/ The Editor

Ask the Editor: Adding an Island

Kitchen with dark wood cabinetry and an island.

Do I Have Room in My Kitchen for an Island?


Question: "We are looking at putting an island in our kitchen. What is the least amount of distance that should be from the sink, oven and refrigerator to an island? I'm not sure if we have enough room for one." —B. Sliauter


Answer: You'll want at least 36 inches between an appliance, sink or cabinet and an island, although 42 to 48 inches would be ideal. Without knowing the layout and dimensions of your kitchen, or what elements you plan to place on the island, I can't make a specific recommendation; but I can tell you what factors should guide your decision.


1. Appliance doors. You need to be able to open your oven, refrigerator and dishwasher doors all the way so that you can fully utilize the interior space and, in the case of the oven, use it safely.

"A minimum of 36 inches in front of a range," says Janice Poletto, a kitchen and bath designer with Cheryl D. & Company in LaGrange, IL. "With a dishwasher, 36 again, minimum. With these fully integrated dishwashers, the door is actually 30 inches. So when you pull that dishwasher down you want to make sure you have enough room to put your hand in front of it and grab it and pull it back up."

As for refrigerators, the required distance will depend on the width of the refrigerator and whether it has a single door or double doors. "If it's a 36-inch-wide refrigerator you're obviously going to need more than 36 inches of clearance in front of it, because the door is going to be 36 inches," Poletto explains. "So in that case, probably 42."

2. Don't block the work triangle. The work triangle is the path from the primary sink to the refrigerator to the cooktop or range. According to National Kitchen & Bath Association guidelines, an island should not intersect this triangle by more than 12 inches. If you break this rule, you're just making it awkward, inconvenient, and potentially unsafe to get around in the kitchen.

3. Range or cooktop placement. If you plan to incorporate your cooking surface into the island, the countertop's depth should extend an extra 9 inches past the cooktop for safety's sake, according to the NKBA.

4. Seating. If you want seating at the island, first, leave room for everyone's knees: 18 inches deep for a table height (30 inches) surface; 15 inches deep for a counter height (36 inches) surface; and 12 inches deep for a bar height (42 inches) surface. Then, allow another 32 inches if there's a wall behind the seats, or 36 to 44 inches if people will be walking behind the diners.

5. Work station placement. Having an island creates aisles in the kitchen. According to NKBA guidelines, areas such as the range or cooktop, the sink, and the counter where you do most of your chopping and food prep should be in an aisle 42 inches wide. For two or more cooks, the NKBA recommends work aisles be 48 inches wide.

Whether or not you enjoyed geometry class, translating dimensions from paper to your home can be challenging. Once you have a layout or sketch you think is going to work, many designers recommend marking off the proposed changes on the floor with masking tape. You could also simulate the planned island with a table or boxes of similar size and shape, and try maneuvering around them for a few days to see how it would work.