In addition to seating 4 (or more), islands today are used to house "luxury" appliances that do not fit in the cabinet structure like a second microwave, second oven, wine refrigerator or even another cooktop. Islands many times are fully wired for electricity and have plumbing for a second sink. The base of an island can be used as a wine rack. The possibilities are almost endless.
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.
Another alternative is to have a custom island designed just for your needs. Kitchen design experts can help you come up with an island that will fit perfectly into your space and also have all of the components you really want to have. You can add a cooktop, a sink, or even a built-in microwave oven which can free up a lot of your counter space. Both a cooktop and a sink built into an island can help the cook become more a part of the festivities when you're entertaining if the island is used as a room divider between the kitchen and other living spaces.
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.
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