budget-conscious features like these stools found at Ikea for less than $80.

Think Texture

Mix textures and finishes for a distinguished style. The rustic raw wood barstools at this kitchen island create a great contrast with the plush dining table chairs and tie in with the hand scraped wood table. The mix of textures, says Cindi MacPherson of The Interior Partners in Atlanta, is something that many homeowners miss when they decorate themselves.

Cozy Up to the Bar

If you already have a mid-sized appliance or bookshelf, take a cue from designer Diane Forman. A 24-by-15-inch Sub-Zero wine fridge makes up the end of this bar in her 2016 National Kitchen + Bath Association Design Competition winner. It creates a raised divider that hides the bustle of the kitchen from the living area while keeping kitchen utensils at hand.

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