In my last house, the 11 x 12 room that was my kitchen had two windows, three doors, and a chimney. Needless to say, there wasn’t a lot of wall space for cabinets and counter space. In fact, there was only one decent stretch of counter space, about four feet long, to the left of the sink.
My then-husband wasn’t wild about the idea of an island—in his defense, it wasn’t a large kitchen—but once it was just me in the house, the kitchen island idea circled back around. I knew I could make it work, and I decided that I wanted to try building one, since I couldn’t really afford to buy one at the time. Besides, most of the ones I’d seen were too big, and the ones that were small enough to potentially fit were made with cheap materials. I wanted something sturdy and substantial.
Up to this point, my woodworking experience had been limited to building wall shelves, so the design would have to be simple, no drawers or anything. As long as there were a couple of shelves for storage, I’d be happy. I’d shopped the Habitat ReStore for other projects around the house, so I went looking one day for stuff to build my island. I didn’t really have a concrete design in mind, figuring that I would let the materials inspire the design—which is exactly what happened.
What I found were four stair treads and two short lengths of shelving board. The stair treads were about an inch and a half thick—good, solid pine, and already routed along one length, creating a bull-nosed effect. I thought that if I could join two of the treads together with the routed sides out, they could create the top of the island—sort of a butcher block look. I figured the other two could be joined in the same way and form the base. The shelving board could form the sides and interior shelf, and I had a piece of plywood at home that could be used for the back. I would need “bun feet” to raise the island off the floor, but otherwise, I was set.
Luckily, I had a friend who was a talented DIY woodworker and pretty much owned every power tool known to mankind. He kindly helped me plane the rough long sides of the stair treads and join them with biscuits; then he routed the short ends so that the bull-nosed edge went all the way around. Once this was done, I took the two “butcher-block” pieces home and, after sanding and sealing them with linseed oil, I measured and cut the sides, shelves, and back, and finally assembled my island. I painted the sides and the “feet” of the island white, to echo the paint finish of the existing kitchen cabinets, and I installed hooks on one end for potholders.
In the end, I spent $12 for the stair treads and shelving boards, $28 for the “feet” and the brackets needed to attach them, and around $6 for the linseed oil. I already had the plywood panel, hooks, and white paint, so my total cost for the island was under $50. Later, I added a curtain made of ticking fabric to enclose the open side—again, something I already had, so no cost.
Although my little island wasn’t perfect, and I’d probably do some things differently if I made it today, it was exactly what I needed, and a couple of years later when I sold the house, I was flattered when my realtor told me the buyers had asked if the island could convey with the house.
I said no, of course, and it moved with me to a temporary rental and eventually to my current house, where it no longer serves as an island but sits against a wall next to the fridge, still providing much-needed counter space and storage in my smallish galley kitchen. The island’s country style doesn’t really suit the style of my current kitchen (see budget kitchen fix), but I’ve been reluctant to change it, even though a darker stain and some paint would transform it. Maybe one day…or maybe I’ll just build an entirely new piece.