Often, kitchens lack space, storage, or a functional dining area. They might, however, have a lot of unoccupied floor space. What better way to improve your kitchen’s functionality than to use this area and install a small kitchen island? In this guide, we show how to build a kitchen island using standard cabinets and simple DIY techniques.
Considerations Before Building a Kitchen Island
Before starting the construction, you should do plenty of kitchen island planning. There are many considerations to make, and this isn’t something you should jump into unprepared.
In the below sections, we look at some of the main considerations to make for your home renovation project.
Consider the Size of your Kitchen and the Placement of your DIY Kitchen Island
The most important consideration is the available space you have in your kitchen, as it dictates completely the exact island size you can accommodate. Look at the available floor space you have available. Is there enough space to comfortably fit a DIY kitchen island?
If there is, where would you place it? Are there any obstructions to be mindful of? Perhaps it would be better suited as a breakfast bar connected to an existing kitchen cabinet? Or do you want it to be a focal point in your kitchen?
Once you have analysed the available space and positioning, you also need to look at your existing kitchen layout. Are there any cupboard doors that swing open? If so, will they hit the kitchen island?
Do you have enough space to walk around the island? Is there enough space to safely carry pots and pans and still use your kitchen effectively?
Make sure you ask yourself all these questions before gathering all the required tools for your kitchen island!
Consider the Shape and Size of the Homemade Island for the Kitchen
Combined with the above point, you must also consider the size and shape of the island.
Hopefully, by assessing the floor space in your kitchen, you should have a clear idea of the maximum size your DIY kitchen island can be. As mentioned, make sure that it is small enough to still have a safe working area in your kitchen.
The shape is also important. Generally, kitchen islands are square or rectangular. However, some have rounded corners, and some even have an L-shape or U-shape design to reflect the available floor space.
Generally, simple rectangular or square kitchen islands are easier to construct. These can be formed from several standard kitchen cabinets or shelving units fixed together.
In contrast, irregular shapes would require more planning and could require the construction of intricate frames.
The Function of Your DIY Kitchen Island
Lastly, what do you intend to use your kitchen island for? This is important as it dictates the style of the island and the accessories.
Generally, an island is used for:
- As a work surface for food preparation/cooking
- As a worktop for eating meals/coffee breaks etc.
- For additional storage (e.g. an in-built trash can)
Which functions of these do you want it to have? Is storage essential, or do you already have ample cupboards and drawers? If you don’t need a lot of storage, you could simply create a sturdy frame with sides instead of using base cabinets.
If you want to use the top for food prep and cooking, this may also dictate the type of material you choose for the worktop. In contrast, if you simply want to use it for eating and drinks, a less expensive material could be used.
How to Make a Kitchen Island – A Simple Guide
With these considerations and a plan outline, you can start working on this DIY project. Please note that these are rough guidelines. The steps involved could change based on your design ideas and other kitchen cabinets already in your kitchen.
Required Equipment, Tools, and Materials
Unlike some undertakings, this DIY project requires a simple set of tools. The materials are the most expensive part, but you could look at using reclaimed wood to help reduce the overall cost. Below we have listed the required tools and materials:
Tools & Equipment
- Tape measure
- Electric drill
- Sander and/or sandpaper
- Wood glue
- Paint and/or wood stain
As you can see, these are only basic tools, and you should hopefully have most of them handy in your toolbox. Paint and wood stain are optional and depend on the finish you want for your kitchen island.
- Stock cabinets or shelving units
- Wooden boards (A range of 2x4s – quantity dependant on the size of the island))
- Plywood sheets (Size depends on the size of the island)
- Kitchen countertop cut to size
- Metal L-brackets
The starting point for material purchasing is the cabinets. How many and the size of the base cabinets dictates how much plywood and wooden boards you need. It also dictates how big you need the countertop to be cut too.
Step 1: Marking the Area for your Kitchen Island
Before constructing the kitchen island, you must first mark the area where it is to be installed on your kitchen floor.
In most instances, custom build islands are free-standing. They are not anchored to your kitchen floor and keep their position using weight and force. As a result, you don’t usually have to prepare the floor underneath or install any anchor points.
Instead, we advise dusting and mopping the floor first – you won’t get the chance to do this again – do it now!
Once you have done that, start by marking out the first corner of where you want the island to be. You can use a pencil or a marking device that will easily rub off.
You can then measure the sides and mark out the other three corners (if your island is a four-sided design).
Once you have the base frame created, you can position it on the floor over your markings to ensure that it is the right size and leaves enough space to move freely in your kitchen as intended.
Step 2: Creating a Base Frame
It is always advisable to have a base frame for your stock cabinet or shelving units to fit into/sit on top: this provides a stable base and gives more support for the kitchen worktop.
The base frame should be created using 2x4s / wooden boards.
The first part of the frame should be a simple rectangle or square. The internal dimensions should be large enough so that your units can fit inside.
The second part of the frame is a series of crossbeams. These should be positioned equally to distribute the weight of the units. The crossbeams also make sure that the units sit properly on top of the base frame so that you can still open any doors.
Fixing the piece of wood together should be done using a combination of wood glue and screws using a drill.
Step 3: Creating a Side and Top Frame (optional)
You may also want to create a complete wooden frame to encompass your units.
This depends on the rigidity and strength of the units. For example, if your units are made from thin materials, a complete frame may be essential to take the weight of the worktop.
Alternatively, if your units are made from thick, durable wood, you may only need a base frame.
If you need to create a complete frame, create a duplicate of the base frame – this can be used as the top section.
You can then connect the top and bottom frames using vertical wooden beams. For additional support, you could also instal metal L-plates in the corners. An L-plate should be screwed into place at each 90-degree intersection between two pieces of wood.
Step 4: Building the Stock Cabinets
Now comes the fun part: flat-pack construction! Who doesn’t love trying to decipher instructions and build a piece of flat-pack storage?
Follow the instructions, and build your units! For such a project, you could use kitchen cabinets with doors. Alternatively, you could also use simple shelving units.
The important factor is that they are strong enough to support the weight of the countertop you will install on top.
Step 5: Installing the Kitchen Cabinets into the Frame
Hopefully, you should now have a sturdy custom-built frame positioned on your kitchen floor. The simple premise now is that the cabinets should slot into place and be secured inside the frame!
How you fit the cabinets depends on the open space in the frame and the type of frame you created.
For example, if your cabinets are sturdy and you only created a base frame for the floor, it’s a simple case of lifting the cabinets onto the frame.
We advise screwing the cabinets to the frame for extra stability and rigidity. This can be done using screws and a drill at intervals along with the frame. Use your judgement here to decide how many screws are needed and how far apart they should be.
The cabinets or shelving should fit firmly into the frame without any movement.
Step 6: Finishing the Frame and Cabinets (Optional)
The sixth step is optional and depends on the quality of the units and how you want your kitchen island to look.
The first option is to leave the base cabinets their original colour. This makes the DIY kitchen island plans easier and also means you don’t have to spend as much time painting.
If you have chosen two stock cabinets that match your existing kitchen, only the wooden frame may need a fresh coat of paint.
The second option is to paint or stain the two cabinets and wooden frames. This will give your small island a uniform look. It will also add additional protection.
Either way, the wooden frame will need painting or staining. We advise painting the island before installing the work surface so that you don’t accidentally splash paint on it.
Step 7: Installing the Kitchen Island Countertop
Your hard work and effort are almost complete! The last stage is to now fit your work surface to the frame and cabinets.
Regardless of how heavy the worktop is, we still advise fixing it to the frame. Although it is heavy, it may still move under pressure.
Fixing a worktop may require a different approach, depending on the material. If the material can be drilled, the best method is to attach L-plates to the top side of the frame.
You should screw one angle of the L-plate onto the side of the frame. The other angle should be at 90 degrees to this so that you can fix the countertop to it.
Once you have fixed a minimum of four L-plates (one for each corner of the island frame), you can lower the work surface onto the frame and make minor adjustments to position it. Make sure it is positioned evenly, and then drill screws through the plate up into the underside of the countertop.
This should secure the countertop in place. However, to add additional support, before you lower the countertop, you may want to apply adhesive on the top side of the frame so that it sticks to the countertop when it is fixed onto the plates.
Kitchen Island Ideas FAQs
Are There Any Alternatives to Kitchen Islands?
Yes! Kitchen islands are not the only thing you can place in the centre of your kitchen. The most common alternative is a table or an old desk. However, this lacks the flexibility and storage space of an island.
It does provide an additional work surface, but you may also already have a table in your dining area. A traditional butcher’s block is also another great substitute, but these can be expensive and may not fit with modern kitchen decor.
How Big Should My Kitchen Island Be?
This depends entirely on the space in your kitchen. If you have a small kitchen, having a DIY island may not even be possible. The main factor to consider is the space you have to walk around the island and work on your kitchen worktops.
Ideally, you need a large enough gap to comfortably stand at your kitchen units and safely carry pots and pans around the floor.
Is It Cheaper to Just Pay for a Kitchen Island Installation?
In most instances, no. The material costs will generally be the same. It may also work out cheaper to buy simple kitchen cabinets and use them as the base of your island instead of a custom island complete with frame and base.
Additionally, the labour costs for the kitchen island installation are often expensive. You save on these labour costs by building a kitchen island yourself.
Build Your Kitchen Island Now!
As you can see from this guide on how to build a kitchen island, this isn’t a task that requires expert DIY knowledge or professional help. You can use new cabinets secured together to form the basis of a solid breakfast bar or kitchen island.
With a new kitchen island, you can significantly improve the functionality of your kitchen space. You could use it for additional storage space, cooking preparation, or as a breakfast bar where you can enjoy meals and get-togethers.