Every day, working with a small kitchen is a battle of bumping elbows and questioning where to store the cheese grater. That's why we're focusing on kitchen islands—no matter how big or small they are—which can hold the key to adding storage and saving space, making your kitchen feel roomier than it is.
The tricks? Incorporating storage in unexpected spots and making the most of the space you do have. Think twice about what goes where, too. Pasta doesn’t have to be relegated to a pantry, and your fruit bowl doesn’t have to sit on top of the island. A little creativity goes a long way.
Scroll on for 20 of our favorite small kitchen island ideas that’ll have you inspired in no time.
Select a Slim Island
Think you need sizable square feet to have a kitchen island? Think again. This kitchen designed by Black Lacquer Design proves that wrong. Even a slim island—this one is, what, 18 inches wide?—will give you the workspace needed to whip up tonight’s dinner, as well as underneath storage and even space for a barstool to take on (yet another) Zoom call.
Choose Lowkey Barstools
To accompany this kitchen island, Prospect Refuge Studio chose backless bar stools with a slim profile so they can be completely tucked underneath the island, making it extra easy to walk around.
Slim barstools are a subtle design choice that makes a big difference when space is limited.
Incorporate Open Shelving
Marie Flanigan Interiors utilized everyone’s favorite types of shelving—open, of course—in this kitchen island, which would allow you to show off your prettiest of plates and other ceramics, and save your precious upper cabinet space for less sightly items. (Blender, we’re talking to you.)
Think Less Island, More Peninsula
If you don’t have room for an entire island, consider installing a peninsula, which will still give you countertop space to prepare dinner or enjoy your morning coffee without needing 360 degrees of walkaround square footage. Take notes from this PDG Studios kitchen, which did exactly that.
Wheel It Away
Who said kitchen islands have to be a permanent fixture? No one. As Rikki Synder captured here, a portable island on wheels can be just the trick when working with a tight kitchen. Simply roll it out of the way when you need the floor space, or lock it into place when you need extra prep space. The storage on the bottom is just a bonus.
Think of your kitchen island as a reflection of your priorities. If that is countertop space to prep large dinner parties, great. If it’s including bar stools so you can catch up with your family while bustling around the kitchen, go for it. And if it's a wine or beverage fridge, we get you.
Installing one in your island saves space elsewhere, like your fridge, while keeping your best Riesling within close reach.
Be Strategic About Barstool Placement
If storage is a major priority to you, consider moving your bar stools to the short end of your island, like designer Michelle Lisac did here. While you may lose a bar stool—two would fit comfortably, but three would be tight—you gain a few feet of under-the-island drawer space.
Dedicate the End of Your Island For Dry Storage
Containers of quinoa have never looked so beautiful. Velinda Hellen Design put the end of this kitchen island to work storing three rows of pantry goods, such as pasta, grains, and sugar. Stock up on oversized glass containers to recreate this look, allowing you to grab items easily and see what you’re running low on.
Add a Bookcase
All those cookbooks you rarely crack open need to live somewhere, and a bookcase recessed in a kitchen island is the perfect place to display, shelfie style, your favorite Alison Roman books, pretty ceramics, and a few plants, just like this Interior Impressions-designed island does. Style and substance is a win/win.
Put a Pegboard On It
Why didn’t we think of a pegboard kitchen island? Genius! Sustainable Kitchens gets the kudos for this island design, which sits on oversized industrial castors, making it mobile and making the kitchen more versatile for alternative layouts.
The back of the island—a giant pegboard—is the star of the show though, and a family-friendly spot to hang cleaning essentials, backpacks, and kiddo artwork. Once again, genius.
Opt for a Butcher Block
If an island simply won’t fit in your kitchen, maybe a butcher block will. This kitchen, captured by Rikki Synder, tucks a butcher block in just so between the stove and cabinets to add a valuable prep area without taking up too much space.
If you’re short on storage, find one with shelves or drawers.
Sneak Your Microwave Into the Island
No matter how modern they are, microwaves are simply never that appealing to see. That’s why sneaking your microwave into your kitchen island like Cathie Hong Interiors did here might be the best route to take. It's out of the way and often out of eyesight, and think of all the countertop or upper cabinet space you’ll save.
Create a Romantic Table for Two
If you don’t have the space for both a kitchen island and a dining room table, combine the two, as Jessica Nelson Design demonstrates here. Doing so gives you one part storage, another part breakfast table for two, and still an entire island’s worth of prep space. It’s the best of both worlds.
Show Off Kitchen Essentials on a Shelf
Not sure how to make the best use out of a low shelf on your kitchen island? Instead of using it as a footrest, put it to work as a storage space for cutting boards, which you reach for often and are pretty enough to display. Simply organize them in a wire basket to keep them contained, then get chopping.
Drawers, Drawers and More Drawers
While there’s nothing particularly small about this kitchen island by House Nine Design, the ample drawer space in it is aspirational for all islands, no matter the size— especially if your upper cabinets have glass doors, or you’re working with open shelving.
Drawers in an island allow you to tuck away less beautiful kitchen essentials while having easy access to them. Now, if only our kitchen island had a bottle of rosé ready to be popped open.
Go for a Small Freestanding Island
Say you’re kitchen island commitment-phobic. (No judgment here.) Or, maybe you’re in a rental and your landlord hasn’t shelled out for a proper island. Consider a small freestanding island, like this one in a Laquita Tate-designed kitchen, which gives you a couple racks of storage without the money and space commitment of a permanent island.
Plus, if you are renting, this can travel with you to your next home.
Store Unexpected Items on Your Island
We’d never think to add a basket of fruit to the bottom shelf of a kitchen island, but now that we’ve seen this kitchen, we can’t imagine it without it. With countertop and shelving space high in demand, get creative with what and where you store things, even if that is a bunch of bananas under your island.
Keep it Monochromatic
When working with a small kitchen, a monochromatic color scheme—or lack of color scheme, like this white kitchen by Country Girl Home—blends the big features, like cabinetry and an island, together seamlessly. This kitchen island may be petite, but thanks to the white-on-white palette, you hardly notice.
Think Outside the (Storage) Box
If you barely read recipes, much less entire cookbooks, you could use this ample bookcase space that’s recessed into an island like this for countless other storage: your (not so culinary) library, a collection of succulents, or holiday décor when the time comes. While the appliances and plates are tucked away in cabinets, this bookcase allows you to show off your favorite trinkets, kitchen-themed or not.
Pair a Big Butcher Block with a Small Base
To keep from overwhelming the space, the island in this kitchen consists of a wider butcher block that is balanced on a narrower base. You still get adequate work space, but the base lightens the look while still giving you open shelving for storage. Our favorite feature though? The dowels for hanging hand towels, something you’re always reaching for.