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Built-in islands have become almost as standard in big kitchens as ovens, refrigerators, and absurdly high-powered juicers. There are plenty of very good reasons for this: Islands facilitate work and increase storage space. They're convenient. And they look nice! They can even do extra duty as a dining station, serving area, and/or leaning post when the party inevitably moves to where the chef is working his or her magic.
In fact, kitchen islands are so multifunctional and generally awesome that those of us with older homes, apartments, studios, galleys, or just plain small kitchens often experience what's known as "island envy." And it has nothing to do with living in Hawaii.
But covet no more, my friends. Designers have come up with a slew of alternatives to the built-in kitchen island, in sizes down to as small as 1 square foot. No matter how spacious or squeezed your kitchen may be, we're betting you'll find something here you'll like that will add new life and functionality to this all-important room.
Eat-in kitchen table and chairs
One popular, cozy option is a throwback to the past: the good ol' kitchen table and chairs. Remember the "eat-in kitchens" that families in sitcoms used to gather around? And maybe that you did, too? They're making a comeback, especially for those who want to sit down while prepping food on an expanded workspace. Also, parents see the kitchen table as a way to keep their families close -- they can help kids with their homework and easily monitor what's happening on their laptops while cooking meals or working on their own projects.
"An attractive table is as usable a workspace as an island, without looking like everyone else's kitchen in America right now," says Sharon Steele, an avid cook who lives in Malibu, CA, and entertains frequently at a giant wooden farm table in her French country kitchen. "It's a way to add interest and your own personal style to a space."
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Picnic tables with benches that slide underneath are also a popular alternative. To compensate for the lost storage space that you'd get with an island, you can hang pots and pans overhead on attractive racks. This picnic table was built specifically for this space, but you can find a variety of others that you can use as is, or finish to match your decor, at Overstock.com. Prices range from about $150 to $1,900.
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The perfect solution for very small kitchens is the raised pub table with stools or chairs that can be tucked underneath. Some, like this one, can double as a bar and offer additional storage as well. A set of table and chairs like this costs about $550. Find a huge variety at Wayfair.com.
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It's a cutting board! It's an island! Wait! You're both right! The butcher block is practically indestructible, not to mention extremely sturdy for all your heavy-duty kitchen prep. Plus, it adds a nice dash of character to your kitchen. And admit it -- it's way more satisfying to chop on this solid wood block than those flimsy plastic cutting boards. This one costs $783 from butcherblockco.com.
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Chef's prep table
The professional chef's prep table with a marble or stainless-steel top and storage shelves for cookbooks, appliances, and cookware below is one of the most efficient uses of kitchen space that we can think of. There's a reason the pros make great use of these in restaurant kitchens, and in their own homes. This one, called the "Orleans Kitchen Island," is available at Overstock.com for about $395.00.
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Rolling islands are another popular option for those with less spacious kitchens. According to Real Restoration founder and CEO Morris Gershengorin, "With kitchen sizes moving toward the smaller spectrum, having an easy-to-move workspace is very beneficial. Rolling islands can serve as a seating area, a breakfast nook, a prep space, and/or serving counter, and also make for an extremely functional use of space." Pictured here is the Crosley natural wood top kitchen cart/island, which goes for about $369 and can be found on the websites of stores including Amazon, Wal-Mart, Home Depot, and Target.
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The bar cart serves all the same purposes as the rolling kitchen island, but it has the added bonus of bringing a party to just about any room in the house. Deliver drinks and appetizers to your guests in the living room in just one trip. Smoothly bring breakfast in bed for your sweetie on a special morning. Or easily sip Champagne and nibble on chocolate-covered strawberries while taking a bubble bath, without having to worry about anything falling in the water. Bar carts are super hot right now and can be found just about anywhere that sells furniture, but we love the selection at JossandMain.com, with options from $90 to $400. Cheers!
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