Space and Design are Important : You need around 3 feet of walking space around the island unit, and you must be sure that the drawers and doors in the cabinets have room to open. If you keep to the 36 inches then you should be OK. The only dimension that must be stated is that of the counter height. Ideally it should be the same as the rest of your kitchen units. If not, then it is not a disaster, but can be disconcerting when you are working on the various surfaces at varying heights.
If you are looking to do a complete kitchen remodeling for yourself, or for maximum resale value, don't neglect the kitchen island. Once just a place to pull up some stools so the kids could eat before running to the bus, the island and it's function in the kitchen has changed quite a bit in the last 10 years.
We are often asked if the countertop of the island needs to match the existing kitchen countertop in style, or what will be installed as the main kitchen countertop. In most homes I would say it does match, but it really does not have to at all, nor does the material need to be the same. In fact, if you are not going to match them up exactly it's better if it looks like you are not even trying to match them, so using a completely different color and surface is perfectly acceptable.
Even in smaller kitchens people are examining the possibilities that could arise by clearing away the traditional kitchen cabinets, and replacing them with kitchen islands that offer the same amount of walking space if not more. Here are some ideas for a kitchen island that is not plumbed in to serve a sink, but that offers a great deal of storage space and can effectively make your kitchen appear larger.
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