A kitchen transformation, 6 of 8: the island

April Dykman | Improvement Center Columnist | March 2, 2015

Kitchens are the new living rooms in many homes these days. At least that's what I read on one of the many home design sites I perused while trying to decide on a kitchen island.

One thing I knew for certain: we needed to be able to prep meals in front of guests. That's because our guests tend to hang out in the kitchen, so we wanted a large island that incorporated seating space.

Two ideas appealed to my husband and me. One was to find a large antique table to serve as the kitchen island. The other was to build an island out of off-the-shelf cabinets.

We couldn't decide which way to go, until we saw a great idea on Pinterest. The photo was of a kitchen island with cabinets facing one side, seating on the other, and three sides were faced with barn wood. We had a winner.

Butcher block kitchen island

Choosing the cabinet components

Next we decided on which base cabinet components to use. Again, these came from IKEA, just like our regular cabinets. We decided we wanted a pull-out trash bin to keep the trash hidden away. We also wanted a cabinet with two pull-out wire baskets, which we would use to store Pyrex containers and mason jars. Finally, we wanted a regular cabinet with a shelf for storing appliances like the blender, food processor, and stand mixer.

cabinets in kitchen island

Kitchen island built-in trash

Kitchen island with drawer

We also decided to stick with the same beech wood butcher block countertop that we used on the other countertops. But there was one minor difference between the other cabinets and the island cabinets -- we lowered the island cabinets by a couple of inches. Why? Because most countertops are too high for me to work comfortably. In other words, I am all of 5'1", and trying to cut a butternut squash in half makes my elbow hurt.

Assembly required

My husband and I assembled the cabinets while dad build a frame for the island.

To decide where to place the island, we moved the cabinets around until we had enough space around the island to do things like open the trash bin without bumping into the refrigerator. Satisfied that there was enough room on all four sides of the island, Dad bolted the frame to the floor.

He also cut a trench into the floor in order to run electricity to both sides of the island. This was my mom's idea, and it was genius. We've used those outlets almost every day since they were installed. Plus, there's an outlet right next to the place where we store the food processor and stand mixer, which means we don't have to move heavy appliances very far to plug them in.

Electrical outlet for kitchen island 

Tip: Outlets are always a good idea. Having plenty of places to plug in lets you use multiple appliances at once, without sacrificing prep space. They also serve as a place to charge iPhones and the laptop.

With the cabinets in place and outlets installed, the countertop went on top, and we had something that looked like an island. But we still needed the finishing touch…

Reclaimed barn wood for the win

I'm a sucker for reclaimed wood, so the day that Dad put the barn wood on the island felt a little like Christmas.

The wood came from a supplier who takes down about 50 old Iowa barns each year, then resells them at various antique shows around Texas. The boards we bought still had some worn paint on them -- some were red, others white.

We decided to keep the color. So we washed the boards carefully and sealed them to prevent paint from chipping off. Then Dad started covering the three sides of the island with the boards, alternating the red with white.

And with that, our off-the-shelf island had its barn wood finish!

Next: kitchen transformation part 7, tiling the floor

About the Author

April Dykman is a writer who specializes in real estate, personal finance, and entrepreneurship. Her work has been featured on MSNBC, Fox Business, Forbes MoneyBuilder, and Yahoo! Finance.