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Setting Up A Kitchen Island With Seating

Lots of kitchens have an island that adds functionality and additional countertop space. But a kitchen island with seating makes the whole room that much more valuable. Not only does it make the island more functional but it makes your kitchen more versatile as well.

If you're planning a new kitchen that includes an island that you can sit at, the following information can help you sort out the type of seating that works best for you.

Seating For A Kitchen Island - Chairs Or Stools?

When it comes to kitchen island seating the big question is always - "should I use stools or chairs?" Well, there's no hard and fast rule here because it's really a matter of taste, both in style and functionality. But to help you out, let's take a closer look at the possibilities and the pros and cons of each.

For the sake of clarity let's agree to refer to "chairs" as including both regular chairs and taller, bar stool-like chairs with backs. We'll define stools as backless, armless seats. For the record however, you'll find these terms intermixed among retailers when it comes time to shop for them.

The Kitchen Island With Stools - Simple But Effective

Stools (we're talking about the backless, armless type of seating here) make for handy island seating because they're smaller, easier to negotiate around and non-obtrusive. Their small size means you can sometimes fit more of them around an island as opposed to larger chairs that take up more space. They're typically lighter and more easily moved around.


kitchen island stools


Stools also make it easier to sit down and get back up. There's no need to work your way around to the front like you do with chairs. With most stools you just approach from behind and slide over it to sit down. Chairs require that you pull them away from the island and move

along the side to the front to sit down. Then you usually have to snug them in closer to the countertop. If you have a lot of chairs bunched tightly against one another it just makes the sitting process more cumbersome.

Stools don't offer a lot of visual clutter either, the way that chairs with backs sometimes do when crowded around an island. Consider how chairs will look from various sight lines in your kitchen and whether they might provide visual distractions. You can test drive how this might look by lining up a few dining room chairs at your island (or in it's proposed location if you don't have an island yet) to get an idea of how it might look.

And here's another benefit -- stools can usually be tucked under the island's overhang. This is a nifty feature because it makes your island and kitchen a bit more versatile. It's much more convenient to just slide the stools under the island counter when you want to use it as a buffet-like serving center. People can just walk up and help themselves with no obstacles. The stools are out of the way and there's no need move them someplace else (like you'd have to do with chairs). Then when serving time is over and someone wants to make conversation while you're tidying up, they simply slide the stool out and take a seat.


kitchen island stools


The down-side of stools is that some varieties can look pretty utilitarian, with not much more than a flat piece of wood set atop four legs. Sitting on a stool for an extended period of time can also be tiring, particularly on your back.

But There's An Argument For Chairs Too

Chairs on the other hand offer more in the way of comfort than stools. The ability to lean back against some form of support goes a long way toward relieving back fatigue. A more comfortable seat usually makes for a more enjoyable experience.


kitchen island chairs


Kitchen island chairs come in a wide variety of styles too. Whether you want wood, metal, leather or a combination of materials, you shouldn't have too much trouble expressing your style when using a set of chairs.

The drawback with chairs is that they can be more cumbersome. They're usually heavier and bulkier than stools and you have to pull them out from the countertop to sit down. Because island seating tends to be more closely spaced than say, a dining room table, they can sometimes look too cluttered, depending on the particular style and the height of the back.


kitchen island chairs


One more point to consider is the specific role of the island. A kitchen island with seating could likely be the primary dining location. If that's the case then it's important to consider the experience that the type of seating you choose will offer.

Chairs offer a more comfortable atmosphere for "lingering" after a meal to enjoy good conversation.

On the other hand when a kitchen island acts as a secondary eating location it's more conducive to the "eat-and-run" lifestyle; the quick breakfast spot before the kids go off to school. To say it another way, stools bring a sense of convenience, perhaps at the cost of a bit of comfort. That's particularly true when the island is more of a stop-off point as opposed to a destination.

Regardless of which choice you make just remember that there's no design police. Use seating that's comfortable and easily accessible, considering the mobility of the users and the space you have. Get what appeals to you the most, now that you have some idea of the benefits and drawbacks of each.


Kitchen Island Seating At Different Heights

The important point to remember about buying seats for your kitchen island is to get the correct height. Kitchen islands can be built with seating areas at a variety of levels. If you have an island custom built you can specify whatever height you want.

In general, islands are built with a seating area either at countertop height (approximately 36 inches from the floor) or a level that's higher. The seating area on taller kitchen islands is sometimes called a breakfast bar or a bar-top.

Kitchen island stools and chairs are built at various heights too. "Countertop" seating is usually 24 to 26 inches in height (measured from the seat to the floor), similar to those shown on the right in the picture below. Taller island "bar" seating is usually 28 to 30 inches tall, like those shown on the left.

kitchen island chair stool kitchen island stool

Don't fret if you need seating that's a little shorter or taller. You can find 'short' seating at 18 to 23 inches which works well for islands at table-top height (roughly 30 inches off the floor). Taller seats (sometimes referred to as "spectator" stools or chairs) are available in heights of 33 inches or greater.

If you want the best of both worlds there's even adjustable seating. Styles tend to lean toward the more modern look but if you want the versatility of an adjustable seat, they're available.


Give Yourself Enough Room

A common mistake when designing a kitchen island with seating is to "cheat" by putting seats where they don't belong or including too many. It would be great to have a family of four plus the dog gather at the kitchen island for a casual dinner. But if your island is only big enough to comfortably accommodate two, accept the fact and don't force the issue.

kitchen island chairs

The sin of putting seats around an island where they don't belong usually takes the form of a chair or stool positioned at a spot where there's no knee room, like the picture on the right. The single chair at the end of the island probably shouldn't be there.

There's minimal or no countertop overhang at that spot. Anyone seated in that position is going to have to lean over to reach the countertop while putting up with bruised knees. It might work in a pinch when you need some additional seating but it's not the optimal seating arrangement.

The other cheat involves the "pack-'em-in" syndrome whereby too many chairs are put at the island practically on top of each other. This doesn't allow any elbow room and makes for forced intimacy with the folks seated next to one another. This might work with small children but it usually doesn't with adults.


kitchen island chairs


Good kitchen island seating employs a setup that provides sufficient under-counter leg room and plenty of space on each side. If you follow those basic rules your family and your guests will thank you.


Publisher's Comments

I'm partial to stools but maybe it's because they work so well for our family's situation. The top picture in this article is our kitchen island after we remodeled our home. I remember when we first saw the 3D rendering of the kitchen with chairs around the island. My wife balked at the way it looked, particularly because our kitchen table with its own set of chairs is close by. The combination of island and table chairs made the place look like a furniture store.

We entertain once in a while and the ability to scoot those stools under the island's counter is pretty sweet. They tuck completely underneath which allows us to use the island as a serving center. There's no need to physically put the stools someplace else in the house.

And as for elbow room? You should pay close attention to it in any kitchen island seating arrangement. Our family of five occasionally eats together at the island (we specifically designed it to accommodate our whole family) and we have enough room. But I can't imagine it being any tighter.

My advice is to plan your kitchen island seating for practical comfort. Even if you don't have room for everyone in your family, making it spacious enough for two people rather than trying to jam together three or four is a much better idea.

Oh, and here's one more tip. Go with swivel seating if you can. It makes getting on and off the seat a breeze.

So Where Would You Like To Go Next??

What kind of countertops are you going to put on top of your island? There's plenty to consider and lots of options. Discover what's available starting with the kitchen countertops page.

Looking for some home design help? Find out how to achieve that remodel or new home and how to use the services of professionals in the industry.

Check out these mudroom ideas for making the this hard-working room a real benefit to your home.



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