How to Design Your Kitchen Island to Maximize Its Seating

Installing an attractive, easy-to-use kitchen island in your home is a must these days. The right island offers convenient counter space and gives definition to open-concept floorplans. It also provides welcome seating for family and guests—but you have to plan for that seating mindfully to get the best use out of it.

Here are some of our favorite tips for designing a kitchen island and seating that is both stylish and practical.

Some Considerations to Weigh as You Plan Your Kitchen Island Seating

To address seating, start off by thinking about what you want to achieve with your kitchen island. There are many options to choose from—so the key is deciding what fits you best. Ask these questions first:

How will you use the island most often?

Kitchen islands can fulfill several purposes, so decide how you will primarily use it. Then plan your seating design to accommodate that purpose.

For example, if you want to do meal prep at the island, then you’ll want a workspace with a narrow overhang on one side, with seating on the other side. If the island is only for entertaining, not cooking or prepping, then it makes sense to choose large overhangs all around, to accommodate double-sided seating.

If you’ll use the island for several tasks at once—such as cooking while children do homework—a multi-level counter is a good idea. Just be sure that the area where you’ll be standing to chop vegetables is comfortable for working (around hip height). Other portions of the island can have a higher counter, with tall stools for the children as they study.

How big is your kitchen space?

Your island and any seating around it must fit well with your overall floor plan. A small, closed kitchen is probably best suited for a simple, portable butcher block, with no seating. A partially open space with a countertop that swings around to separate your kitchen from your living area may be perfect for a couple of narrow bar stools that tuck easily under the countertop when not in use.

If the kitchen and open floorplan is large and open, then you have more room to get creative with your island. If you have lots of space to work with, you can make the island more of a formal sitting area, with cushioned, designer seating on both sides.

What type of flow do you want your kitchen to have?

Kitchens need a practical, comfortable flow so that it’s easy to move around while cooking, washing dishes, and eating. As you design the island, remember to include added space for seats to be pushed in and out as people sit down and stand up. Don’t place seats near the fridge, sink, or oven.

Also, think about how the placement of stools and chairs will affect other kitchen tasks. If your space is on the smaller side, it’s probably best to place seats on the side facing away from the kitchen. In any case, your island should have aisles that are 28-42 inches wide on all sides to ensure a spacious flow.

How do you ensure seating is comfortable?

To make your kitchen island a welcoming place to sit, you’ll want to get out the measuring tape. Any seating you choose must fit with the island’s height, width, and depth.

Provide at least 12 inches of knee space—which may mean adding a larger countertop overhang of at least 12-18 inches. Ensure there is plenty of elbow room between seats. Planning for a width of at least 24 inches per seat is a good place to start.

Also, remember that different types of chairs come at different heights. This seems basic—but it’s essential to match the seating to the island’s height to ensure maximum comfort. A good rule of thumb is to use low stools and normal dining chairs for 30-inch-high tabletop counters, standard stools for standard 36-inch-high island tops, and tall barstools for 32-36-inch-high breakfast bars.

How many seats do you need?

To some degree, this question is related to how large your space is. In narrow areas, you may only be able to fit a couple of slender stools, while an expansive open floorplan can accommodate many seats.

Beyond size, think about your goals. Do you want a place to sit while prepping food? A single, movable stool may work best. If you want ample seating in a tighter space, a curved breakfast bar (rather than a square or rectangle) creates added room for seats. If the island can be set near a wall, a built-in bench or breakfast nook can provide seating that doesn’t interfere with kitchen use.

Do you want to create accessibility?

If you have a family member or frequent guest with accessibility needs—such as requiring space for a wheelchair or a place to sit for their guide dog—realize that they’ll need even more room around the island for maneuvering. Islands can be designed creatively to accommodate many situations, so be sure to mention any special requirements you have during the design phase of your kitchen remodel.  

What other amenities do you desire?

You can mix and match design elements to create the right function and feel.

  • Low-hanging light fixtures are practical, providing ample illumination to a workspace island.
  • Colorful island counters and cabinets visually “pop” against a kitchen that’s a light neutral shade.
  • As you choose the countertop, stools, cushions, and other fixtures, mix and match materials, colors, and shapes to achieve a pleasing and personalized style for the space.

Create the Perfect Kitchen Island to Welcome Family and Friends  

Planning a kitchen remodel is a blend of choosing the right layout and materials, then finding the right team to execute your vision. At VL Builders, we love helping homeowners in the Lakewood, Colorado area realize their dream kitchens. From the moment we begin the work until we finish the final touches—such as your island’s seating—you can count on us to deliver professional work that leaves you delighted.
Learn more about our kitchen remodeling services, and reach out for a consultation. We’re here to answer your questions!

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