The kitchen island is a real workhouse. It comes in handy whether you’re baking up a storm for a friend’s birthday, making an elaborate dinner, or just looking for a place to spread out all of your takeout for a buffet-style meal. It may have seating on one side and it might be a storage superhero, but it can make a visual impact in a space, too.
You might not necessarily think about how to decorate a kitchen island, but interior designers know that every surface is full of potential. By adding just one decorative element to an island, you can make the entire room look more elevated—without sacrificing too much of your precious space for cooking, eating, and more.
Depending on the size of your island, you can treat it as a kitchen table and give it a centerpiece, or you can designate a spot on the side for decoration. A little goes a long way, and you don’t have to overthink it. If you need some inspiration to get your gears turning, here’s how eight interior designers decorate a kitchen island.
A decorative piece that you might keep on an open shelf can look just as good on an island. “I always like to have a piece of natural wood or stone (like a vintage French cutting board) or some pottery, such as a large vase or a stack of bowls,” says Texas-based interior designer Claire Zinnecker. “ I love adding texture and visual interest with something handmade or a vintage piece.”
New York-based designer Eneia White agrees: “The warmth of a glazed ceramic fruit bowl or an oversized textured vase adds character and depth to an otherwise polished kitchen.” She recommends searching through Etsy for something truly unique.
If there’s one thing pretty much all interior designers can agree on, it’s how much plants (living, dried, floral, or green) can bring a space to life. It’s no wonder why so many love to incorporate them into kitchens. “On a bi-weekly basis, I love to dress my kitchen island with live floral branches. Specifically, cherry blossom branches in a clay or stone vase,” says Washington, D.C. designer Rashida Banks. “It’s a very high end organic look, without the high end price, and there’s no floral arrangement skills needed. You can buy them at Trader Joe’s pre-cut for less than $10!”
Rhode Island-based creator Carli Alves also loves to top a kitchen island with a vase of freshly foraged greenery or flowers to “make the kitchen feel fresh.” California-based interior designer Mandy Cheng agrees. “Whether it’s a plant, clippings from a tree, or a bouquet of flowers, the arrangement always makes the kitchen feel more warm and inviting,” she adds. “Don’t feel obligated to buy these arrangements—some branches from your tree outside will work, too!”
No matter the size of your kitchen, you always want to optimize your space—which is why some designers prefer to add in elements that are as decorative as they are functional. “A decorative element I often display on my kitchen island is a bread jar,” says California-based interior designer Ajai Guyot. “I love having a large glass jar filled with bread slices because we use it for so many things—charcuterie boards, sandwiches, toast. It’s nice to be able to easily grab slices from it and I love how grounding it looks on the counter.”
You can also put your produce front and center. “I love to outfit an island with a vintage rustic hand carved wood bowl that serves a purpose beyond being an accessory,” says New York City-based interior designer Becky Shea. “This is a beautiful way to display fresh fruits and veggies and keep them in plain sight so that you actually eat them!”
Fellow NYC designer Emma Beryl is also a fan of fruit bowls—with a twist. “My favorite way to display fruits is to group them by type or color, rather than having a single bowl with many different fruits in it,” she says. “I think the organization makes the fruit look more appealing and the concentrated colors make a stronger impact in your space.” Your kitchen island might just be the best spot for creating edible art.