Design a kitchen island with seating that invites folks to pull up a chair or stool and share conversation while you're cooking.

By Ann Wilson

It's easy to see why kitchen islands equipped with seating are must-haves in new and remodeled kitchens. The structures separate and define cooking and living areas, direct traffic out of the work core, and accommodate everything from food preparation and dishwashing to daily meal service and special occasion entertaining.

Kitchen islands with seating generally boast cantilevered countertops supported by table legs, 12- to 19-inch-deep breakfast bar overhangs, or table-style extensions. Whether bar or table, seating should be situated on the island's outer perimeters so sitters can enjoy the cooking action without being in the chef's way.

An island's seating capacity depends on the size of the island, the other functions it must house, and its location within the work triangle. But, there are basic measurements worth considering when designing island seating.

By the Numbers

Aisles on each side of the island should be at least 42 inches wide, with 48-inch widths preferred when two cooks will be working simultaneously, to ensure that traffic moves easily around the island.

When designing an island with seating, think about whether you want an uninterrupted span of countertop or an island with multiple levels meant to manage different tasks. Consider placing a tall breakfast bar countertop to block views of cooking clutter spread across drop-down countertops. Or, position a lower or higher add-on table at the island's outer end. Amplify interest by using varying finishes and/or countertop surfaces to visually differentiate one tier from another.

Choose seats that suit the island's height and that allow at least 12 inches of clear knee space; barstools fit underneath 42- to 46-inch-high breakfast bars; counter stools work with standard 36-inch-high island tops; low stools and dining chairs tuck beneath tabletop-height counters (30 inches).

The National Kitchen and Bath Association recommends giving island sitters plenty of elbow room. Each seated diner at a 30-inch-high table or counter will need a 30-inch-wide by 19-inch-deep space; seats at 36-inch-high countertops require a 24-inch-wide by 15-inch-deep space; sitters at 42-inch-high counters require spaces measuring 24 inches wide by 12 inches deep.

Forms that Function

As long as there's an overhang or a kneehole of sorts, most any size of moveable or built-in island can handle at least a stool or two. Think beyond the rectangular when planning an island: round, L-shaped, and square versions provide high-interest silhouettes that supply plenty of utility.

Worktable islands often feature room for seating at the ends, leaving the longer sides accessible to cooks and the center section open for storage or appliances. Breakfast bars that curve outward provide a bit more seating room than their straight-lined counterparts.

Some larger islands boast overhangs or breakfast bars on two outer sides, which allow a good number of guests to pull seats up to the work station. Other island designs separate work and play: the main island handles kitchen tasks while a round, square, or rectangular extension provides tablelike seating, with stools and chairs placed on three sides.

Whatever configuration you choose, make sure there's a seat for every member of your household and that the seating is easily accessed by those entering the kitchen through various doorways.

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