5 Expert Tips To Choose Kitchen Islands & Carts

Installing a kitchen island or cart is a smart and relatively inexpensive way to increase your counter and storage areas. Whether you want an extra food preparation surface, a handy dining area or a place to store utensils and appliances, a kitchen island can vastly improve your kitchen's functionality.

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1. Kitchen island or kitchen cart - which one should I choose?

Before you get down to choosing your specific model, it's important to decide which type best suits your needs and available space.

Let's take a look at the differences between kitchen islands and kitchen carts, as well as their main benefits and inconveniences.

Kitchen islands

Kitchen islands tend to be a more practical, permanent solution for larger kitchens.

As they are heavier and permanently fixed, they are very stable and suitable for dining, as well as storing large and heavy appliances. They are also great for prepping food as they won't move. This makes them great for using appliances such as blenders or chopping up tough vegetables, as they won't cause any rocking.

On the downside, kitchen islands are not designed to be moved around. So, you need to carefully plan and measure out your installation.

If you later decide you would have preferred it in another location, then it can be a lot of hassle to get it moved. Also, as they tend to be bigger and provide cabinets, they are less suitable for smaller kitchens where they can impede access to and around your kitchen.

Pros:

  • Very stable - suitable for dining and food preparation.
  • Excellent storage options for large and heavy appliances.
  • More professional looking finish than wheeled versions.

Cons:

  • Generally, more expensive than carts.
  • Less suitable for smaller kitchens.
  • Require installation.
Wooden Kitchen Island in White and Brown
Kitchen Island with Granite Top
Kitchen Island in Grey Wood
Kitchen Island with Stainless Steel Top in Black
Square Kitchen Island in White
Cherry Wood Kitchen Island with Stainless Steel Top

Kitchen carts

Kitchen carts are generally a better option for smaller kitchens.

They have wheels so you can move them around. This makes them more forgiving, as you can always alter their location. If you are renting or moving house, you can move your kitchen cart with you.

They also make a good choice if you tend to do a lot of outdoor seasonal cooking, you can wheel your kitchen cart out to your veranda and set it up there for summer.

Mobile, providing additional extra storage, and cheaper to purchase and install than kitchen islands, kitchen carts are a great option. However, they're not without their downsides.

Stability can be an issue, especially if you have young children or pets. Their appearance can also be slightly less appealing than fixed units if you are looking for a really high standard of finish.

Pros:

  • Mobile - can alter position as needed.
  • Cheaper than fixed islands.
  • Good option for extra storage and food preparation.
  • Convenient solution for smaller kitchens or if you're renting.

Cons:

  • Less stable than fixed islands.
  • The wheels can be a little unsightly.
Rolling Kitchen Island Cart in White
Kitchen Cart with Stainless Steel Top in Black
Kitchen Cart with Stainless Steel Top
Simple Kitchen Cart in White Wood
Kitchen Island Cart with Stainless Steel Top
Small Kitchen Cart in Oak Wood

2. What shape & size is best for my kitchen?

You'll need to choose the correct shape and size of your kitchen island to best integrate it into your kitchen.

First of all, consider your kitchen layout. It can be helpful to draw a plan of your kitchen on a piece of paper to see exactly where to best place your new kitchen island.

Measure your available space and don't forget to allow for walking around your kitchen, accessing the oven, hob and fridge, as well as being able to open all of your existing cupboards and drawers.

With the remaining space, you have a maximum size for your island or cart. However, don't forget this is the maximum size, you will also need to allow for any drawer to fully open, as well as any island cupboards.

For small kitchens:

  • Consider a kitchen island or cart with a depth less than 40 inches. If you opt for a cart, you can always move it against the wall and wheel it into place as required.

  • Square kitchen islands and carts can be a choice allowing you the space you need to get around your kitchen.

Small Dining Kitchen Cart
Small Multifunction Kitchen Cart
Small Kitchen Cart with Solid Wood Top
Small White Kitchen Cart with Stainless Steel Top
Small Wooden Kitchen Cart with Granite Top
Small Kitchen Cart in Light Green

For medium-sized kitchens:

  • Look for islands and carts that are under 60 inches wide.

  • If you are opting for a fixed island, make sure that you will be able to comfortably use your existing appliances and storage facilities without hindrance.

  • Worried about space? Make a paper cut out of your new island, allowing for any cabinets and stick it in position. Then spend a day using your kitchen and see if it gives you the space you need.

Medium Kitchen Island in Beige
Medium Kitchen Cart in White
Medium Prep Table Kitchen Cart
Medium Industrial Wood and Metal Kitchen Cart
Wooden Medium Kitchen Cart in White
Medium Wooden Kitchen Cart with Stainless Steel Top

For large kitchens:

  • You can probably accommodate islands greater than 60 inches - however, make sure that you will have enough free space surrounding your large kitchen island.

  • Large kitchen islands can also accommodate stools for in-kitchen dining or entertainment areas. If you are thinking of purchasing a kitchen island set specifically for dining, make sure you allow for extra space for sitting down and moving back your stools, as well as elbow space for your guests. You will also need to have enough space to get past on at least one side, so consider your seating configuration before committing to purchase.

Rustic Wooden Large Kitchen Island
Large Kitchen Island with Marble Top
Large Wooden Kitchen Cart
Large Rolling Kitchen Island in Black
White Elegant Large Kitchen Island
Traditional Large Wooden Kitchen Cart

3. How to pick the right material for my worktop?

When you're choosing the material for your kitchen island worktop, you'll need to consider your existing setup.

Do you want your worktop to match your current kitchen, or do you want to go for something different?

Modern and minimalist kitchens tend to best suit a harmonized look, while traditional, industrial and farmhouse styles often incorporate different materials for a mix-and-match look.

Next, consider what you will mainly be using your island for? Food preparation, dining, storage, or a bit of everything?

Here are the main materials you should consider, as well as their pros and cons.

Wood

Wood is a very popular choice.

If your kitchen counters are wooden, then it makes an obvious choice. However, it doesn't need to be the exact same finish and don't be afraid to look at some other options such as granite or steel.

If you cook all your meals from scratch and are looking for a kitchen island as a prepping area, then it makes sense to opt for a model with a butcher's block top.

This will enable you to chop directly on your tabletop, giving you essentially a huge chopping board of a surface. It is also highly durable, strong, and thick. However, you will need to seal your butcher's block kitchen cart top regularly, although it is simple to wipe down and clean.

For small kitchens where you will be using your kitchen island for a bit of everything, dining, food preparation and using appliances, you would be better opting for a standard wooden varnished top. This has lower maintenance than butcher's block tops and will provide a nicer surface for dining. For chopping ingredients, simply use a chopping board to protect the finish.

Industrial Kitchen Cart with Wooden Top
White Kitchen Cart with Wood Top
Medium Kitchen Island with Wooden Top
Farm Styled Kitchen Island in Black with Wooden Top
Kitchen Cart in Cream with Wooden top
Black and Brown Kitchen Cart with Wooden Top

Stainless steel

If you need a heavy-duty, highly durable work surface opt for stainless steel.

It adds a professional look to any kitchen and will work well with modern, industrial and minimalist styles. As it is also heat resistant, it makes a great place for placing down your hot pans and ovenware without worrying about pan holders.

Easy to clean and long-lasting, just remember you'll need to use a chopping board for slicing up your ingredients.

On the downside, they can dent if you're a little too rough, are prone to scratching, and they can also be fairly noisy when you set down your pots and pans.

Simple Kitchen Island with Stainless Steel Top
White Kitchen Cart with Stainless Steel Tabletop
Modern Grey Kitchen Island with Stainless Steel Top
Cherry Wood Kitchen Cart with Stainless Steel Top
Stainless Steel Tabletop Kitchen Prep Cart
Small White Kitchen Cart with Stainless Steel Top

Granite

Hardwearing and durable, granite is a beautiful, luxurious choice.

While it doesn't come cheap, it is both heat-resistant and scratch-resistant, suitable for a lifetime of use. Properly sealed granite worktops won't stain or absorb liquids.

Aside from their cost, they make an excellent all-round choice and will look fantastic in any style of kitchen, modern, traditional, or farmhouse.

Marble

Beautiful and stylish, marble looks great in any kitchen.

It is a great worktop for your kitchen island; however, it does come with a few caveats. So, be sure to check that it will be suitable for your home and your intended usage first.

Marble is a porous surface that is fairly high maintenance. While this may be okay for your kitchen cart or island, bear in mind that juice, wine, and oil can all cause stains.

Contrary to popular belief, marble is not that durable, compared to granite, for example. It can chip and scratch, as well as being vulnerable to erosion by acids, such as lemon juice.

If your kitchen island is more of a decorative addition or mainly for storage, then marble makes a stunning addition to your kitchen, although you may want to choose a lower maintenance material for more intensive usage.

4. What type of island storage should I choose?

Now you know what size and type of kitchen island you need, it's time to focus on which type of storage is best adapted to your needs.

Open shelves

Open shelves are extremely practical for your frequent use and display items. They are also a great option for smaller kitchens as they don't impede foot traffic, unlike cupboard doors.

Benefits:

  • Good for easy access to frequently used items and appliances.
  • Display decorative items like china or expensive gadgets.
  • Take up less space - no doors opening and closing to allow for.

Drawbacks:

  • Tendency to collect dust.
  • Can attract clutter.

Drawers

A great option if you don't have enough space in your regular kitchen drawers. Use them to store silverware, utensils, and clean towels.

Benefits:

  • Organize smaller items that you don't want on display.
  • Banish visible clutter.
  • Space-saving - suitable for both small and large kitchens.

Drawbacks:

  • Less suitable for large items.
  • Can be less convenient for frequent use if located on the opposite of your island.

Cabinets

While they may cost a little more, kitchen islands with cabinets make a great choice provided you have enough space to accommodate their doors opening and closing.

Benefits:

  • Space for larger appliances or any pots and pans you don't want on show.
  • Good choice for clean uncluttered surfaces - hide away anything that's not in use.
  • Keeps your equipment free from dust and protected. 

Drawbacks:

  • Cost - kitchen islands with cabinets tend to cost more.
  • Less suitable for smaller kitchens as they need to be positioned where their doors can open easily and still allow you to reach inside.
  • Can be less organized than shelves or drawers.

Cabinets with shelves

You can also find kitchen carts and islands with cabinets that have internal shelving. While they are unsuitable for housing large items, they can be useful for organizing small items and preventing clutter.

Open cabinets

If you want to show off a prized appliance or piece of china, then an open cabinet makes a good choice. They can also be useful for a frequent bulky item, such as a juicer or blender that you don't want to keep out on your countertop.

Small Open Kitchen Cart in Black
Traditional Kitchen Island with Drawers and Shelves
Modern Kitchen Cart with Drawers
Kitchen Cart with Wood Top and Drawers
Large Grey Wood Kitchen Island with Open Shelves and Drawers
Kitchen Island with Granite Top on Wheels

5. What other features should I consider?

There are a number of extra kitchen island and cart features that can be really useful to have. Here are some of the most popular options you should consider.

Drop-leaves

Kitchen carts with drop leaves are ideal for smaller homes where space is limited. Drop leaves are sections that can be folded down and then pulled out when needed. This feature allows you to have a greater general surface area or an additional dining area, without compromising on space. Fold up the drop leaves and when your island is not in use you won't have any restrictions on moving around your kitchen.

While drop leaves are an excellent space-saving feature, bear in mind that they are not always stable enough for prepping food. So, if you really need a large prepping area, you'd be better off with a solid tabletop.

Towel bars

Towel bars are extremely useful additional features, so look out for kitchen islands with at least one.

While you can get away with hanging up your towels elsewhere, a towel bar allows your kitchen towel to dry out faster as you can lay it out flat without bunching.

It also makes for really easy access to your towel, whether you need to quickly wipe up after breakage or to grab something hot from your oven.

Spice rack

If you love using multiple different seasonings, organize and display your spice collection in an integrated spice rack.

Your kitchen island is a great place for prepping, making it ideal for keeping your spice collection neatly to hand, being central to your kitchen. Use your kitchen island spice rack to house all your go-to seasonings, just check the dimensions before you order.

Generously sized models can also be used to store bottles of vinegars and sauces.

Wine rack

While you won't want to keep all your vintage wines at your kitchen room temperature, for ready-to-drink now bottles, an in-built wine rack is a handy, space-saving solution.

If you regularly drink soft drinks, white wine or champagne, it can be a useful temporary storage place before placing them to chill in your fridge when you have more space.

Check that the dimensions are compatible with your bottle shape and style in order to get the most use out of your kitchen island wine rack.

Jessica started out as an interior photographer, but her love of pretty settings took her to the field of interior design, where she can combine two of her greatest passions, creating and then capturing the beauty of homes.