A Small Kitchen Gets a Mega Island


Do you crave a kitchen island, but your small kitchen isn't big enough for one? If you're looking for small kitchen designs with an island, read on to find out about an exciting alternative. While you're at it, scoop up some other great ideas to turn your small kitchen into a mighty kitchen machine!

Hang on to that island dream!

Can a small kitchen have an island? A small kitchen can have an island. Usually, it involves compromise, including a smaller island or using a moveable cart that substitutes for a permanent "island." Small kitchens may opt for a peninsula "island" instead (an extension of cabinets that jut out to provide extra space).

Fitting an island into a small kitchen takes some creativity. I fantasized about a glorious kitchen remodel that included an island that yielded unending space. Along with the island I had visions of a roomy layout and dare I breathe it… a walk-in pantry? I thought and thought, scribbled and scribbled, and double-measured. Could I make this happen in my tiny Iowa farmhouse?

The load-bearing wall I had contended with for 15 years finally won out. Admitting defeat, I allowed another dream to slowly take place. This new vision adopted the motto, “work with what you’ve got!”

A small kitchen that had room for improvement

My kitchen was at one time a small U-shape design. A garage addition created an opening in the “U” turning it into a spread-out, two-walled, galley kitchen. It was the epitome of bad design. I spun circles between the far apart walls, looking for any tiny space to prepare a meal. “Work triangle or work tango?” I would sputter in frustration.

Nothing made sense. There was no room to keep related kitchen tools together. The old, homemade cabinets were a struggle to open, I was short on counter space… the countertop next to my sink was 10” wide! Like most old farmhouses, two windows  were perfectly spaced on the end of the building, which also perfectly broke up the interior space.

This was going to be a challenge. I finally told myself that every tiny improvement would make a marvelous difference in my oh-so impractical layout. So… what were the amazing little improvements that packed a punch?

Before and after, combining two windows into one makes more useable counter space.

Big improvements for small kitchens

Here are the kitchen improvements that I determined would make my kitchen hum a little better. Don't worry - I didn't forget the "island" !

  • A window change. Two small windows were blamed for breaking up my cabinet/counter flow. I got rid of the two and purchased one window (taking the space of two) and positioned it closer to a corner. This allowed for a good run of cabinets and useable counter space.
  • Ductwork - a poorly placed duct pipe found a new home by relocating to a spot that didn’t conflict with the new kitchen.
  • New sink – deeper version, and taller faucet created a more pleasant sink time
    experience.
  • Combo microwave/air vent over the stove. This was a compromise, it wasn’t part of “the dream” either, but once I finally gave in, the rest of the design flowed into place. It really hasn’t been as bad as I thought using a microwave over a stove.
  • 18” roll-out pantry cabinets on each side of the fridge. One word, “WOW!” Although a far cry from a walk-in pantry, it’s sheer genius! Usability is quadrupled. The cabinets replaced a tiny corner closet that, as one friend empathized, was “a dark, cavernous hole.”
  • Removal of soffits. These were removed and replaced with ceiling-height cabinets. The tall version added elegance to the room and gave the illusion the space was bigger and taller than it was.
  • Transitions: My space had immoveable boundaries that could not be moved. A more narrow and less deep storage cabinet (15” deep) dropped down to fit a shorter space, but it looked planned and fits right in. It's dedicated to all of my small appliances – I love it! The corner that makes the turn to the refrigerator/pantry has its own personality: the glass display cabinet above a tambour door stepped back with base storage below. The "nookiness" of it all makes it feel one-of-a-kind.
  • Eliminate “dump stations” – don’t go crazy with hard-to-maintain “museum” spots. My cabinets have closed solid-wood doors for good reason – so guests can’t see what’s behind them!
  • Charm: I designated one cabinet for display with a clear glass panel on the front. A gorgeous, custom-made arch frames the kitchen window. The unique pendant light installed over the dining table adds a finishing touch.
Efficient clearance between counters in this galley-style kitchen.

Efficient clearance between counters in this galley-style kitchen.

Deep cabinets are where the magic happens

Having to give up on a real kitchen island made me quite sad. Instead, I actually think I have something better. The secret to my mega island is an extra deep counter - why does no one do this?? I'm calling it an "island" because it feels like one (and I know that you are probably trying to desperately trying to find a solution, too).

Just a side mention: new ideas started opening up when I stopped trying to use stock cabinets. My old farmhouse posed some challenging design obstacles, including different ceiling heights and angles. I also have to give credit to my talented cabinet maker who was willing to work with these challenges.

I asked him if I could push to a deeper depth in a section of the base cabinets. Do you know what he told me? He said, "I can make any depth you want me too!" God bless him!

Instead of the standard 24" deep base cabinet, it became 32 1/2" deep. This very smart guy suggested that instead of 12" deep upper cabinets, I go with 14 1/2" deep. This made a world of difference. The top cabinets became easier to reach (the counter was deeper than average, which put me further away from the top cabinets, so why not bring them closer to me?). 

The beauty of the deeper upper cabinets are that they are just the right size for popular "jumbo size" dinner plates. Other items fit in there, also, that would be too big for a standard depth cabinet.

A small kitchen gets a mega kitchen "island"

I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE my deep kitchen base cabinet. Technically, it is not an island, but functions like one. Some may even say that it is a peninsula, there isn't a name for it, all I know is that it works. It gives me big, beautiful work space to tackle meal prep. If you roll out pie dough, do Christmas cookie baking, or any other type of food assembly, you are going to love it, too.

The mega “island” is an expanse of 5 feet of counter and extended to a 33” depth – which is 7” deeper than traditional base cabinets. Under this beautifully-deep "island" are equally deep roll-out shelves and utensil drawers.

Before and after of small kitchen with mega "island"

Before and after of small kitchen with mega "island"

The oversize counter has proven to be quite adequate for all of my “island addict” needs. The counter is plenty big to keep my flour and sugar canisters on, but still out of the way during a baking/mixing session.

The galley-style kitchen, which was too wide before, now works in perfect harmony with the kitchen work triangle. Making the baking counter deeper, brought it closer to the opposite wall where the kitchen sink is. Galley style kitchens are supposed to be the most efficient kitchen layout. Now I see why people love them - when you get the right width, that is. Having the refrigerator at a slight angle brings it into the work triangle just enough to hit the sweet spot.

Making lemons out of lemonade

More on the refrigerator wall - the house addition included an attached garage, which translated to an interior angle wall. This angle worked perfectly for the refrigerator and side pantry roll-out cabinets. The cabinet maker worked with me to brainstorm a transition from the mega counter to the refrigerator/pantry wall. 

A combo appliance garage with an upper cabinet with glass (for display of pretty things) helped to give the corner purpose and make sense. On the opposite wall, the challenge was left to taper off the cabinets to meet up with a small set of stairs leading to the garage. A smaller and less deep appliance cabinet found a home.

A small, wooden shelf was added between the sink and stove to display knick knacks, offering a chance to add a little decoration (the small kitchen had little wall space, so I insisted on built-in touches like this to personalize the space).

Attention to detail made this small kitchen remodel special.

Attention to detail made this small kitchen remodel special.

Crafting for my kitchen's peculiar design features actually ended up adding loads of charm that wasn't there before. Every special touch helped to distinguish the kitchen and give it character.

This may seem unbelievable, but it's easier to keep this kitchen clean! It’s easier to work in and move around in. I have storage for everything and it all makes sense. You know the very best part? It’s every bit as beautiful as I had imagined it would be.

About the author 

Renee Matt

Renee is a former kitchen designer, home remodeling enthusiast (having lived through several DIY projects), and an Iowa farmwife. Renee is passionate about preparedness, garden skills, and knowing where her food comes from. Years of being a stay-at-home mom and supporting the family farm with hearty meals has been key to Renee's pantry readiness. She uses her professional IT background and expertise to bring the Everything Pantry website to life.

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