kitchen seating – your opinion please

by Sharon Santoni

table and benches in country kitchen

After several years’, procrastinating, I shall finally get a new kitchen this winter…… can you feel the quiet pleasure behind those few words?

I know why it has taken us so long to get around to the kitchen – it’s just such a busy place!  The kitchen is the hub of the house and it is kind of complicated to have it out of action with so many people to feed!  But now that there are fewer children here, it will be an easier project to manage.

I’m not looking for something big and fancy.    I’ll keep a country feel, in keeping with the setting and style of our house and of the way we live.  Today the kitchen is not a large room, the floor lay-out in these late 19th century French houses, is traditionally very simple and symmetrical, so the kitchen is just the north east corner of the ground floor.

We shall make it feel bigger by supporting a larger opening in the wall between the kitchen and dining room, which will allow us to enjoy the view of the fireplace from the kitchen and change cupboard space around, to include a sofa/armchair near the fire and increase the light in the room … it will be good.

One of the decisions I have to make is about the table/island in the kitchen part of the room.  There will be our large dining table in the dining area, and up to now I have always had a small round oak table in the kitchen.

kitchen island country style

I am tempted by the idea of an island at worktop height, with a couple of tall stools to pull out for breakfast or a morning coffee, or enjoying a glass of wine while the cooking is happening, but this is not a traditional French feature and I wonder if I would grow bored of that.

Who better to ask than my clever readers?!   I am sure many of you have beautiful kitchens with tall bar/counter/island in the middle and I would love to know how practical you find it.

island with seating in kitchen

Do you ever feel that visually it dominates the room too much?   Do you think it is a good use of space, and if so have you incorporated storage space at leg height?

My gut feeling is to use an old farm table in the kitchen area.  It could be quite long and narrow, with a bench on one side and mismatched wooden chairs on the other.  I can easily source these with the antique dealers I know around here, and it would fit our country style.  But is that bench going to drive me mad?  Will it always be in the way, will we knock our knees against it continually?


island with seating in kitchen

So if you have a minute today, and you have a kitchen-design tale that you would like to share, then I would love to hear from you and learn from your experience.  Merci!


all pictures via pinterest


Nancy November 3, 2014 - 2:46 pm

Dear Sharon,
We did our kitchen 11 years ago and boy did it need it. However, things I would change…I have a peninsula now, and though I need the storage in the corner, an island would have been lovely.
An island allows for a “flow” in the kitchen and isn’t just to pull up and eat at….
The original kitchen, had a “bar” for eating which since it was right next to the table wasn’t helpful at all, so we took it out rejoicing for more storage in its place.
A big family table is so much better than a “bar”….but, a big table, if the family isn’t there all the time…is a sad lonely place the rest of the time. I still prefer a table that expands for use when needed. This old table we have does that. It is just right for two as it is for 8 when we need it, we just add leaves…..
I can’t wait to see what you come up with. What you decide will be thrilling to see.
Be sure you have figured out where you will cook, wash and other kitchen things while the kitchen is out of order…..kitchens take quite a bit of time….

Gretchen M Bertman November 4, 2014 - 5:26 am

I love bar stools to pull into a kitchen space for a glass/cup or whatever and a chat. I have had to downsize but kept high seating for friends to join in the kitchen fun. For serious seating a long narrow table with mismatched chairs sounds great. You will have fun just finding them all. Enjoy your new project.
It will be perfect.

Diane Callender November 4, 2014 - 4:16 pm

Dear Sharon
I love the 4th picture the best. The blue is lovely have this colour in my lounge goes beautifully with light or dark kitchen units and copper pans look great hanging against this colour.
The long farmhouse table sounds wonderful but benches are a no no. Someone stands up you all stand up and the chances are the bench tips backwards. Individual chairs with lovely cushions always looks stunning.
But by now you may have already made your mind up, good luck!

Veena Devi Design November 3, 2014 - 2:51 pm

i prefer the look and feel of mismatched but comfy chairs…a kitchen bar is also fun and invites guests into the cooking experience…

Deborah November 3, 2014 - 2:51 pm

They are all beautiful, but I love the first picture the most.

Maria November 3, 2014 - 7:55 pm

I agree with Deborah, First picture is my pick. Color scheme perfect match, for your French Country Home!.

Karena November 3, 2014 - 2:54 pm

Sharon in a large kitchen, an island breaks up the space and becomes a gathering point people seems to love at dinner parties etc for that glass of wine and spreading some appetizers. You can also add drawers and pull outs for essentials. Have you looked at Pinterest boards for kitchens, there are some that may really inspire you!

The Arts by Karena

Lynda Bergmanl November 3, 2014 - 2:57 pm

I’m sure the new will be wonderful, too. But, I LOVE it the way it is. Looking forward to pictures of the new kitchen.

Carol Parden November 3, 2014 - 2:59 pm

For your home it seems a island with stools is too contemporary. The idea of a small table and a few chairs in the kitchen is a cozier way of enjoying early morning coffee and all the latest gossip while you create something wonderful to eat!

Sandy Fox November 3, 2014 - 2:59 pm

If I were you, living in what must be a wonderful older home, I would not even think of altering the feel of your home as you do your kitchen renovation. The idea of a more narrow farm table with chairs and bench seems a good fit. As for the bench, I would look for one that can slide under the table a bit when you are not needing it for seating. You’d eliminate the chance of bumping into it. Keep it rather rustic!!

Jenny Barton November 3, 2014 - 3:00 pm

I had a long bench at my kitchen table in a previous life, and it drove us all nuts – bruised shins as you walked past it, and getting in and out of it was a nightmare, whenever anyone wanted to sit down either everyone had to stand up to pull it away from the table or there was an inelegant display of leg as someone slotted in. Individual mismatched chairs much nicer and more practical. Also, I think every kitchen needs a perch – a quick coffee, or a glass of wine for a little pause.

Susan November 3, 2014 - 3:00 pm

If your kitchen will be somewhat open to the dining room and you have an ample sized dining table, I would opt for an island with storage. A marble top would make it ideal for rolling out dough and the base could be constructed with vintage pieces to enhance the country look you love. Also, a table in the kitchen is a bit low for food prep. Two overstuffed chairs by the fire would be lovely for morning coffee or a glass of wine in the evening. We have marble topped counters in our kitchen–Carrera on the perimeter and black marble on the island, and love it. Just gets better with age. But we almost never eat at the island.

jeri brain November 3, 2014 - 5:33 pm

we had black counter space in the kitchen and guest bath and it showed every speck of dust, very hard to keep ‘clean’… so i would never have black counter space anywhere… hugs

Madeline Margraves November 3, 2014 - 3:01 pm

Do not do the third picture. The raised part is a magnet for car keys, mail, iPads, wallets and household junk! Drives me crazy. I am always clearing if off as it is always a mess! Not pretty and cuts off the line of vision too. I like the idea of the work height island/ table with bar stools when needed for seating during a cooking class !!!!!!

Sandra Lambiotte November 3, 2014 - 3:04 pm

How exciting for you to be working on a new kitchen! In our previous home (our dream home that we built) we had a really large kitchen with a farm table. Loved it from the very beginning and miss it very much today. The table easily seated 6 and could accommodate 8 without any problem. I think for comfort I would prefer chairs to the bench, although I do love the look of the benches. Instead of an island in our large kitchen, we had a really large butchers block. Loved it! We lived in this home for 23 years and I wouldn’t have changed anything in the kitchen.

I will be anxious to see your design as I know it will be just lovely! Have fun and enjoy the process, the result will be worth your work.


Denise November 3, 2014 - 3:08 pm

Sharon, you know exactly what to do. You’ve already told us….. I’m an interior designer and your idea with a farm table surrounded by a bench and chairs is perfect, classic, the most useful. I would also suggest not using any upper cabinets or, if so, very few. They’re basically just boxes taking up valuable space. A large walk in pantry, if you have the space, is the greatest use of space. An armoire to store linens, china, and silver.

Sandra Lambiotte November 3, 2014 - 5:40 pm

Your ideas sound lovely. Tell us about countertops. I love marble but have heard dreadful stories about marble in the kitchen.


Denise November 4, 2014 - 4:47 am

When my clients request marble, I often steer them toward quartzite, which can mimic marble and be quite beautiful. Quartzite if stronger than granite and very easy care. If a client truly wants marble, I recommend that the counter be sealed. Marble is beautiful, but one has to be prepared to have stains and some aging, which is beautiful as well in its own right.

Sandra Lambiotte November 4, 2014 - 6:15 pm

Thank you Denise. I am one of those who truly loves marble and I also think the loved and use look it will, over time receive, are beautiful.

Caroline Longstaffe November 3, 2014 - 3:09 pm

I also love the first picture the best! When I redid our kitchen we put in a large island ( too large!) and it has storage both sides but no seating, something I regret. If I were redoing my kitchen and if I had an island I would look for a freestanding piece which could be relocated! I have seen some fabulous oversized antique pieces, including butchers blocks which have been cleverly modified to have cupboards etc beneath them. If storage is not an issue they also look great with large baskets below, although somewhat of a dust trap! Good luck I am sure whatever you decide will be stunning!

Gina November 3, 2014 - 3:18 pm

Dear Sharon, Your gut feeling is right on. An old farm table. In my kitchen the old farm table is of moderate size but will fit 4 people comfortably on antique stools which slide under the table when not in use. My table also has a white metal top, perfect for kneading bread, rolling out pasties, making noodles, or setting up a buffet, even ready for a few craft ideas,, etc. When not in use and with a pretty cloth and a bowl of fruit and a few flowers, it always looks welcoming.
Most of all, enjoy the process. I know that you will come up with the perfect and most beautiful solution.

Nancy November 3, 2014 - 3:10 pm

I’ve had a counter-height kitchen island with four barstools for thirty years. It’s the one thing in the entire kitchen that was not changed when the kitchen was remodeled in 2010. It’s invaluable for food preparation, serving, dining, and chatting with the cook!

I would not elevate the barstool side of the counter (as shown in the third photo above), as that will make serving from the island awkward. The only exception to this recommendation would be if your island will open onto the primary living space in your house. In that case, elevating the side of the island with the barstools will be useful for concealing kitchen disarray from the living area.

I definitely recommend using every inch of the island’s under-counter space for storage. Drawers and/or a second oven are your best bet. And, yes, I do believe the bench at the table will drive you mad.

Leslie November 3, 2014 - 3:13 pm

Hi Sharon, About a year ago we downsized and moved into a second home we owned that is 30 years old. For the past 8 months we’ve been rebuilding .. The trend back in the day was lots of separate rooms (living, dinning, kitchen, etc..) We decided to knock the walls down in the main living area and create a great room with a huge vaulted ceiling. We had custom cabinetry build which included an island ~ all with white calacutta marble. The island acts as a room divider and also provides additional seating. We also have a large farm house table with chairs only ~ no benches. It’s a long process and there are so many decisions to make. We are still in the midst of the final part of construction and I’m looking forward to the end result. Have fun!

Sandi Oliverio November 3, 2014 - 3:16 pm

I agree with Susan. If you are opening the space to your dining room, with a long table, I think an island for additional work surface or to pull up a stool would be great.

We opened the wall to what was the living room, but now a dining room and added more
cupboards in the kitchen. I still felt like I wanted more prep area and opted for a small island with a stainless top. It is very handy and brings that eclectic feel that I like in every room. I store my stainless bowls and cookware on the two slatted shelves below. This makes them handy for use as well as attractive.

Emm November 3, 2014 - 3:28 pm

Lovely pictures. I’ve found that galley-style is best for food prep and working in — an island gives that extra counter space close by but not closing you in. An old farmhouse table or a built island-table, as in the last picture, can work well.

Of the pictures you show, the last seems to be the most workable. Agreed that the raised counter — while currently chic — is a clutter magnet.

I don’t favor bench seating — it’s awkward to get in and out of, the person in the middle gets squished, and it’s not welcoming or comfortable. Seating with backs on if you want people to be happy and linger.

Terrie Bentle November 3, 2014 - 3:32 pm

My husband and I remodeled his family homestead(finished last year) that was finished being built in 1912, by hand by his grandfather. We had to have it redone top to bottom including electricity and water system.
I looked at all sorts of islands, and decided on a flat center one that is in keeping with the style of the house. I do not like the 2 level ones, they take away workspace and chop up the look of the room and the visual flow. I would pick a whitewashed wood and a marble counter top to keep the French farm house look.

Terrie Bentle November 5, 2014 - 1:39 pm

One thing I forgot to mention was your cabinet shelves. Make them either drawers or pull out shelves. These make storage and finding things much easier!

Colleen Martin November 3, 2014 - 3:41 pm

Benches are great on one side particularly for kids of any age because they can pop on and off of it quickly where getting in and out of a chair takes more effort. I also like a large table down the center of a kitchen instead of an island if there is adequate storage elsewhere in the kitchen or huge pantry. I like all my chairs to match.

Peggy November 3, 2014 - 3:43 pm

I have a counter with bar stools in my kitchen but I have also turned my breakfast area into a small sitting area with a couch and coffe table. This seems to be where my visitors gravitate when I am cooking. I love to see them so comfortable as they sip their wine and talk with me while I’m cooking. The bar stools are only used when I have more people than can fit on the couch in the kitchen with me . Therefore the picture of the island (looks to be a distressed blue )with the couch in the distance appeals to me the most.

Madonna/aka/Ms. Lemon November 3, 2014 - 4:03 pm

Sharon, I know you do not realize what little pearls you present with each post, but I have learned so much about family and myself just by reading your posts. The first photo is a picture much like my grandmother’s kitchen. While I was not aware at the time, it is a little reminder of how French she was. In all the kitchens I was ever in growing up I never saw one like hers. Not one had a bench. You brought back warm memories of all the meals we had setting on that bench. Whatever decision you make I am sure it will be lovely.

Stephanie Guillory November 3, 2014 - 4:03 pm

In my home I have a large, farmhouse table with benches in my kitchen, Everyone gathers there and many people can help with food prep or just sit to visit while cooking is taking place.
When I visited a friend in Provence last summer the set up was similar. That big old farmhouse table was what made that kitchen French to us Americans.
I’m so sure you will have a new beautiful kitchen and hope you will share the pictures with us.

Agnes Baboo November 3, 2014 - 4:07 pm

IMHO a kitchen must be more convenient/usefull than beautiful.
But if you may as well kill two birds with one stone… it’d be perfect !
My choice : #1 and #2.

Agnes Baboo November 3, 2014 - 4:22 pm

It seems too narrow to eat on picture #3.
Center island doens’t allow to seat neither to place legs on picture #4.

Katherine November 3, 2014 - 4:19 pm

The kitchen is the hub of the house and having an island grounds the space. I have a double apron farm sink in mine – as well as the recycling/garbage closet hidden and the dishwasher hidden. I love having these tools together – it streamlines the process of food prep.
We kept the island all one height instead of ‘stepping’ the counter up and it works very well like this for anything we may need. We cantilevered the marble counter out on one end so that stools could be tucked under. I find when we have a gathering of people they will sit up and chat while I cook or it’s the perfect spot each day for me to enjoy morning coffee. With an electric plug tucked under this area I can sit with my laptop {and blog}.
We made the island big enough to have cabinets underneath on one side – sink, etc on one side, cabinets on the other. A great looking sink and taps are a must if you put them on the island. I used Rubinet Ravens.

Jeanne McKay Hartmann November 3, 2014 - 4:21 pm

Hi Sharon, Congratulations on your project – it sounds great, love hearing about your plans. We have an island in our kitchen, and we do spend a lot of time at it – I paint there sometimes, we eat dinner there some nights and I set up appetizers and drinks there when we entertain, so that I can be part of the action while I put finishing touches on dinner. But I think in your home, a big farm table just sounds right – it’s what I would like to have if I lived in a French Country Home with lots of cozy style. That’s my two cents – I’m sure whatever you do will be lovely! XOXO

Angela Muller November 3, 2014 - 5:28 pm


I’ve lived in kitchens without islands and kitchens with islands, and I would never live in a kitchen without an island again. The island is where the magic happens; where you can face your guests/family as you prepare meals; where you can sit and relax for a moment while all that is happening; it is the heart of any kitchen. My current kitchen is small, yet I have a butcher block island located 30″ from the sink and stove; and that is where all prep takes place, as I laugh with family and friends. You will be the envy of all your French friends if you include an island in your kitchen. Large or small, you will wonder how you ever did without one. Good luck! Angela Muller

Kathy Tucker January 1, 2015 - 3:32 pm

How big is your butcher block island? We are remodelling a small kitchen and I am having trouble wrapping my head around having an island with sink that we eat at or going with a smaller island in the center of the room.

Connie Golden January 2, 2015 - 3:59 am

We had a counter with sink that you ate at and we hated it. An Island is much better

Sherry November 3, 2014 - 5:30 pm

I used to have a “sit at” island and found it to be too convenient to serve lunches and dinners there instead of at the dinner table for just the two of us. I like the second photo, for the small table convenience in the kitchen to chat with friends while cooking, but the fourth photo with all the extra work space and storage makes me envious because I love to bake! Sharon, your forte is creativity so make it your own…it will be lovely! Cant wait to see it! 🙂

Marian from UK November 3, 2014 - 5:32 pm

Hi Sharon. Difficult decision! I like the idea of an island with storage under part and space for stools, but definitely not a raised portion. But if you have an island, I think the suggestion of a comfy coffee table area to sit for a quick break while cooking, breakfast or for visitors to sit and chat to you while you cook, is a must. If you choose the materials carefully, you can still keep the farmhouse feel even with an island. Depending on what activities you would use the island for, a solid wood worktop on that, even if not in the rest of the kitchen, could give that farmhouse country feel and a cross between a table and an island, whereas granite or marble are more formal (although beautiful) and can be colder. Either comfy chairs and wooden table or a bistro look table and chairs for that coffee corner, would also enhance the country feel.
Whatever you decide will be right, but I would never never have a bench!! Fraught with undignified problems!! Chairs it would have to be! Good luck and enjoy.

Pamela Bolton November 3, 2014 - 5:35 pm

Congratulations on getting to start the new kitchen process. I prefer the first picture as it seems to match you and your home the best. I am anti benches without backs. For young children they are good, but adults are more comfortable in a chair. Also if you intend to use the table as an additional work surface, it is so much easier to move chairs than a bench. Can’t wait to see your completed new old kitchen.

Linda Perry November 3, 2014 - 5:48 pm

I’m short and have always hated the tall stools and extra high counter in some peoples homes or bars. I have to leap up and down- it’s so much easier to just sit in a chair at a table than to be perched up so high .

Cheryl November 3, 2014 - 6:34 pm

I’m with you on this Linda!

JeanFB November 3, 2014 - 6:14 pm

I have a long rectangular kitchen island with room for two stools at one of the short ends (that opens into the breakfast area and family room). It is all one height (that is, it does *not* have two levels, one for prep and one for a bar area like in the one photo). Anyone who comes into the house immediately gravitates to those stools. Someone is always, always sitting there as I cook or prep. It’s so natural. We don’t ever really eat or snack there though. The stools do not get in the way because they are at the family room end. The island is filled with drawers, not cabinet doors – now that I’ve had drawers for storage, I will never go back! Just sharing my own experience for what it’s worth. Have fun with your remodel!!!

Marty November 3, 2014 - 6:31 pm

Coming from having spent a decade in the kitchen design business:
I think that it is hard to beat a couple of counter height (not 42″ or 45″ bar ht) stools
at an island. It helps with food prep, with conversations with others during food prep
(vs having one or a couple of guests further away around a table).

Another comment referenced the cons of a raised counter area for seating at an island, I would concur: it becames somewhat of a barrier (visually and emotionally) in the room and, actually, children sometimes feel a little less safe on the raised stools required for this condition. But as you know, one eventually gets used to whatever condition is presented
and there is no “one size fits all” in that realm of decision-making. Good luck.

victoria November 3, 2014 - 6:44 pm

Wow – lots of comments; I’ll be amazed if you ever get down to my reply! I’ve had two islands, one (Ikea) in a large converted barn where it provided a very useful divide btw kitchen and dining; we lived at the island for informal meals, after-school chat and pre-dinner drinks. Now, in our ‘new’ (200 year old) Bath townhouse, we inherited a peninsula (see comment above) which I pulled out (we had to tank the whole kitchen and the tired orange pine and liable black granite – also see above! – had to go) to be replaced by floor level units and a square island – this time I got to design it; it’s square to fit the space, with a drawer on the dining side for all the dining cutlery, with two stools under and a drawer and cupboard on the kitchen side, for cooking utensils etc. It is equally popular with whoever happens to be in the kitchen with me as well as a place to pass, pause, prep, etc. The main difference in your choice is height. I would NOT have another table with bench and chairs unless you are looking for another dining area; they are different things. The island allows you to perch, lean, chat, sit etc. The table requires you to sit – and all that entails. Also, I agree about no wall cupboards; one long open shelf works well for feature pieces, platters, dishes, art, etc. and doing away with wall units takes the kitchen from hemmed in workplace to a relaxing, open space where family and guests alike feel welcome.

Julie Cone November 3, 2014 - 6:50 pm

The 1st picture is just so lovely and warm. I love having a big ole kitchen table- we solve the world’s problems at ours 🙂 . The tall “bar” with barstools -pic 3 -seems too modern and trendy with no history for your beautiful home – much more suited for a New York sleek apartment. Is there any room to incorporate a small taller wine-type table for two, tucked in a corner away from the gathering farm table, just perfect for that lone cup of coffee in the morning, or as a perch for someone and their aperitif watching you cook dinner?

Rose Blamey November 3, 2014 - 6:52 pm

Hi Sharon
How wonderful for you that this project is now going to get under way.
An island can create a wonderful workspace and seating space for family and guests. We have a 9′ long island in our kitchen. At one end we have a small prep sink and 3 sets of 3′ wide drawers, one of these drawers has been allotted as a spice drawer. At the other end we have made it look like a table but the counter top is one continuous piece which creates a wonderful work space. We also had a table in our old kitchen before we renovated. We were concerned about losing the table but now that we have our island we haven’t missed it at all. I think when making your design decisions practicality, good use of space and design esthetic are all important thoughts to consider. Have fun!

Susan Umberger November 3, 2014 - 6:53 pm

In my kitchen redo, we built an island that was L shaped. On leg of the L has granite, the other slightly shorter leg has butcher block. Cabinets with pullout shelves and drawers are on the kitchen side, while up to four stools are on the other side. Both sides are open to my dining area,which has a table for eight, and my living room,with comfy sofa, chairs and a fireplace. I can’t envision being without the stools, they have leather seats and backs, and are the first places guest head for. We also eat frequent meals there when it is just husband and myself. I personally hate to sit on benches for more than two; they are uncomfortable without backs, and getting up from them involves disturbing others and is a process I hate. Invariably the host does not sit there, so they never know how people really feel about them! You can mismatch your stools, or go more rustic in your cabinetry, to capture any mood you want.

May November 3, 2014 - 7:03 pm

Early Congratulations for the new kitchen!

An island at with high stools, with backs, brings the level of interaction with the space to a place that is thoughtful, adventurous, and versatile. If there is the chance to have that, then I say go for it. A fireplace in a kitchen is another element that expands the soul of a room’s function. Dream and make them come true. Good luck!

Joanne A November 3, 2014 - 7:23 pm

I renovated my 2007 new built home in 2010. Some thought I was crazy. I love it! I have an island with a raised bar that hides the sink from our dining area. This has become our eating area of choice for most meals, as there are only the two of us at home now. We also have a great view of the garden in the ever changing seasons. I would highly recommend a seating/prep area in your new kitchen. It is a gathering place for your company as you cook, great place to enjoy a cuppa (or a glass of vino) with a friend, to serve your sweets to your book club, and even to decorate for the holidays without being in the way. I look forward to seeing what you do. I know it will be lovely.

Kathryn November 3, 2014 - 7:37 pm

I can’t add to the commentary, but am so glad for this post as hubby and I are planning our first custom home and I’m right now in the Kitchen design phase. I am so inspired and tutored by all the comments. Thanks to all

Lynne Redding November 3, 2014 - 7:41 pm

Oh how I love to talk about kitchen renovations. After many years of renting and renovating someone else’s kitchen, I finally bought my own home and concentrated on the “hub” of the house, my kitchen. It is not a big kitchen, as you describe yours, so my major objective was storage, storage, storage….with a major touch of practically, and keeping in the style of the “modern” French Country style of my decor AND my penchant for baking, canning and cooking.

You are so right on target with a COUNTER level island that will serve many purposes…storage on the bottom, work space on top to roll out those pastry doughs, a serving station for the large buffet holiday dinners, AND seating all around so friends and family can gather (at eye level…so much more cozy and intimate) sip wine and share stories as you prepare meals. And it is way more in fitting and age appropriate with your magnificent 18th century home than a raised counter.

Maybe the bottom can be a wonderful antique aged buffet (or better yet, if you’ve the space, TWO of them back to back) with a fantastic piece of marble atop. (Slightly round those corners to prevent bruising when bumped into!)

I agree with all that a raised counter is unfriendly, eye obstructing, and way too modern an idea for your home’s style and age.

Can’t wait to see the progress…would you post pictures as the renovation proceeds?

Happy Construction (that’s an oxymoron isn’t it?)
Lynne Redding

PS. One of my favorite additions to my new kitchen was a doggy dining center built into the bookshelves that house my large collection of cookbooks.

Francoise Coadou-Porter November 3, 2014 - 9:59 pm

Kitchen bench height is standard at 90cm
I am short , but have now done 4 kitchens ( in 4 different houses) at 1 meter high. Much more confortable for your back, a few of my friends have followed my advice and all enjoy the comfort of that 10cm higher
For the 3rd time I used Caesar stone as bench tops ( man made with resin and stone)
I bought an old comptoir while in France, patined it in the greys, added a zinc top cover with a 10cm overhang and 2 stools
Great look to go with vintage French furniture and although slightly high for me ( taller than kitchen benches) it is a focal social point while I am in the kitchen
I now have returned from France and back living in Sydney

Diana November 3, 2014 - 10:13 pm

After building three homes with three gourmet kitchens in the last twelve years, I will add my two cents to the sizable number of great comments you have already received:
The stepped height counter sounds great, but, unfortunately does not operate as well as a regular flat counter-height island.
I had stepped counters in one home and our guests were forever accidentally pushing items off to break onto the lower counter.
Make the island as large as the room allows with pull out drawers on the work side. Pull out drawers are a huge boom as we get older when we can’t craw to the back of cabinets to retrieve pans, bowls, etc.
Place four (or more if the size allows) sturdy-quality comfortable counter stools on the non-work side and on the ends, again, if there is space.
Add good functional lighting above (three or four pendant lights) with a dimmer for dining or tasks.
Finally, as in most homes everyone wants to be in the kitchen. When we built our last home the island was the center of the kitchen. It measured four feet in width and just over ten feet in length. There is space to roll out, cut, dice, pound and any other task that is necessary, as well as space to easily present a satisfying meal. Our guests often get in the act. While the rest of our guests are there to share stories and recipes and…

Donna Ritchie November 3, 2014 - 10:38 pm

I hope my two cents is worth at least two cents, but I had to get in on the conversation because I love the function of my designed kitchen. It is a newer home and I have the island in the middle of the U-work area (stove, sink, refrigerator) and I also have a higher extended bar area separating the kitchen table area. With just me and my husband only home now, we eat most of our meals at the bar and when daughters do come home or we have a large family gathering, guests love to sit at the bar and watch me cook. The bar area is also nice for holidays or parties, giving guests extra space for a glass of wine or a dinner plate. With all the new techniques of painting and glazing, you can make a bar look very old and vintage. I hope this helps. Best wishes for a successful design!

Colleen Taylor November 3, 2014 - 10:39 pm

How exciting for you! This is such a personnel matter that is subject to taste & ones lifestyle Sharon. I’ve had kitchen islands for a very long time & frankly don’t know what I’d do without one. I think having another sink in the island (a smaller one than the main sink) is extremely handy. Bar stools to me are a necessity. Trust your gut instincts, you know what’s best for you.

linda koenig November 3, 2014 - 10:56 pm

Create a kitchen/hearth room in your new space! One dining table with chairs, comfy stuffed chairs, an island with comfy seats and storage space underneath, cupboards or even chests of drawers for linens and serveware. Perhaps you could even find a piece of furniture to use as the island? How nice to have a place close to the food (and the cook!) I love projects as you describe.

Susan Threlkeld November 3, 2014 - 11:26 pm

My ceramic cooktop is in my island and because the original owners did not have granite installed that would give work space, I find the island awkward to use. Plus, you are constantly walking around an island. I love the look, but tend to wish I had the galley kitchen from our first home~such saved steps.
But, the extra storage is wonderful! Good luck with whatever you decide. Will be anxious to see the end results.

A bench at the table is hard to maneuver, particularly for “Senior Citizens”.

Lindi Breton November 3, 2014 - 11:34 pm

You must go with a table, not an island. Both are wonderful, but a table is the French way. Remember why you are taking on this challenge. The quiet moments, the love of family, home and others. The table is so important. You will not tire of it, and you will build memories that will strengthen you when you are older. An island does not feed you the same way. Islands are lovely, but they are not tables. Your kitchen must reflect the essence of you, not just what is convenient to work harder or more efficiently. The bathtub, the table and the bed- three items you need to use to fill your soul. It is the French way.

Lee November 4, 2014 - 12:11 am

So much depends on how much counter space you would like/need in your kitchen. If you have enough, a lovely table is the answer. If you would like more, along with additional storage, a well designed island, using the right materials is the answer. I have a soapstone topped island, with seating on two sides – it’s the favorite gathering spot in the kitchen. I needed the extra workspace and storage as I eliminated all upper cabinets and used open shelving. I definitely would stay away from a bench if you do decide to go with the table. They are awkward to get in and out, and not comfortable. It’s difficult not to cave, as they are so charming to look at. Love photo number 1. It would be very easy to design a lovely island using old wood and soapstone or a lovely antique marble. Good luck. We are all waiting to hear and see what you choose. I’m sure it will be lovely.

Dianne November 4, 2014 - 1:17 am

My last home had a peninsula which had the sink in it. I hated washing dishes on one end while serving food at the other. Water splatters and just looked messy. I’m building a home now and my island will have nothing on top except the beautiful counter. No sink or stove to be messy when visiting with friends, serving wine or dinner.

sharon November 4, 2014 - 1:52 am

If room allows both. It is nice to have people at the island as you can chat while cooking and it is wonderful to sit at a table with family and friends. The first and third option would work well together. If I had to choose, Table.

La Contessa November 4, 2014 - 2:22 am

I like BOTH ideas!TALL ISLAND or long narrow table No bench as it will get in the way!The island would become your ART CANVAS…….You will have a floral arrangement no doubt on top of it every day!It would be very handy……….plus if it had a shelf or two below what GREAT storage!If you are opening the wall you really only NEED that one table………….in the dining area.AFter writing this I think ISLAND.Very practical for storage,plus chopping area……..and FLORAL ARRANGEMENT!

Lisa November 4, 2014 - 2:42 am

I love the idea of a bench or table for friends or family to sit at while you cook. My friends refuse to sit outside and wait for me to serve them we all sit together and chat and drink while I cook and chop asking what’s that djs what are doing now etc. I love it. You could always put a large marble top on the old desk or table you use to create an overhang so you won’t bang your knees when sitting down. Good luck with your choice! On another note I love your blog and as I’ve moved from countryside to beachside and building a house I’ve decided to try and do a blog so my friends can keep up to date on what we’re doing. Thank you for being so inspiring.

Deb November 4, 2014 - 4:22 am

I like your idea of purchasing an old wooden table and putting seating on only one side. I like Lisa’s idea about putting marble on top. That would work for the wooden island/work benches that you show above. With those you couldn’t sit comfortably.

Anna Smith November 4, 2014 - 4:22 am

Hello there Sharon,
Just love receiving your emails; thank you.

Tiny hint after disaster with our kitchen….

**Bench in centre of room on wheels/coasters, so that when you do need extra room…VOILA…
***ABSOLUTELY “NO” SINK, or DISHWASHER, in the middle of the bench which would be in the center of the kitchen…UGH!! (endless glassware, mugs, dirty dishes, pots’n’pans=unsightly)!

!Good luck..
I’d love to renovate again, alas, am unable…However, do let us see what you’ve decided…
Cheers from Australia
A xx

Annie Vanderven November 4, 2014 - 4:27 am

Just redid my kitchen, it had dark cabinets and now it is all white with granite counters, made the island in the middle, with a lower height than the rest of the counters, as I am short !!!! much easier on my back when I cook, no sink there either, as I use this island as a buffet ,when we have casual meals.Beige stones on the floor, no benches for me, years ago had one and it was very impractical with children always wanting to move around.. Have a round table with sides which can come down when we are alone , kept an old buffet from Holland … and lined the windows with bamboo shades… and as a good French woman I put a lot of plates on the walls…. Am so glad the work is over….
Annie v.

Jean November 4, 2014 - 5:12 am

All the pictures are gorgeous but I still like the first picture.

Esther George November 4, 2014 - 6:29 am

Hi Sharon, my home is 29 yrs old when we had it built I didn’t think through all my excitement how the height of the working area was too much for me and one of these days when I can afford it, there will be no bar stools and breakfast bars (absolutely hate them) sorry but you see I have never been comfortable in my kitchen. So I would dearly love and dream of a setting in photograph 1 & 2 to me they are so inviting I would never leave. Thank you for sharing warmth, comfort, beauty (the heart of the home). Till next time Regards Esther from Sydney. PS I’m only 4′ 10″ and people say as you age Ahhhh you get shorter really….how rude.

Jan Smith November 4, 2014 - 10:31 am

Hi Sharon,

I’ve had eight kitchens (in eight different houses). The most sociable and efficient kitchens were the ones with an island bench. My present kitchen was designed on the principles that Jonny Grey explains in his beautiful books; my island has two different heights, making it less imposing in the space.

Do incorporate some seating (this too can be at different levels) even if its only a stool for you while you’re chopping the vegetables.

Please have a look at Jonny Greys books. His ideas are so creative and so sensible – and can be translated into any style, using any materials.


Catherine November 4, 2014 - 10:54 am

I have an “American” kitchen in my unusual home (former village showers, then a restaurant, then a home). There is a very wide counter with a lip for a “bar” on the dining area side, and three chairs. The countertops are all in Caunes marble, very beautiful, and they really elevate having a combined living/dining/kitchen space.
Pluses: the wide counter/bar are great for cookie making, etc. Also, when friends are over, it’s a good place to lay out the apero, or for them to hang out while I’m preparing to serve dinner–and I’m not shut in the kitchen like some traditional housewife. Daughter has breakfast there, and we tend to use it for lunches when it’s too cold to eat outside.
Minuses: without a higher bar, you can see the entire kitchen from the dining table, and in the middle of a dinner party it’s usually a mess.
BTW: do not get a bench! A friend has a church pew, which allows her to squeeze in more people at the table. It kills my back. Everybody on it is trapped there all evening, because getting in and out is so difficult. Stepdaughter has a bench, which is worse, because there’s no back to lean against. Have comfortable seats!!!!!!

Sue@CountryDesignHome November 4, 2014 - 11:25 am

Congrats on finally remodeling your kitchen! If it is anything like our remodel, be prepared for lots of waiting, decision-making and plaster dust in every room of your home! I love the final photo- rustic island with drawers for storage. We have an island and everyone gathers there no matter what the occasion. A couple of suggestions: only place stools where you would want folks to sit while you are prepping food-people tend to congregate in a circle and if the side of the island nearest the sink and fridge has seating, then you will have no prep and serve space! Secondly, the double-tier look tends to be very high so isolates people instead of inviting them in. Also, the top tier is typically quite narrow, so not enough room to actually hold dinner plates, etc. Can’t wait to see the amazing finished product!

Brenda November 4, 2014 - 2:01 pm

I am in love with the first picture. You should go with your instinct and use the farm table with bench and chairs. If the bench can be pushed under the table when not in use it shouldn’t be a problem. If , after trying it out for a while, it doesn’t work out, use the bench elsewhere and add more chairs.

Also, it I were redoing my kitchen island, I would make it a little lower. I am short and should have included a lower work surface in my kitchen when we built 28 years ago.

Angela De Marco Manzi November 4, 2014 - 3:47 pm

I love love love the first (top) view.

Teresa November 4, 2014 - 4:22 pm

I recommend looking at the blog for ideas and beautiful images. She has very detailed posts of the remodeling and workings of her kitchen and adjoining breakfast room (even including posts on the organization of her kitchen drawers). More American farmhouse style architecture but full of lovely French antiques. She does have an island but no bar seating. I currently have an island with seating opposite the double wall ovens and it can be difficult to get into the ovens when people are seated. Also I would think about the width of an island—too wide and you’re constantly walking around it.

Good luck! Can’t wait to see it.

home before dark November 4, 2014 - 5:02 pm

I don’t like stools in my work area so planned several spots adjacent to the main kitchen where people can sit and drink but be out of my way. I also made my worktops taller than average even though I am only 5’4″. It’s easier on my back and my 6’5″ husband appreciates the height as well. Go with your heart. You’ll make the right choices for you.

Sharon November 4, 2014 - 6:49 pm

Hi Sharon, so many comments, so many choices….so many people giving you advice when many have not stepped inside your home. From what I can see on your blog you have an exquisite home, an old home with lots of history. Forget about what other people are telling you to do about your kitchen redesign, what is your home telling you to do? Homes with a history, of a certain age, cry out to be handled in a more delicate and simplistic and authentic way. Good luck with your journey. Sharon

mazdauk November 4, 2014 - 7:14 pm

I love the first picture, just wish my kitchen was big enough! Loving all the comments, very inspiring for my forthcoming renovation next yesr. For me, I would look for an old bar for the middle (or make one with reclaimed wood/furniture) with stools on the “guest” side and storage on “my” side.

Nat November 4, 2014 - 9:32 pm

Je suis impatiente de voir le résultat de votre choix en terme d’organisation et de décoration, car je suis sure que votre cuisine aura beaucoup de charme! Je me permets de vous transmettre un conseil recueilli auprès de cuisiniers professionnels sur l’organisation de l’espace de travail : plan en L et pas plus de 3 mètres entre les 2 extrémités (froid, évier, cuisson), l’espace doit être compact pour éviter les pas inutiles et bien organiser son travail.
Quant aux chaises, les praticiens de Qi Gong vous diront que l’on prend l’énergie du sol par la plante des pieds, et pour se relaxer, il faut pouvoir poser la plante des pieds bien à plat par terre et bouger les jambes pour une meilleure circulation sous les genoux! (donc au revoir les chaises hautes pas relaxantes du tout contrairement à l’impression qu’elles dégagent avec leur côté “cool au bar”). D’ailleurs n’avez vous pas remarqué que les restaurants qui ne veulent pas que les gens s’attardent à table, mettent des chaises hautes pour un plus grand turnover (il y en a de plus en plus dans les quartiers de bureaux et les restaurants d’entreprises).
Voilà donc mon petit grain de sel au milieu de ceux de toutes vos lectrices. En vous souhaitant bon courage pour ce projet bien enthousiasmant, bien amicalement.

Lynn November 5, 2014 - 1:30 pm

I like your plan, except I would never want to sit on the bench (with no back to lean against.) Love the idea of mismatched chairs, which have been loved in a home before…

Diana Packer November 5, 2014 - 5:19 pm

You are receiving so many wonderful options. Having just purchased a farm house/harvest style table WITH benches (for my kitchen). I could not be any happier. I am not the sit back and relax in a chair kind of diner…..I just sit up straight on the end of the chair/bench whatever, so benches work great for me (and us). My grandchildren are getting older so benches are ideal for them. I just dont’ like it when the big kids sit in a chair and rock it back onto the back 2 legs. Yikes. I think that a bench(s) with a couple of old chairs would be a great choice for you…..the best of both worlds and that’s a great frenchy look besides.

Cynthia Sambeat November 5, 2014 - 10:32 pm


I have to say that I like your idea of the long, narrow table with bench and chairs. If possible, find a trestle table as they don’t have legs to interfere and you can then tuck the bench in when not in use. I don’t like to sit at islands and feel you would definitely get tired of it and, most importantly, you do not face your dining partner! I like to see someone across from me while I dine. In my own kitchen we have a cozy booth that everyone loves to sit in and an oval table.

Deborah D November 6, 2014 - 12:48 am

I love my hugh kitchen island. My stove is in it and has work space all around. At one end are stools for eating and under one long side are shelves for cookbooks and such. You can pull up stools on that side too if needed. I also have outlets all around the long sides. That was a wonderful idea and so useful. It is a great place for serving buffet style as nd traffic can walk completely around without getting in each other’s way.

cindy November 6, 2014 - 1:47 am

My first preference for the kitchen would be a rectangular table. Had a bench with a table once when my kids were little & it got dragged around so much that the weight of it did a number on the flooring. Not sure I’d recommend a bench with kids. Peninsulas seem to be a block to the flow of traffic. And that corner area — hard to get things into and out of. The island/bar combo has always looked like a 70’s car with a spoiler on the back to me…though we just sold a home with one, and we did use it every now & then. Besides the looks, it was just an ‘extra’ thing to have to climb up on a high bar stool…never noticed that my legs were THAT short (5’6″). Our home now has a rectangular flat island with no sink, cooktop, or anything on it. Talk about a used space. THAT is the way to go — it has been the busiest workspace in our home for just about everything from day one. Now we are building a home with a large flat island with a sink on one end of it. I guess we are combining the functionality of a flat island with the need for a sink to be placed there. Still like a rectangular table somewhere in the kitchen.

Teresa November 6, 2014 - 2:12 am

Love the “spoiler” analogy—hilarious!

mary November 6, 2014 - 11:49 am

I have a tiny kitchen in a very old (1803) colonial brick home. I am vertically challenged (5 ft). My hubby built me the sweetest island for my work station. It is the first time in my life that my work area is at a comfortable hight. The island does take up a most of the space in this little area, but there was still room for a small breakfast table near the window. And we never feel it is in the way, or something to bump into. It is the perfect place to set groceries, and one can pull up a chair (although it’s short). It holds all of my baking bowls, rolling pins, and flour/sugar canisters, etc. So my vote is for the third picture. And be sure it’s your size! Good luck.

Dawn Johnson November 15, 2014 - 8:45 pm

We did a kitchen remodel four years ago, long overdue. I didn’t have a clue how to go about it but one little step at a time and it all came together. It’s a hard process especially being without a kitchen for a couple of months but in the end soo worth it. I wasn’t thinking “decor” or motif just wanted more room and an update. Like many of your other readers, we had a long bar with cabinets overhead. We needed it for work space and storage but it really chopped the kitchen up and you had to bend down to talk to someone on the other side of the bar. Now we do have a really big island 5’x5′ with a prep sink. I have no regrets. Even though it’s not a traditional french feature I have a pot rack over it which is very handy and not in the way. It’ my work space with the sink and trash bin right there. I chose a big range rather than a cooktop because I really liked the traditional look of that. In my house everyone seems to gather in the kitchen so I love all the room around the island. I have traditional rusch seated ladder chairs around it so it feels french, a hammered copper look splash guard behind the range with utensils hanging. I love when I cook having my stuff right there to use. I made sure the space between the island and the counters were wide enough so two people could pass easily without having to move out of each others’ way. My son is a cordon bleu grad and I love when he and I get to cook together and there is ample room for that. When my kitchen was complete I bought some books on country french kitchens and I feel like I have instinctively created the perfect “French” kitchen for me. I know upper cabinets are not traditionally French either but I really wanted the storage so I think some things can be a little modified to suit your needs. I really enjoyed this post, it seems like your readers who have done a kitchen makeover are really passionate about their kitchens.

Connie December 4, 2014 - 3:12 pm

We are in the middle of renovating a lake cottage- our dream forever home. I also am trying to keep it simple- country casual feel. I have been back and forth on the island and in the end it is out. I moved things around and in and out to see what space it would take up and how it would feel and it just does not work. We opened it up to the fire and the large room and people will be able to mingle and talk while I am in the kitchen area. We too are going to get the new kitchen in this winter. We have moved it from its original home to a new addition we have put on. I went back and forth about top cabinets and they are out. I love china/dishware and I have fun pieces for different times of year and daily pieces that I think will add to the charm. I know people talk about the dust but if you use it so little it would get dusty you can put it in lower cabinets. I have also decided to go with mainly drawers for the bottom- of different depths to be used for pans and many other things. We are going to put a pantry in which will make up for lack of cupboards- it will hold everything and then with a an old hutch for linens it will all work and not look like a new house or cookie cutter. I also am doing painted cabinets in my own custom color so there will be no other kitchen quite like mine…Enjoy the process


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