A friend recently told me she intended to dispose of her existing kitchen island. This came as a surprise given that kitchen islands are a coveted feature among homeowners! However, on delving further her reasoning was that her young children of ages five and two strongly dislike the island, finding it a struggle to sit at. The layout is also such that it is simply not suited to a busy mum needing a constant eye on two young children. My friend occupied her house prior to having a family but her quandary emphasises the importance of kitchen island design for families, catering for homeowner’s needs in the present, but for later life stages too.
It is apparent my friend’s kitchen was not designed to achieve the best user experience and definitely not with children in mind. However, for the benefit of others she has kindly allowed me to share her experiences of living with a poor kitchen island design and the challenges it presents to her as a mum. If you are in a similar situation then the following advice on kitchen island design for families should help you avoid the same pitfalls and achieve the best for your new kitchen island:
Design Dilemma: My island contains a gas hob and as the kids are becoming more mobile and inquisitive I’m worried about it being dangerous for them
Through increased popularity induction hobs are now becoming more competitively priced within the marketplace and an arguably better alternative to gas hobs. They are brilliant for kitchen island design for families because they don’t get hot so there’s no risk of injury. Similarly pop-up extractors retract when not in use keeping your kitchen island clear. (Click here for more information and advice on Induction Hobs)
Design Dilemma: The kitchen island is large comparative to the size of the room so there’s not much space for manoeuvere, amd it’s only going to become more of a squeeze as the kids get bigger
A kitchen island should always be in proportion to the room size and defined by the space around it. There should be at least 1 metre on all sides, leaving ample space for passageway. If not then a kitchen peninsula may be a good alternative offering many of the same benefits and features of an island except attached at one end. Space savers are useful, including overhead extractors which free up space elsewhere in the kitchen and enable all cooking to take place at the island. Another option if you have limited space for a kitchen island but definitely want one is a mobile kitchen island. This provides more counter space and floor space. Particularly if you have children you should always add brackets to any mobile island as a safety precaution to prevent it tipping over, especially if they climb on it.
Design Dilemma: The seating area is too close to my food prep area so whilst I need to keep the kids in sight they can be a distraction during cooking, and a worry when I’m using kitchen knives.
Keeping your children close by and in sight when preparing meals is an advantage but the seating area should be at the other end of the island from the working area. This marks a distinction between the two sites and keeps your children away from the hazardous end of the kitchen. Such an arrangement is more sociable not just for children but for adult family members and guests, enabling continued interaction whilst cooking. This can also help child development as being able to watch their parents in the kitchen can encourage an interest in cooking and help children learn how as they grow.
Design Dilemma: I’m constantly back and forth between the sink (located on a separate run of units) and the kitchen island where the children are seated at meal times.
Depending on plumbing configurations it is usually possible to locate a sink within a kitchen island. This is beneficial as you can remain in one place to attend your children but also address any spills and wipes as needed. A sink prevents you having to turn your back on your children whilst washing up and a prep sink or double sink allows the same during food preparation. An island is an altogether much more social location for a sink.
Design Dilemma: The bin is the other side of the island from where I prepare food but it doesn’t fit anywhere else.
This signifies a major planning flaw as the bin should always be located within the food preparation area. Also as any house with children tends to generate more trips to the rubbish bin it is better to have easy access to it. Kitchen islands are a great solution as there is sufficient space for built-in bins, including separate recycling bins. Curved bin units are also an option and make use of space that might otherwise be wasted.
Design Dilemma: My youngest child is too small for a stool but her high chair is the wrong height to fit at the island and won’t tuck underneath
Even if awkward it is better to choose a worktop height that is well-suited for you as you will be working in the kitchen most often, and your children will grow! Children won’t be small forever and also as they grow their needs will change. One solution is to incorporate a breakfast bar at a different height. This adds an additional level of visual interest but is also very practical and would probably solve the high chair dilemma. Similarly if you have the space you can adjoin your kitchen island to a dining table so that when the children are older your family can progress to eating at the table together.
Design Dilemma: My eldest has taken to swinging his legs when on the stools and keeps hitting the kitchen units. I don’t want them getting damaged.
Design Dilemma: My worktop stains easily and I am constantly wiping/cleaning it
The main factors for determining worktop choices are style, individual habits, lifestyle and also budget. However with children around then materials such as Corian are ideal as they are stain-resistant and durable (though can be repaired if broken). Similarly, Silestone is attractive but also non-porous so a good choice if there is high risk of spillage and stains.
Design Dilemma: My kitchen island has a lot of dummy drawers but also occupies a lot of the kitchen so there is a lack of drawer and cupboard space elsewhere.
One of the main benefits of kitchen islands is that they usually offer an abundance of storage space so be sure to factor this into your design. For young children you might want pan drawers for toy storage, allowing easy access (and clearing up!) Pan drawers might store older childrens cups, plastic glasses, plates which they can access themselves (very grown up!) and saving on space elsewhere. This is also safer as it prevents children climbing onto worktops to reach these items within wall cabinets (or else rely on you to). Similarly for older children you might consider integrating a microwave or refrigerator drawer within an island. Whilst adult supervision is still recommended this again encourages older children not to rely entirely on their parents but encourages independence.
Design Dilemma: They’ll run rings around me when they’re older
It’s not for everyone and especially for larger families it needs careful thought but a peninsula might work for busy households with active children as there is only one way in or out to the kitchen, rather than be in able to walk right round an island.
Please contact us for help in planning a kitchen for your family. You can also enjoy similar posts here:
- How much space is needed for a kitchen island?
- 10 reasons to love kitchen islands!
- How to plan your kitchen design and installation in 10 easy steps
- Luxury Kitchens: Why are German Kitchen manufacturers so specialised?
- 20 Useful Questions for Builders when planning your kitchen works