Kitchen Islands With Built-In Tables: Cooking Meets Conversation In Latest Trend

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Kitchen remodels don’t offer a lot of flexibility to homeowners looking for a refresh. The stove, fridge, sink, and cabinet placement are pretty much set unless you’re gutting the space. Your design decisions come down to cabinet style, countertop material, wall color, and maybe a flashy backsplash.

Your kitchen island, however, is one place where you can play a little with different styles, shapes, and even features. So much so that an upgraded island is the top kitchen feature homebuyers seek in 2021 according to a recent HomeLight survey.

One hot new feature to watch: kitchen islands that have tables attached to them. We’re not talking about an extension of the island itself with room for a few bar stools, this kitchen island table trend is a full on eating area that’s clearly a separate table, but it’s affixed to the island itself.

The question many homeowners are asking is this: Are kitchen island tables a passing fad, or a rising trend with staying power? Read on to find out.

A kitchen island with a built in table.
Source: (KUPRYNENKO ANDRII / Shutterstock)

Is the island-as-table trend on the rise?

The kitchen island-as-table trend is a relatively new feature in kitchen designs, which is why you’re more likely to pull up portable kitchen islands with fold-down tables when you search for the trend online. But it’s definitely a trend on the rise and these are the main reasons why:

Creates a dedicated eating space

“I’ve noticed kitchen island tables appearing more and more often in kitchens in our area lately. A kitchen island table lets you designate a separate zone for eating, ” says Elyse Moody, interior design expert at Designer Appliances in Montclair, New Jersey.

“Kitchens flow more smoothly when you have distinct zones for different tasks: dinner prep, homework, baking, coffee/drinks, eating, cleanup. It makes it easier when there’s a spot for everything.”

Makes serving easy

Long gone are the days when everyday family dinners added the formal step of transferring food into fancy china before serving. Today’s busy families are happy enough to serve up their meals right out of the pots and pans the food was cooked in.

Having the table attached to the island makes this casual dining option even easier, as you can get seconds without needing to get up from the table. As an added bonus, the stove and oven keeps the food warm and fresh in between helpings.

Provides an in-home chef’s table experience

Restaurants with special chef’s tables in the kitchen may (temporarily?) be a thing of the past due to the pandemic, but a table attached to your kitchen island recreates this experience in your home.

Every dinner host knows that uncomfortable time in between when the guests arrive and when the meal is ready to be served. Dinner guests are left to their own devices in the living room, or stuck standing awkwardly in the kitchen, offering to help while trying desperately not to get in your way.

The built-in table solves this dilemma by providing a place for guests to comfortably relax and converse with you while you cook. It also allows the conversation to continue in between courses, unlike a formal dining room that requires you to leave the room to prep and serve the next course.

Adds room flow

The smaller kitchens found in older homes rarely have room for an island at all, let alone one with an attached table — that’s why some homeowners choose to expand their kitchens into the formal dining room next door. But this often leaves the kitchen looking lopsided, with the original kitchen looking crammed together on one side with an empty, cavernous space on the other.

The kitchen island with a built-in table is a clever way to fill this space in a way that looks like a natural extension of the original kitchen.

Pros and cons to island-table combinations

There are two major pros and two major cons to going the island-table combination route in your kitchen.

Pro #1: Comfortable conversation while dinner is cooking

Back in the days when wood fires cooked the meals, kitchens were hot, messy places not conducive to enjoying the meals prepared there. With the advent of electric and gas ranges, “eat-in kitchens” became a huge selling point for houses because they allowed the family members preparing the meals to be part of the fun while dinner was cooking.

The kitchen islands with built-in tables is an extension of that tradition as it brings the conversation right up to the meal prep stations, rather than separated when detached tables are placed in another area in the kitchen.

“A kitchen island table is an efficient way to accommodate your family, and it lets you face each other the way you can’t really when you’re sitting side by side at an island,” explains Moody.

“When my family gathers and some people sit at the island, we always find that one or two people end up standing across from them to have a conversation while we eat. An island table solves that problem without forcing you to give up island space where you otherwise could have a pull-out trash can, dishwasher, or sink.”

Pro #2: Opportunity to bring in warm textures

“I’ve seen many attached tables in different materials from the rest of the island to set the eating space apart,” explains Moody. “For instance, the table might be dark-stained wood, while the rest of the island is quartz or a lighter material. With natural wood making a comeback in the kitchen, it’s a nice way to layer in another texture.”

Most kitchens have only a handful of colors and textures: the cabinets, the countertops, the appliances, and the wall color — colors and textures that are often pale or hard.

With much of the wall space dedicated to cabinets, kitchens often have fewer windows, making them darker than the rest of the house, so homeowners often choose white or other light hues for their kitchen color schemes. And hard, smooth surfaces like stainless steel appliances and stone countertops, are easier to clean. While these choices are practical, they don’t leave a lot of room for warmth in the kitchen.

Enter the kitchen island-table combination. Attaching a warm, wood table to your cool, crisp quartz island brings in a softer natural texture with a warmer hue to brighten and soften the space.

A kitchen island with a built in table.
Source: Designer Appliances

Con #1: Island-height kitchen tables aren’t for everyone

Many of the built-in table options available attach to the kitchen island at the same height or slightly higher than the island itself. This means that your seating at the table needs to be barstool-height.

Unfortunately, barstool seating isn’t comfortable or accessible for everyone. Both the elderly and kids have difficulty getting into and out of barstools, and for the tiniest tots, sitting so high up is not practical or safe.

Con #2:  Attached tables aren’t easily replaced

The biggest cons to tables attached to your kitchen island is that they aren’t replaceable the way freestanding tables are.

Whether you want it gone because it’s damaged or you simply want a new look, removing an attached table will most likely damage and leave marks on your island where it was attached.

Should you want to replace the table for aesthetic reasons, you’ll need to replace it with another attached table to cover up any damage or markings left from the removal of the original attached table.

On the plus side, attached tables are made from materials that are the same quality as your kitchen island. This makes them much more sturdy than the self-assembled freestanding tables you’ll find at your local home goods store. That durability means that you likely won’t need to replace your attached table due to wear and tear.

Island-table styles to choose from for your renovation

One of the reasons island tables are becoming so popular is the range in design styles they offer. Island tables can vary in height, shape, and even material from the kitchen island it’s attached to.

A kitchen island with built in seating
Source: Designer Appliances

Island extension

Island extensions are the most familiar of the island-table upgrades.

At first glance, it looks just like a normal kitchen island with attached bar seating. Unlike those original counter extensions (that allowed for two or three bar stools attached to the kitchen island), table-sized island extensions allow room for five or more guests to be seated around the island.

This expanded seating allows the island extension to be used to host the whole family or a party of guests around the kitchen island, rather than just extra overflow seating when your main table seating is full.

A kitchen table with built in banquette seating.
Source: NV Design

Banquette seating

With the banquette-seating version, you have a bench and table affixed to the kitchen island akin to your favorite booth at your local diner.

The beauty of this design is that the table is freestanding, as are the chairs that go on the side opposite the banquette bench. This allows you more freedom to swap out the table and chair styles should you decide to change up the look of your kitchen.

For example, let’s say you went for a country chic look with a rough hewn table and distressed stick back dining chairs, but now you want a more modern look. You can keep the banquette, and replace the table with a contemporary glass one and add industrial café chairs to transform your kitchen without paying for a complete remodel.

Kitchen Island with table.

Kitchen island with table.
Source: Designer Appliances

L- or T-shape

Opting for a kitchen table that attaches to the island at a 90-degree angle to form an L- or T-shape is a great option for larger kitchens with an open floor plan. This unconventional placement allows you to connect the dining area with the kitchen without crowding the space or interrupting the flow.

This design plan typically incorporates longer tables into the kitchen island. This not only greatly expands the available seating, but allows for guests to easily talk being seated directly across from one another. It also keeps the chef involved in the conversation as the counter or cooktop is situated at the head of the table.

A kitchen island with a built in table.
Source: (ImageFlow / Shutterstock)

Lower level table

One downside to many island-table combinations is that the expanded seating area still requires barstools, unless the table is attached at a lower, table-height level.

When done right, a lower level attached table offers the convenience of a regular-height table in a kitchen that doesn’t have room for a freestanding table. However, this unconventional option does run the risk of looking like you’ve just pushed a regular dining table up against your island.

This is easily solved by a continuity of materials used. For instance, continue the countertop material down into the tabletop, or choose turned table legs that match the style and finish of your cabinetry.

Resale considerations

Just like slang, fashion, and entertainment, kitchen trends change as time passes. Since an attached table is designed to stay in place for years, it’s essential that you choose a timeless design that won’t easily fall out of style.

A savvy interior designer, knowledgeable cabinet maker, or an experienced real estate agent can help you select a classic combination of finishes and colors buyers will love when it comes time to sell your house.

While it might not add actual dollars to your home’s value, if you pick the right attached table, you’ll have added a bonus feature that buyers will adore — which makes your home more marketable. Basically, buyers might not pay more for an island-table combo, but it’s the kind of upgrade that may inspire more buyers to put in an offer.

The real issue you need to consider before adding an island-table combo to your kitchen is what it will do to the traffic flow. If you pick an island with an attached table that takes up too much space and makes it difficult to maneuver, this can hurt your home sale.

“For the most part, buyers love to see a newly remodeled kitchen in our area of New Jersey. However, I do think a too large island or an island that makes it difficult to navigate your kitchen could affect your resale value,” advises Moody.

“You get a pretty good sense of what a kitchen’s traffic flow is like at a busy open house; if the island is too big to allow for easy circulation, buyers will notice that.”

Kitchen island-table combos are catching on

Kitchen islands with attached tables might have started as the latest fad, but it’s quickly growing into a trend with staying power for good reason:

“Even before the pandemic, this idea was really popular in kitchen design, but now that there are even more of us working from home and cooking at home more, with more family members pitching in, it seems to be sticking,” says Moody.

The island-table combo not only designates dedicated spaces for work and rest in the busiest room in your house, it creates a cozy corner for families to enjoy each other’s company during meal prep, dinner, and beyond.

Header Image Source:(V1ktoria / Shutterstock)