Estimated Read Time: 6 Minutes
Kitchen islands have become a central feature in contemporary kitchens, providing additional workspace, storage, and a gathering place for family and friends.
Not only do they function as an additional statement piece for your kitchen, but they also offer practical benefits like extra countertop space and seating options outside of traditional kitchen tables.
When it comes to island designs, there are two popular options: standard kitchen islands and waterfall islands.
At Deslaurier, we have over 40 years of experience specializing in custom cabinets and kitchen design. We’ve seen the rise in the popularity of kitchen islands and how integral they have become in the kitchen design process.
In this article, we’ll compare standard kitchen islands with waterfall islands, focusing on their distinctive design, functionality, and the costs involved.
Let’s get started!
Table of Contents
What is a Kitchen Island?
A kitchen island is a freestanding group of cabinets with open space surrounding all four sides. Kitchen islands offer a myriad of design possibilities, from being furnished with countertops to being incorporated with sinks, appliances, and accessories. Many even offer room for kitchen seating.
The popularity of kitchen islands has skyrocketed in recent decades. Now, kitchen islands are one of the central elements of modern-day kitchens and are considered a must-have for many homeowners.
Kitchen islands beautifully combine function and style.
They can be used as the main workstation for meal prep and cleanup; island seating provides ample space for dining and socializing; and island cabinets are a great way to add extra storage to your kitchen.
What are Waterfall Islands?
Waterfall kitchen islands came to prominence in the early-2010s, gaining incredible popularity in high-end, modern kitchen designs.
If you're not familiar with waterfall kitchen islands, they are essentially when the kitchen island countertop material extends down one or both sides to create a seamless visual effect.
A slab of the same countertop material is placed on the end panel of the island and meets flush at a 90-degree angle with the horizontal surface.
This design feature is aptly named because it resembles the look of water flowing over a precipice, or "waterfalling" down the sides of the island. The result is a sleek and modern design that can add a touch of sophistication and elegance to any kitchen.
Waterfall countertops are delightfully dramatic and one of the best ways to instantly turn your kitchen island into an aesthetic focal point.
Kitchen Island Seating
In fact, one of the most common design mistakes when it comes to kitchen islands is not giving enough consideration to the seating.
Simply put, if you want your island to be a place for meals and socializing, you’ll need to put a lot of thought into the type of seating, and how many seats you want.
When deciding how many seats you want, give each person at least 24" of space per seat. The last thing you want is people bumping elbows and knees during meals!
For example, if your island is six feet long, that’s enough room to fit three seats comfortably. If it’s eight feet–4 seats, and so on. If that’s not enough for your large family or social lifestyle, you can always continue overhang seating onto a second (or third) side of your island!
Where waterfall islands tend to fall short is with overhang seating. The cascading design may restrict access to the backside of the island, limiting seating options and impeding movement in the kitchen.
Not only do they not allow additional seating on the sides of the island, but the seating that is available tends to be more cramped due to the waterfall ends.
In that sense, standard kitchen islands won’t just have more seating but also more comfort and space to go along with it.
If comfortable, spacious overhang seating is a priority for your kitchen island, you’ll want to avoid waterfall ends.
The primary purpose of a central island is to increase your kitchen’s overall function.
A kitchen island offers ample surface area for food prep or cooking and often incorporates appliances, such as cooktops or sinks, making them functional workstations within the kitchen.
Where standard islands excel is their ability to utilize their sides. The sides of a kitchen island are commonly equipped with things like beverage fridges (seen below), or custom wine rack millwork.
You could even include additional cabinetry for increased storage space on the end panel.
Simply put, waterfall islands aren’t able to have as many features as regular islands. With both waterfall ends covered, it effectively results in two functional sides, rather than four.
Between the two, a standard design will help you get the most out of your kitchen island if that’s what you’re aiming for.
The cost of any kitchen island can vary greatly depending on factors such as size, materials used, and the inclusion of additional features like built-in appliances or specialized storage solutions.
However, regular islands generally tend to be more cost-effective compared to waterfall islands due to their simpler design, construction, and less countertop material.
For the most part, determining the cost of a waterfall island is the same as picking out a regular kitchen countertop. The price of the surface you select will depend on the material you choose.
Check out our article for an in-depth breakdown of the cost of popular countertop materials.
Of course, the price will naturally increase with the more material you need – which can be a lot depending on the size of your island – but nothing else should change from a product pricing standpoint.
Where overall expenses are increased is the fabrication process to create waterfall ends.
A CNC laser is required to create the mitered waterfall joints. It’s a labour-intensive process that can increase the cost of your countertops by several thousand dollars.
Further, installation is also much different than a standard countertop. It’s a more delicate process and will take a bit longer to finish than most kitchen surfaces.
All in all, with the additional materials, fabrication, and installation, don’t be surprised if your waterfall island costs more than double what it would for a standard countertop surface.
As with any kitchen surface, the amount of maintenance often comes down to the material. It’s important that you choose a material that suits your lifestyle and willingness to maintain it properly.
Something like a luxurious marble, for example, requires routine upkeep. Marble is a porous material and therefore needs routine resealing roughly 3 or 4 times a year to prevent liquid and moisture from seeping into the stone.
With two waterfall ends to go with the countertop, that’s a lot of marble to take care of. The more material you have the more maintenance there will be.
Conversely, quartz countertops are entirely nonporous meaning they do not require any further resealing or maintenance, effectively making them a set-and-forget countertop surface.
What Kitchen Island is Right For You?
Choosing between a regular kitchen island and a waterfall island ultimately depends on your personal preferences, kitchen layout, budget, and desired visual impact.
Regular islands offer increased versatility and functionality, while the unique design of waterfall ends provides a striking aesthetic.
By considering these factors and understanding the benefits and concerns of each style, you can make an informed decision that enhances the functionality and beauty of your kitchen.
Design with Deslaurier Custom Cabinets
When it comes to kitchen islands, it’s crucial you properly plan how you want your island to look and function before finalizing the design process.
If you’re including a central island in your kitchen, we hope this article helps you decide whether waterfall ends are right for you, or if sticking with a standard island design is what your home needs.
If you’re in the market for custom cabinets and kitchen design, Deslaurier Custom Cabinets has everything you need! With over 40 years of experience in our name, we provide our clients with a fully customized design process with our talented team of designers.