The perfect kitchen island: where form and function meet

05 Aug 2020

If you're planning a kitchen renovation or are in the process of designing a new home, you'll probably be thinking about incorporating a kitchen island. The ultimate multi-tasking space, a kitchen island provides additional surfaces for prepping, working and eating. While it’s not strictly necessary to incorporate one into your design, an island can offer plenty of beneficial opportunities for your space. Perhaps you'd like an especially long surface for entertaining, one on wheels or maybe additional storage.

Kitchen islands come in a practically limitless variety of styles, looks, shapes and configurations. But while a well-planned layout offers much enjoyment, a poorly planned island can be frustrating to work with. Here are some key considerations to help you design the perfect one to suit you and your family.

One size does not fit all


This homeowner knew she wanted her kitchen island to be painted almost black, but not too black, with a touch of blue while not being too blue. She found what she was looking for in Resene Cinder. Cabinetry, walls and ceiling in Resene Half Bianca. Design by Michael Cooper.

When figuring out if there is enough room for an island, kitchen designers need to consider factors such as who lives in the home and how they will use the space. But first and foremost, they need to know the size of the room.

Just because your kitchen may be small doesn’t mean an island won’t be possible, or that you won’t be able to incorporate all the functions you want in it. There are plenty of possibilities for making an island work, even where space is limited, such as reduced depth, customised height or extra-large cabinets tailored to suit your specific spatial and design needs.

Other smaller-scale options include butcher blocks, moving islands and trolleys. Eye-catching in their own right, these small ‘islands’ can be extremely functional, offer extra storage space and work surfaces, and are often much less costly than a fixed kitchen island.


This kitchen features a unique curvaceous island painted in Resene Double Mondo. The walls are in Resene Half Caraway, the ceiling is in Resene Quarter Albescent White and the rest of the cabinetry is in Resene Double Mondo. Design by Celia Visser.

If you have space to spare, you’ll have even more options available to you such as extending the surface area of your island counter top so that there is enough space to tuck bar stools completely underneath, keeping them safely out of the path of travel.

An island can also be a great place to add a shelf or cubby for cookbooks or wine storage. And now that extractors can be integrated into ceilings, the option to incorporate your cooktop into your island can be another smart move, depending on you and your family’s needs.

Plan for optimised work flow


The combination of both natural and opulent golden shades in this kitchen creates a warm yet fresh aesthetic. The island and cabinetry are painted in Resene Double Sea Fog, the ceiling is in Resene Quarter Alabaster, the window set wall is in Resene Alabaster and the trims are in Resene Double Alabaster.

The design of a kitchen island can be extremely efficient if it is planned from the outset as the multi-purpose workstation it is meant to be. A well-planned layout can allow for a smooth workflow while also providing a comfortable space for preparing and cooking food, dining, working and storage.

The ideal distance for the clearance zone – which is the space between your island and your back-run of cabinetry – is approximately one metre to enable free and safe movement around your kitchen. But where you place your island can also affect the way movement flows throughout your home. You can use an island to help delineate the kitchen zone without cutting it off – which is a bonus if you like to socialise with guests while cooking.

Isles of colour


This bold kitchen island in Resene Daredevil really makes a splash. It stands out against crisp neutral Resene Black White walls and ceiling. The joinery on the back wall is painted Resene Colour Me Pink and the door is in Resene Daredevil. Design by Neil Fenwick.

The colour of your island will play a major role in the overall look of your kitchen, and there are a few different ways you can approach it. Paint your island to match the rest of your cabinets, paint it to match your splashback, or paint it a completely different colour altogether.

To make it easier for you to get just the right hue, Resene created Resene AquaLAQ, which is especially designed for kitchen cabinetry, furniture and joinery. It includes a complete waterborne system of sealer, colour coat and Environmental Choice approved clear coat. With a full range of authentic Resene colours available, you can get exactly the colour you want.


This kitchen is a definite showpiece of this home and looks bright and lively with a kitchen island and cabinetry painted in the inviting hue of Resene Periglacial Blue, with walls in Resene Parchment,  and ceiling, doors and architraves in Resene Eighth Parchment. Design by Annabel Berry and Meghan Nockels.

Depending on your design preferences, some looks call for mismatching. For a country-inspired look, try tongue-and-groove panelling on the outside of your island painted in Resene Safehaven with Resene Raindance on the cabinetry, Resene Merino on the splashback and Resene Half Dusted Blue on the walls.

Top tip: You can easily do a DIY update on your kitchen island if it needs a quick refresh. If the surface is very smooth, use Resene Waterborne Smooth Surface Sealer and Resene Lustacryl semi-gloss waterborne enamel. The semi-gloss finish will be easier to keep clean than a lower sheen finish.

For a rustic look, cover the sides with slats of reclaimed wood stained in one or more Resene Colorwood timber stains that contrast with the colour of your kitchen floor. Go for a charcoal like Resene Colorwood Tiri, Resene Colorwood Cedar for a rich brown, or Resene Colorwood Whitewash for a warm and light look. Or, try painting your island in an electric hue like Resene Havoc, Resene I Dare You or Resene Kryptonite to make your island the standout focal point of your space.


Reclaimed timber in a variety of Resene Colorwood stains turns this kitchen island into a statement. For added interest, the walls around the pantry have been painted Resene Woodstock and the ceiling is painted in Resene Alabaster. Design by John Mill.

A key design principle to keep in mind is the rule of three – if you use colour on your island try and incorporate that same colour in two other areas across your space to help the colour connect into your kitchen. A kitchen island and splashback in matching Resene colours and perhaps a kitchen appliance, flowers or fruit bowl with the same colour works well. Or try a tone-on-tone palette with variations of the same colour to help build a look.

images Nicola Edmonds, Mark Scowen, Rachel Wybrow Photography

kitchen designs Annabel Berry and Meghan Nockels, Neil Fenwick, Sarah Lassche-Jones, John Mills, Celia Visser, Michael Cooper

Do you have a home full of wonderful Resene paint and colour? Send us some snaps by emailing [email protected].

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Resene Half Bianca

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Resene Double Mondo

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Resene Half Caraway

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Resene Quarter Albescent White

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Resene Double Sea Fog

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Resene Quarter Alabaster

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Resene Double Alabaster

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Resene Black White

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Resene Colour Me Pink

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Resene Periglacial Blue

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Resene Eighth Parchment

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Resene Half Dusted Blue

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Resene Half Bianca

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Resene Double Mondo

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Resene Half Caraway

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Resene Quarter Albescent White

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Resene Double Sea Fog

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Resene Quarter Alabaster

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Resene Double Alabaster

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Resene Black White

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Resene Colour Me Pink

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Resene Periglacial Blue

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Resene Eighth Parchment

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