Published on December 28, 2020

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A backdrop to morning coffee, after-school homework sessions, and everything in between, the kitchen island is often the hardest-working hub of our homes. It can also be one of the most overlooked zones when it comes to hidden storage

From smart side shelving and seating combos to small but mighty do-it-alls, there’s a common thread to the best-designed kitchen island cabinets, and it all comes back to function. We rounded up eight ideas with the power to make your life easier. (Think: wraparound storage for bulky cookware, narrow ledges to keep spices within arm’s reach, and more.) Because when you’re doing it all, your island should, too.

Bookshelf Bookend

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PHOTOGRAPHY BY SWEETEN

Similar to HomeAdvisor, which helps renovators find and book subcontractors for their kitchen remodels and beyond, Sweeten plays general contractor matchmaker, pairing local reno projects with vetted GCs. In one small-space kitchen, the clients needed a two-in-one for dining and food prep. This “Swiss Army knife” island gets the job done with “cabinets and drawers on one side, shelves along the other, and still plenty of space to sit and eat,” according to Sweeten. A bright idea for any size space, small or large: Bookend your kitchen island cabinets with open shelving to keep cookbooks visible and entertaining essentials at arm’s reach. (No bar cart? No problem!)

Clear Alternative

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PHOTOGRAPHY BY AGATHE TISSIER-DUMONT; DESIGN BY CAMILLE HERMAND ARCHITECTURES

When it comes to open versus closed storage, think of glass cabinetry as the best of both worlds. These kitchen island cabinets, designed by Camille Hermand Architectures, are both pretty and practical, as they keep storage visible and easily accessible. (Plus the extended counter ledge offers plenty of barstool seating space.) Opt for glass cabinet doors to keep everyday dinnerware dust-free or to create an artful display moment. It’s especially perfect for pieces you love but don’t necessarily want taking up everyday residence on limited countertop real estate (e.g., those wedding gifts you hate to stash out of site but otherwise have to!).

Stealth Storage

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COURTESY OF STUDIO MCGEE

Studio McGee makes a case for kitchen island cabinets discreetly concealed by barstools—mega-storage without the eyesore. “Kitchen islands have evolved to look more like furniture instead of just cabinets out of the box,” says designer Shea McGee. “It’s one trend I hope doesn’t go away.” Punctuated by open shelving and a butcher block top, this island wears several hats. The effect achieves a more layered, lived-in look by mixing materials and offering space to display found objects.

Triple Threat

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PHOTOGRAPHY BY SARAH SHERMAN SAMUEL

Here, designer and Domino contributor Sarah Sherman Samuel hacked IKEA cabinets and wood slats left over from a previous reno project to DIY her dream island. “I got the idea of dropping the middle part of the island lower. I like having a space with normal-height chairs where people can sit and eat a snack while someone is cooking,” says Samuel. The result is a kitchen table, meal-prep station, and cabinet storage all in one. “It’s almost like a dining table within the island, and it shows off the room’s symmetry, too,” she adds.

Organization Assist

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PHOTOGRAPHY BY COMPASS REAL ESTATE; DESIGN BY MURDOCK SOLON ARCHITECTS

Souped up with at-the-ready storage, kitchen island cabinets can play behind-the-scenes sous-chef for avid cooks and entertainers. This Brooklyn townhouse, designed by Murdock Solon Architects, takes a chest-of-drawers approach with Italian Effeti cabinetry. The varied depths help keep contents easily organized, functioning almost as storage dividers themselves. Designate shallow top drawers for silverware, cooking utensils, cloth napkins, and candlesticks. Assign stockpots, Dutch ovens, and appliances to the deep bottom drawers.

Well-Rounded Argument

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These kitchen island cabinets think outside the box—literally. A bit unconventional yet perfect for tight or asymmetrical kitchen spaces, a round unit has the potential to conceal a ton of storage in a smaller footprint. This Workstead-designed island is crafted of stone, wood, and caning for a rich material mix, while its lack of hardware furthers the pared-back vibe. Consider amping it up with a slide-out cutting board or table extension that pulls out from under the countertop.

Breath of Fresh Air

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PHOTOGRAPHY BY TREVOR TONDRO; DESIGN BY COMMUNE

Another storage solution for taller kitchen workhorses (looking at you, KitchenAid mixer) is the open-air island. Sometimes you need more storage and counter space in lieu of seating. Centrally situated in an otherwise dead space, this combo of sleek drawers and free-for-all storage gives you just that. For a streamlined look, consider going sans hardware with built-in handles, cutouts, or touch-to-open cabinet doors.

Space Saver

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PHOTOGRAPHY BY LAURE JOLIET

While this Los Angeles kitchen of designer and Echo Park Craft Fair cofounder Rachel Kraven is far from tiny, her custom three-drawer island assumes a relatively modest footprint and makes the space feel even more expansive. Set up seating at a counter peninsula instead of the island to open up your kitchen area and boost functional cooking space even more.

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