Eric Piasecki for Ruard Veltman Architecture

When it comes to kitchen renovations and layouts, one of the first features that comes to mind is an island. But do you really need one? The simple (and perhaps unpopular) answer is no, you really don’t need a kitchen island to make the most of your space. In fact, designer Janie Molster even goes so far as to say she’s “so over kitchen islands.” As soon as we saw her own family kitchen, we knew why (you will, too). So whether you’re not ready to spend the money required for a custom built-in island, space is limited and it’s time to get creative with layouts, or you simply want to think outside the box, the clever ideas ahead will show you that there’s so much more to a functional and stylish kitchen than a traditional central island. Without further ado, here are 16 designer-approved kitchen island alternatives.

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Dining Table

Let’s start with Janie Molster’s masterpiece of a cook space. Though this colorful kitchen certainly has plenty of extra room for an island, the designer decided to fill the space with a large farm table to give the family a more casual dining spot to gather and get some homework done. Function aside, they “were just ready for something new,” she says.

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Doorway Counter Gate

Add a movable bar to the doorway of your kitchen to gain extra counter space. When you need to get in and out, you can easily roll it out of the way. This one in a galley kitchen by Juan Carretero looks built-in thanks to the molding details and matching granite surface, but it’s actually on casters.

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Vanity or Desk

In a narrow galley kitchen designed by Ashley Whittaker, a small vanity desk stands in as a pop-up spot for kitchen prep work when all other surfaces are taken. She installed tall upper cabinets to add storage while keeping the countertops clutter-free, and then introduced a colorful stool for functional fun. “When you’re working with a small apartment, why not make the kitchen feel like another decorated room?”

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Bar Cart

A bar cart houses appliances while a small central table functions as both a gathering spot for dining and kitchen prep in this apartment kitchen designed by Shari Francis. It’s a great option for renters who can’t make permanent changes to their space without losing a security deposit.

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Extra-Large Console

A long, narrow console table can stand in as a kitchen island and double as an extra dining spot if it’s the right height. So be sure to take some measurements ahead of time. Lili O’Brien and Leigh Anne Muse opted for an antique 1850s English refectory table paired with hickory stools here.

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Work Table

In this industrial kitchen designed by Kathleen McCormick, the steel table can function as a casual breakfast spot, a bonus workspace, or a classic island. Hidden storage compartments in the forest green cabinetry make up for the streamlined design.

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Custom Console

No room for a full-blown breakfast nook? Don’t stress. Instead, create a smaller version on a far wall by customizing a slim table or installing a floating shelf paired with two comfy stools.

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Antique Storage Table

In a small kitchen, every inch should be functional and communicate the right style statement, as this antique storage piece does in a kitchen by Melanie Pounds. It looks like a beautiful flower arranging table or a dining room buffet.

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Bistro Table

Throw a tablecloth over a bistro table to dress it up or leave it bare when using it as extra surface space for kitchen duties. Anthony Dunning turned his small kitchen into a stylish and efficient space, in many parts thanks to this clever styling trick.

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Breakfast Nook

A breakfast nook animates the window corner in this galley kitchen designed by Heather Hilliard. If space is limited, or the kitchen is simply long and narrow, then a breakfast nook with an upholstered banquette is definitely a better fit than an island.

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Small Island

This makeshift island in a kitchen designed by Nickey Kehoe and Park McDonald has plenty of room for serveware, pantry items, and prep supplies without the bulk of an island with a built-in sink and other features.

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Oval Table

Designers Mark Leslie and Richard Norris wanted this kitchen to have the feel of a traditional grand dining room, which is actually what it was before this renovation. The oval surface in the center can be used as either a table or an island.

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Bar Stool Extension

Fun, colorful runners were practically made for long and narrow galley kitchens. In this open-concept kitchen and living room by Romanek Design Studio, the mix of cool white marble and matte black tiles create chic contrast, while a cute pass-through connects the two spaces instead of creating congestion with an island.

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Glass Table

A glass table takes up very little visual real estate, allowing for more flow and just as much work space as other surface materials. This configuration by Kelly Giesen makes a small kitchen feel more functional and cohesive, while a large island could make it feel disjointed.

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Table on Wheels

This rustic farmhouse table grounds a modern kitchen designed by Les Ensembliers and makes the room feel much more airy and open than a bulky island might. But that’s not all: It can be used as a kitchen island, a desk, home studio table, dining table, or more. Plus, it’s on wheels, making it easy to move around for entertaining needs. Pro tip: Wheels are great, but a folding table is even better for a small space.

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Floating Counter

If you have to face a wall, at least make it fun to look at. Small kitchens that share real estate with a living room and don’t have the square footage to support untethered counter space don’t have to look spartan. This kitchen designed by ETC.etera for L.A.’s Firehouse Hotel mixed a mirrored tile backsplash with casual wicker stools for a look that maximizes light and personality. The key is to keep the silhouettes low-profile to keep your eye bouncing around.

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