Split-level kitchen islands: benefits and creative design ideas

split-level kitchen island

Is an island top of your kitchen wishlist? Well, why not take it to the next level by creating a multi-functional hub? We look at the benefits of split-level kitchen islands and explore creative design ideas to inspire your project…

But first, what is a split-level kitchen island, you ask? Essentially, it is a freestanding island with one or two separate sections attached to the main unit. This can look like a low-level dining table on one end, a circular bar-style tabletop at the other end, or an elevated breakfast bar in the centre of the island – or even better, a mix of elements.

modern kitchen design with dining table and high bar attachments on the split level island
Soho kitchen by Davonport.

The design opportunities are limitless, especially if you have plenty of space to play with, as you can customise your solution to enhance your way of living and cooking. “Available in a range of sizes and styles, the island unit is a critical feature of today’s kitchen and with the option of split-level designs, they have become an extremely flexible proposition for serving real needs and a more ergonomic kitchen layout,” says Matt Phillips, head of UK operations at Rotpunkt.

We’ve gathered inspirational solutions to show you what’s possible and help get your moodboard going…

split-level island with dining zone and washing up area
Modulnova kitchen featuring Calce Series surface in Antracite, from £110 per sq m for 3mm thickness, Laminam.

Benefits of split-level islands

The island is no longer just a top-of-the-wishlist item, but an incredibly practical addition to your kitchen. The latest designs include built-in appliances, extra sinks and taps, and ample storage space – and that’s not all!

Thanks to split-level islands, you can combine cooking, dining and socialising into a single hub. “Multiple levels and a variety of surfaces can create distinct yet fluid zones for cooking, working and socialising,” explains Lauren Wright, senior designer at kitchen company Roundhouse.

“Incorporate the informal dining area and the island to form one dynamic island rather than two separate elements. Shapes with curves, offset angles or split levels are unique ways to design islands to suit individual spaces, face key views and influence the flow of traffic through a room,” says Lauren.

modern design with handleless units and low-level dining table
Urbo, Metro and Classic modern kitchen in a bookmatched oak veneer and patinated silver finish. Roundhouse kitchens start at £35,000.

Plus, if you are a keen cook and love gathering friends and family over for intimate dinner parties, a multiple-tier island can upgrade your hosting skills while adding some wow factor to your scheme. “From a functional perspective, this is a great idea for those who love to host as one side can be used for prep, while the other can be a social space and presentation area for guests,” adds Alex Main, director at kitchen brand The Main Company.

black and wood units with open shelving, cooking and dining zones
Old Split Oak kitchen, from £12,500, Rotpunkt.

What’s more, a split-level island can help to hide any cooking mess away from your guests’ eyes, as shown in this dark blue design by Kitchen Stori – bonus!

dark blue kitchen design with gold cooker hood cover, two-tier island and dining table
Wakefield kitchen in Marine, price on application, Kitchen Stori.

Design ideas

Apart from improving the flow and functionality of your kitchen, split-level islands can be designed to fit within any kitchen, no matter your style – from neutral and handleless to more classic designs packed with colour.

Choosing the right height for your levels, however, is extremely important. “A lower island height is ideal for young families so little ones can be on chairs and not high stools. For a kitchen designed with adults in mind, consider a higher second surface for serving drinks and nibbles when entertaining,” recommends Gavin Shaw, managing director at Laminam UK.

Then, when it comes to the look, a clever design trick is to mix and match materials. This will help visually zone your island. For example, you can opt for stone for your food preparation area and grainy wood for the dining level.

“Split-level islands are a beautiful and eye-catching way to create natural zones within your kitchen while still allowing for a feeling of space. A subtle yet impactful way to do this is with two different, contrasting materials such as a natural stone and reclaimed wood,” advises Alex.

blue kitchen design with central island and wood breakfast bar
Kitchen design by The Main Company. Photography: Chris Snook.

Melissa Klink, creative director and interior architecture specialist at kitchen company Harvey Jones, agrees: “Clients often choose a split-level island when they want to separate the food preparation part of the island from the more social space.

“Timber works well for bar and hangout zones as it feels warm, and wood is the perfect material to lean against. In more recent years, we’ve also seen clients choose a split-level island as they work from home. By shifting materials clients avoid feeling like their desk is in the middle of the kitchen,” says Melissa.

However, if you prefer a pared-back and seamless look, opt for a single worksurface across all of your island’s levels.

neutral design with wood worktop on food preparation area and dining table
Linear Edge kitchen, from £30,000, Harvey Jones.
neutral scheme with freestanding furniture and white worksurfaces
Zeluso kitchen, from £10,000, Crown Imperial.
neutral handleless shaker units with central island and low-level dining table
This Esteem kitchen is a bespoke design by Mowlem & Co. Prices start from £30,000.

So, don’t be afraid to get creative, and remember to seek advice from your kitchen designer to ensure the final solution ticks all your boxes. Happy planning!

Enjoyed this post? Click here for 12 big kitchen trends for 2024

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