5 Ways to Transform Your Kitchen Island

5 Ways to Transform Your Kitchen Island

Wendy Helfenbaum

Kitchens aren’t just for cooking and eating; they’re gathering places, homework stations, and the spot where parties always end up. This room always tops homeowners’ remodelling wish lists, but if a major overhaul isn’t in your budget this year, there’s another way to maximize your space, while adding style and function: install a kitchen island or elevate the one you already have.

Islands provide more storage and prep space, extra seating, and they add character and a focal point to your kitchen. We asked a design expert for creative, affordable hacks to create fabulous kitchen islands.

Image courtesy of Rebekah Higgs

1. Repurpose what you can 

When Halifax-based interior design consultant and TV host Rebekah Higgs—also known as DIY Mom—began renovating her home in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, building materials were scarce and costly, so she decided to reuse as much as possible from her original kitchen. 

“The previous homeowners had done an extremely expensive galley kitchen renovation with solid cherry wood cabinets, so we measured, removed, and labelled every door and cabinet, and then reconfigured them,” says Higgs. 

She used leftover cabinets, drawers, and plywood to build a 12-x-5-foot island, within which she integrated her sink and dishwasher, plus room for five stools.

“The original cabinets were traditional with a beveled edge design, but when you flip a cabinet door, it’s typically Shaker on the other side. We made them flush with the cabinets and painted them, which modernized the space,” she explains.

Since Higgs saved a lot of money by reusing her cabinets for the island, she splurged on Silestone countertops with a waterfall edge on either side.  

“On the back, I nailed leftover pieces of painted plywood and cherry. I didn’t throw out a single piece of wood,” she says. “Some people add tile or stone on the back; it’s an inexpensive way to finish it off.”

Image via threeriversDIY on Instagram

2. Source materials online 

Not ripping apart your kitchen? Upcycle someone else’s cabinets, suggests Higgs.

“Look for high-quality, solid wood cabinets you can refinish; they’re going to hold up over time more than melamine,” she says. “The options for refinishing a nice piece of vintage wood furniture are almost endless. Then, just add a butcher block or stone counter on top.”

Image via Kreating Homes

Bookshelves are a great solution as well, especially if you’re in need of additional storage. You can find a DIY Kitchen Island from Kreating Homes, or flip wooden bookcases on their sides as a base for your island, then purchase doors at a big-box store. 

Higgs also suggests choosing a statement piece of furniture with turned legs that contrasts with your cabinets.

“We’re seeing more and more of this,” she says. “If you have a white kitchen and you want it to be more fun and cheerful, paint the backside of the island, or add shiplap.” 

3. Beef things up 

Have a functional island that’s not big enough? Add more storage if you have enough space in your kitchen and put a larger countertop on, says Higgs. You’ll need between 91 and 107 centimetres of clearance between your island and your cabinets so you can open and close your fridge, oven, or dishwasher.

“I’ve seen people do a second level to chair height to create seating around the island,” she suggests.

Image via Eddy Lee on Unsplash

4. Make it portable

For smaller spaces, consider a free-standing island: add locking caster wheels onto a square table or shelving unit so you can move it out of the way when you’re not prepping meals. It can do double-duty as a serving station in another room when you’re entertaining, says Higgs.

You can also repurpose a dining or slim console table by raising it up to counter height—91 centimeters—to make meal prep a breeze, or to bar height, 107 centimeters. Many big-box stores sell compact islands with integrated drawers and shelves, if you don’t want to go the DIY route.

5. Dress things up  

Adding woven or colourful stools, vibrant placemats, and a large bowl with fresh fruit can make your island look updated, says Higgs. 

“You could also change out the light fixtures hanging above the island—you can get really fun pendant lights from $50 or $60,” she suggests. “You’re only limited by your own creativity and where you want to go with your space.”

Transforming your kitchen island doesn’t always require a full tear down. You can make this central hub more functional—and unique—with some minor changes and some major inspiration courtesy of DIY Mom. If you’re curious as to how a kitchen island could affect your resale value, a local REALTOR® can share insights on what’s currently trending and what buyers are often searching for.

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