How to Choose a Stainless Steel Island

By Jan Soults Walker

These diverse pieces of kitchen furniture can serve as fabulous, functional focal points. Here's how to bring the best one home for your needs.

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Pepe Calderin
Boosting your kitchen's work and prep surfaces, storage, and even dining space could be as easy as adding a freestanding island, and stainless steel versions rank high on many homeowners' wish lists for good reason. Prized for their hip industrial look, this type of surface is heat-resistant, easy to clean with soap and water, and ultra-sanitary because stainless steel is nonporous.

Whether you want an island as a central focal point or plan to nestle it out of the way along one wall, or even stash it under a counter, you'll find an abundance of options available. Here's a rundown to help you choose.

Abundant alternatives

Tiare Cowan
Islands constructed completely of stainless steel (more commonly referred to as work tables or work benches) tend to offer straight-forward styling: a top, four legs (some with wheels), and one or two shelves. Alternatively, freestanding islands with a wood base and stainless steel countertops (or conversely, a stainless steel base and wood countertop) offer more options.
  • Wheels. Selecting a model with wheels lets you transport your island to wherever you might need it and tuck it away when not in use. Lockable casters keep your island stationary.
  • Storage. Consider what types of items you want to store in or on your island and select options accordingly, including open shelves (some adjustable), cabinets, hooks, towel bars, drawers, knife slots, magnetized strips, and other specialty features, such as a wine rack or even a pot rack overhead.
  • Expandable work surface. Some models feature countertop extensions that operate like a drop-leaf table: Lift the surface and lock it in place when you need it, then lower it when you're finished to make the unit more compact.
  • Alternative countertops. If a stainless steel work surface doesn't suit your needs or the look of your kitchen, look for models with wood or stone tops.

Metal detection

Pay attention to the quality of the model you're considering. Stainless steel comes in various weights and thicknesses, rated in terms of gauge. The lower the number, the better the quality of stainless steel. For example, 14- and 16-gauge stainless steel should provide a strong, dent-resistant surface, while a 22-gauge island could be damage-prone.

While stainless steel is quite durable, keep in mind that you should never cut directly on the surface. Keep a cutting board handy to use instead.

Measured thinking

When determining the size of stainless steel island you want, remember to maintain at least 36-inch wide aisles between the sides of the island and perimeter cabinetry and appliances; a 42-inch margin is even better, allowing for multiple cooks and helpers to work back-to-back, if desired.

If you intend to use your island as another spot for snacks and meals, plan to purchase stools that are a suitable height for the island you choose. Similarly, if you want to tuck your island out of the way beneath a countertop (in lieu of a section of cabinetry), look for one sized accordingly.

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