The old adage “too many cooks in the kitchen” doesn’t necessarily hold as true in the modern home. Meal-making spaces have morphed into communal areas for dining, socializing – even working at home on a tablet or laptop. If your kitchen has empty square footage or you just need more surface space, a freestanding kitchen island or cart is a versatile addition that doesn’t require professional installation.
In kitchens with a lack of room near the stove, the extra work area provided by a kitchen island or cart makes it easy to grab seasonings for a stir-fry, hold a cookbook in place, or watch a video on how to roast a chicken. Islands and carts also offer opportunities for creative decor ideas, DIY designs, and even provide storage space for cooking tools, spices, linens, and silverware. If you love countertop appliances like air fryers, mixers, and slow cookers, a cart or island opens up room. You don’t have to match the island or cart exactly to your built-in countertops and cabinets, but measure carefully before buying and choose a theme or style consistent with your kitchen or design vision. Read on for more guidance on how to buy the best cart or island for your cooking space.
Check List: Picking the Perfect Kitchen Islands & Carts
☑ Step 1: Do You Need a Kitchen Island or a Cart?
When deciding between a stationary island or a movable cart, think about how you’ll use the new storage and countertop space and the overall look you’d prefer. Since carts sit on casters and usually have pull handles, they can be moved around the room for various uses. Pull the cart near the stove while cooking, beside the sink to arrange flowers, or out of the room completely when it’s time to practice yoga poses.
Islands aren’t as portable as carts but can incorporate seating and offer more storage space because they tend to be larger. You won’t have wheels for easy movability but can shift the island a few inches here or there when necessary.
☑ Step 2: Know Your Measurements
Before buying an island or cart, measure carefully — your kitchen should be about eight feet deep and twelve feet long in order to make the addition work. Use a roll of masking tape to mark off the area and cook a few meals while stepping around the space to be claimed. If you have more than enough room, consider a larger island or cart. If you’re cramped, go smaller. When buying a cart, don’t forget to account for the protrusion of handles or extensions on one or both sides. Also consider the height of your built-in countertops to avoid a unit much taller or shorter than them. If you plan to use stools, account for their footprints when mapping out the area.
Small Kitchen Islands
If you have a shortage of space, shop for a small island or cart. Some models claim only a few square feet but pay you back in storage, convenience, and versatility. A butcher block cart under a window gives you a place to set out bowls of fruit and can quickly transform into coffee stand or bar when entertaining. Most small carts and islands offer space-saving drawers, hooks, and shelving to use for groceries and other goods. If you prefer an island to a cart, look for a compact or narrow unit without an overhanging countertop. Make sure you can still open the dishwasher and refrigerator doors once the island is in place!
Open concept or spacious kitchens can make way for a large kitchen island. Sizes range from 48 to 64 inches wide, and many allow under-the-counter seating. Get creative and update the room with modern matte colors like charcoal or forest green. Built-in wine racks, spice shelves, and towel hangers free up space around the stove and pantry. Your island doesn’t have to be a perfect match to existing counters and cabinetry. The trend today is toward contrast, so don’t shy away from a dark wood island in a white kitchen. Bring in new elements like iron and reclaimed wood, upholstered seating, or neutral tones that balance bright and bold wall hangings, potholders, and other decor.
48 Inches Wide
56 Inches Wide
64 Inches Wide
☑ Step 3: Choose Your Shape
The shape of the island or cart is important because it affects both how you’ll use the unit and move around it. Think about the shape of your kitchen and where you want to place the new island or cart. A rectangular island works well in a galley kitchen — try a trolley style with decorative wheels or a slender unit framed in wrought iron. A square cart, especially a smaller one, is an unobtrusive way to gain space or create a workstation for ongoing chores like cutting herbs or grating cheese. Some islands offer multiple tiers or levels for working at more than one task at a time. Cut the oranges on tier one and hand them to the kids for juicing on tier two!
Similar to points made in our Home Seller’s Guide to Kitchen Island Shopping, style points make a big difference. An island or cart can shift your room into a new chapter of style or complement a theme already in place. In a traditional kitchen, bring in a cart or island with shaker cabinet doors and sturdy metal hardware. If you’re interested in a more transitional look, a tall trolley with mid-century elements in teak or retro colors is a striking addition near the dining table or a patio entryway. A gourmet kitchen with an industrial feel shines bright with a marble countertop resting on a sleek iron or stainless frame. Country cooks might go for the barnhouse, shabby, or vintage looks with louvered doors and spindled feet.
When selecting a finish, think about how to nicely complement or contrast woodwork and other elements around the island or cart. If you plan to reface or update your built-in cabinets someday, the island might be a first step in that direction. Consider new looks like deeply saturated jewel tones, lacquered pine, vibrant vintage colors like turquoise or red, classic neutrals in deep gray or beige, or a clear gloss that reveals your wood’s beautiful patterns. Finished countertops offer even more options — wood stains range from matte white to glossy dark brown. If you plan to use stools with your island, experiment with tones and colors until the look is just right.
With a new kitchen island or cart in the house, you’ll have more space for cooking, dining, storage, and conversation. You’ll free up other areas, opening opportunities for new countertop appliances, canisters, and flowerpots. Soon enough, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without your island or cart. Shop our catalog for a style, color, shape, and finish that fits in like a member of the family. There’s an island or cart for kitchens big, small, and in between. In most cases, assembly is quick and easy. Afterward, you might have a new drawer to stash that screwdriver and other items that help make your home a happier and more livable place!
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