Island countertop all one level vs. bi-level with bar seating

laheenMay 24, 2010

We're trying to make some decisions about our island configuration... the island will be an 8ft long uninterrupted workspace (no sink or cooktop), just prep area, with three stools on the livingroom side.

I'm looking for opinions regarding single-level vs. bi-level islands. We were originally planning for a bi-level (standard height workspace on the kitchen side with a 12" overhang at bar height on the livingroom side). However, someone suggested in an earlier thread that we do a single-level island instead. I'm trying to weigh the pros & cons of both.

The bar height option seems like it would provide some visual cover between the living area & the work area, plus it would give some definition to the countertop on the kitchen side. If we included a few inches of overhang on the work area, it would also create a little alcove for storing prep bowls & other small items.

The single-level island option seems like it would be more flexible since it would be such a large expanse of uninterrupted space. Also, I think I prefer that seamless look and, since we're planning for it to be butcher block, it would be evocative of an old farm table, which is period-appropriate for our house. But I'm concerned about clutter from the seating side (paperwork, homework, etc) crowding the kitchen workspace (we are not a neat family).

I can't decide which is the more practical solution. Advice?

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We just made this same decision a few months ago. For us, a single level made more sense and was more practical. I love having this massive area (mine isn't an island, but a peninsula) for prepping and for eating as well. I also know that when we entertain, the peninsula will serve as a buffet counter for all the serving platters. I really like being able to spread out, and I think that is difficult to do with a bi-level.

This works best for us, but I know there are people who will prefer the other option. I think you have to figure out what is more functional for you and your family.

    Bookmark   May 24, 2010 at 11:43PM
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I debated this too and at the last minute decided one single level. I was going the other direction though. I had seating on the back side but wanted one end to drop down for my baking center. For no more than I bake, the single level was the best choice for the way I cook and use my kitchen.

Depending on your barstools, mine have a back on them, so this could serve as the buffer you were wanting between the two spaces.

As far as sharing the prep space with homework space, you will have to be extra cautious of spills, splatters, and fly away homework papers, etc.

As mentioned, just have to really think about how you will use it on a daily basis, try to visualize how you will be using the space. Things like will the kids really use it for homework during meal prep time or just chit chat, how much do you entertain and would use it for a buffet, etc.

    Bookmark   May 25, 2010 at 12:15AM
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I am building my 3rd single level. 1 was a pennuinsula, current one is 8' pass thru, next one is an island. 3 reasons to choose single level: uninterrupted work space; the ability to use the entire space for buffet service; and the ability to use counter height bar stools. I am 5'3", and the kids at my counter range from age 8 to 17. The little ones and I enjoy not having to climb up on a full height bar stool. The taller ones are perfectly comfortable too.

Re clutter: you will have the same clutter look from the living space side if the issue is school work.

    Bookmark   May 25, 2010 at 5:52AM
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Our island will be 52" by 15' and single level. I just love the mass of it and personally hate the bi-level effect. Open floorplan means never being able to hide ;0

    Bookmark   May 25, 2010 at 7:39AM
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My island is bi-level. I like the way it separates the nearby sitting area with sofa and fireplace from the working space. I like how the clutter can't be seen when sitting on the sofa. I also like that the higher level is harder for my large dogs to reach. The bi-level works well in my room. However, I do have a separate kitchen table away from the sitting area and island that provides a large flat surface. If you don't have a separate table or if your living room area is further away (mine is within a few feet), then you won't need the bar height to visually separate the spaces.

    Bookmark   May 25, 2010 at 7:54AM
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I have a peninsula now, with a raised seating bar. My new design has a large single level island. I like the large work/serving area, and I think the simple lines will look better. But another important reason why I decided to go with the counter height island is that I think the seating is more comfortable. I hate getting up and down from bar height stools. Counter height is perfect - not too high (or too low) for us older folks. The lower height is probabaly also better for young children.

    Bookmark   May 25, 2010 at 9:26AM
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Thanks for all the great feedback! I hadn't thought about using the island as a serving buffet for parties, but I can see how that would be very useful. Also, the point about the comfort of the counter height stools vs. higher ones. My husband is tall, but I'm 5'5" and our son is only 14 months old. So probably lower seating would be more comfortable for us (and the grandparents).

Right now we're not entertaining much, since we are busy chasing after the toddler, but pre-baby we entertained a lot and I'm hoping to again, once he gets a little older. I'm trying to plan for that. And I assume that down the road, he'll be doing homework in the kitchen and having friends over after school, etc.

We do have a huge table in the diningroom, but that space doubles as our home office, so it's always covered with clutter (2 laptops, mail, paperwork, printing supplies, etc.). It would be nice to have an open expanse of space in the kitchen for actual kitchen projects, but I guess I'm afraid that we'll just fill that space up with clutter, too. ;)

For those with the single-level island, how do you light your workspace? We were thinking of installing task lighting under the overhang from the bar to light the counter. Now we'll have to rely solely on pendant lighting, I guess. Is that sufficient?

Also, do you have power outlets on the island? If we don't have a vertical surface behind the counter, it seems to limit us in terms of where we can plug in appliances.

    Bookmark   May 25, 2010 at 10:48AM
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I'm with kitchenaddict and others that it's up to your personal preference and how you'll use it.

I like my bi-level island (had a single level peninsula in my old kitchen.) I like that it provides a separate space for eating or doing homework (which my kids still do at the counter sometimes even though we have a separate study with their own desks.) It works well for buffets and entertaining, which we do alot. No one has ever had trouble with the bar height stools, including young kids. (Then again, we're tall.)

Depending on the height difference between the 2 levels you might have room for outlets at the back of the lower level, which is nice for using your mixer, etc.

On the other hand, I can see the appeal of having one big expanse. I liked that look with my old peninsula... when I cleared it of clutter.

One thing you can consider regardless of 1 level or 2, is to have a couple shallow drawers devoted to the kids' homework and papers. This depends on how your island is situated of course. But we have one short end that faces the open part of the kitchen where the table is; we have drawers there for utensils, napkins, and a 'paperwork' drawer. It might help with the perpetual kid-stuff-on-the-counter syndrome.

Riverspots: I also liked that it would be harder for our dog to reach the upper level counter... then this morning he proved me wrong by nabbing one of DS' waffles.

    Bookmark   May 25, 2010 at 11:04AM
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I took down a bi-level peninsula to have one level. Kitchen looks bigger and the one level works space I have now is awesome. I also included an overhang with storage underneath. I have room to tuck backless barstools beneath.

My vote is for one level surface!

    Bookmark   May 25, 2010 at 12:12PM
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Another vote for one-level
- More usable space
- Less cluttered look
- easier to clean
- we use it as a buffet surface for parties and dinners. keeps the dining table clear

    Bookmark   May 25, 2010 at 12:41PM
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I went thru the same deliberations. We went with a single level countertop and it works well with our family. I love having the large space for projects (kids and cooking). We have a single chandelier in the center with 4 cans around the edge. We also installed tamper resistant angled plug mold under the overhang - 2 outlets on each side. I have all drawers so there was no room for outlets elsewhere. Some people have the pop up outlets but that wouldn't fly here to meet code. All our outlets have to be tamper resistant. Exuse the kitchen - still needs to be painted plus other things.

    Bookmark   May 25, 2010 at 1:45PM
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Our kitchen peninsula is single level. It's a great height for tasks like laying out patterns on fabric and wrapping packages, not to mention the cooking, serving, and school projects!

What our new peninsula will have that our old one didn't -- two spot lights. Don't know why the original didn't have any lights over it, but the two new cans light the space (8' x 3') very well, and that will make every task done there easier.

    Bookmark   May 25, 2010 at 4:36PM
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bostonpam Would you please tell me who the manufacturere of your chandalier is. Thanks

My vote is also single level. More uninterrupted space.

    Bookmark   May 25, 2010 at 5:21PM
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We just finished our kitchen and decided to go with a bilevel. With the layout of my kitchen it made sense. So far I am very happy with it.

    Bookmark   May 25, 2010 at 5:42PM
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irishcreamgirl - My kitchen chandeliers were a steal - about $110 each from Light and Leisure with my big volume discount and I did not have to pay for shipping. They're local here but you can get it on line too- I suggest if available (I bought other lights from them- they're great plus 10% off with code SPRING10). My chandelier is from Savoy house - Oxford series English bronze - I believe part number KP-103-5-13.

I see lighting direct has it in 6 lights in sunset bronze in the San Marcos collection (just a different color bronze) for $114 with discount. It's also available in 6 light English bronze
Savoy house other colors are Bryce and Diablo. HTH

Here is a link that might be useful: lightingdirect chandelier

    Bookmark   May 25, 2010 at 8:14PM
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Thanks for all the input! I am leaning towards a single level now. I really like the clean look.

    Bookmark   May 26, 2010 at 8:57AM
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