Kitchen islands, once considered a luxury for larger homes, are now among the most popular items in new kitchen design and renovations.

Consider all that a kitchen island offers: extra counter space, additional storage, added seating, space definition, especially in an open concept plan.

According to the National Kitchen and Bath Association guidelines, you should have at least 42 inches of clearance on each side of a kitchen island for a walkway.

One of those walkways can be as narrow as 36 inches if you consider it just a walkway and not a work aisle, but a true island needs all sides open.

This means a kitchen should be at least 12.5 to 13 feet from wall to wall to accommodate cabinets on each wall, a walkway on each side and a standard depth island.

If you simply don’t have the space, one alternative to a full island is a peninsula, which offers two sides of countertop. This could take the form of a working side and a breakfast bar, or two working sides.

A peninsula can add the extra space you need without disrupting the traffic flow or work space. An island or peninsula can easily take the place of a kitchen table.

Once you’ve decided on your island, the fun part is selecting the countertop. Do you want a stone that matches the perimeter counters or would you prefer a stark or subtle contrast?

How about changing the finish by polishing the perimeter and leaving the island unpolished?

A kitchen island can become your canvas to express creativity, create drama and provide an irresistible place for gathering and working together.

More expensive luxury stone might be possible on the smaller space of the island top. Huge visual and design impact could be achieved without breaking the budget.

Stay open to changes in colors, texture and pattern. Even consider selecting a different surface for your island, mixing stone, tile, wood and concrete in your kitchen

On the top end of the spectrum is the waterfall island. Here, stone “falls down” each side of the island to the floor. A good fabricator and installer will match the movement, color and patterns at the corners so that it looks like one piece of stone is draped over the counter.

It’s a popular new look and is particularly effective with quartz and the new PolarStone. Your kitchen designer and stone fabricator can make your island dreams come true – on any budget.

Andrea Antunes McGilton is project manager at Distinctive Granite and Marble, with showrooms in Okatie; Lady’s Island; Pooler, Ga., and on Hilton Head Island.