Island Life

I’m fond of my kitchen island...’s a sociable spot with a nice view over the garden, but there’s a niggle - when people are seated at it we can’t open the cupboards behind - not ideal!

I’ve just mentioned this to Kahren Willis, Senior Designer at Charter Walk Kitchens in Haslemere who tells me there should be between 90cm and 1.2M clearance between an island and any neighbouring cabinetry or walls - less space can work but needs to be carefully planned. Clearly ours wasn’t, so I’m keen to learn more about Kahren’s top tips for niggle free island living...

1. Planning & Costing

Decide what you need from your island and who will use the space. Will it be used primarily for entertaining or are you keen for it to play a more everyday family role? If so, will you need to incorporate varying heights or other functionality? Must it have a wow-factor? Will you use it for tasks such as cooking and food preparation? If so, are you happy with the sense of theatre that comes with cooking directly in front of your guests? How do you feel about technology and gadgets or open shelving and other storage solutions? What are your thoughts around lighting and extraction? The list is fairly comprehensive but Kahren says any kitchen designer worth their salt will be happy to help evolve your ideas and come up with a detailed, fully costed plan.

The whole question of standard dimensions is worth discussing with your designer at the outset as any custom pieces/worktop lengths will significantly impact costs. We commissioned a beautiful L-shaped island for our last house but hadn’t factored in the cost of using a large single piece of granite to avoid joins in the work surface. 

Talk to your designer/contractor about what utilities you’ll need to support your requirements and make sure they are fully planned and costed before going ahead. Even if you don’t want a sink or hob you may want to include power for juicers, blenders, laptops etc.

2. Shape & Positioning

Rectangular, square, L-shaped, curved or something free-form and bespoke - anything is possible as long as it encourages the right flow of traffic in relation to the kitchen space. You don’t want to block cupboards and natural walkways or funnel your guests into a line of seats seats if you’d much prefer to engage with them across your island.

Kahren says it’s worth spending a bit of time thinking about seating as this will influence the whole design and orientation of your island which certainly chimes with me. Putting looks above comfort, I opted for bar stools that are perfect for my long limbed family and friends but involve me in an ungainly clamber and none too comfortable perch!

Anyway, Kahren tells me there are three standard seat heights to choose from, ranging from normal chair height to taller bar stools, so establishing who will be sitting at the island is important. For example, whilst raising part of the counter above the height of the surrounding work surfaces and adding some tall bar stools could create a stunning entertaining zone, you might prefer an integrated, dropped table with standard height chairs for children, elderly guests and little friends!

3. Materials & Finishes

Even given the restrictions of budget, personal taste and functionality, navigating the huge selection of available materials and finishes can be overwhelming, so I asked Kahren for her personal favourites. In terms of worktops, she is most impressed with manmade quartz from companies such as Caesarstone. Due to advancements in technology, this is an increasingly economical option, offering a huge array of neutral shades and honed finishes to suit both traditional and contemporary islands.

Kahren says it’s also worth thinking about using an island to create a contrast with the wider kitchen scheme. On larger islands, for example, you could introduce a variety of materials and textures from metals and marble to wood and concrete to create functional and stylish work/play zones. Alternatively, you might prefer to opt for a piece of free standing furniture, or chef’s table, to create a more eclectic feel within an otherwise fitted kitchen.

4. Appliances & Gadgets

From water resistant, embedded screens and pop up plug sockets to boiling water taps and downdraft extractors, there’s an ever increasing selection of smart solutions to make your kitchen island work for you.

If you’re planning a sink or food preparation area in your island, Kahren suggests incorporating a compact fridge or deep fridge drawers so that you have fruit, vegetables, snacks and drinks where you need them. As well as looking sleek and contemporary, glass fronted fridges enable you to see the contents at a glance. Similarly, a built-in wine cooler means you’ll always have a bottle of wine ready to hand when entertaining.

Hot taps are another popular and useful gadget, delivering boiling, hot, cold and also cold filtered water just when you need it. Kahren recommends looking at Dutch brand, Quooker.

I’ve long admired the downdraft hob extractor by Bora in the Charterwalk Kitchens showroom and Kahren explains that she frequently incorporates them into her island designs to avoid cumbersome overhead solutions. Other sleek, integrated options include motorised downdraft cooker hoods which sit flush with the work surface directly behind your hob until raised by the flick of a switch. This option has the added benefit of providing a useful splashback.

5. Storage & Styling

The most successful kitchen islands ensure that the things we need are easily accessible right where we need them without compromising on looks and style. Whilst some storage options will be fairly straightforward - such as placing pots and pans near a hob - the choice of pot drawers or cabinets is largely down to personal taste. Here are some things to think about...

- Adding deep drawers - these come with pegs or other fixings that keep pots, pans and crockery secure.

- Incorporating glass-fronted fridge drawers near your food prep area - already mentioned and a personal aim of mine!

- Nurturing your indoor kitchen garden with a built-in herb trough.

- Nurturing your hangover with a built-in champagne trough!

- Vertical storage - great for storing large items such as trays.

- Creating a craft or gadget drawer - Kahren often includes one of these if families have young children or want somewhere to store/charge iPads, mobiles and the like.

- Open shelving - the perfect way to personalise and regularly refresh your space by displaying crockery, plants, recipe books etc. 

- Baskets - woven or wire to blend with the overall style of the kitchen.

And don’t forget...

...the space above your island - in addition to task and ambient lighting, you might want to consider using suspended shelves for additional statement storage or something more traditional such as a hanging rack for your favourite copper pans.

Whatever you do, I wish you the very best of island living with not a niggle in sight!

About Kahren...

Kahren joined Charter Walk in summer of 2018 and heads up design for their joinery kitchens in the Haslemere showroom. She has a passion for all things kitchen related and over twenty years of experience in interior design. She loves working with clients to create truly bespoke kitchens, and has particular skills in colour, finishes and spatial design. 

Kahren trained at Chelsea Harbour and has run her own interiors business whilst raising a family. She now lives with her husband, daughter, and black and white cat in Petersfield, Hampshire.

To speak to Kahren or one of the Charter Walk Kitchen Living team about your kitchen plans call 01428 644600.


If you’d like to talk to me about choosing a piece from the Feather Edge collection or commissioning one of our makers please call 07501 703593 or email

Amber x

Left Continue shopping
Your Order

You have no items in your basket