April 2010: Rental Rescue


No matter how nice the rest of your house is, guests will gather and even force themselves into your kitchen during parties. The kitchen, being such an integral part of the home, can really make or break a rental. When it comes to the kitchen, many renters often complain about a lack of storage, workspace/counterspace, and even a functional layout. 

A $189 stainless steel table makes an affordable instant kitchen island.

When I moved into my house, I was fortunate to inherit a bright, open, and newly renovated kitchen. However, there was something missing, a virtual void in the heart of my home. Typical of many older homes, my kitchen, being arranged in a horseshoe pattern, was begging for a kitchen island. Without one, I had the perfect space to teach ballroom dance lessons. However, I was missing a great opportunity for additional counterspace, storage, and an anchor for the room. 

Unable to invest in (or install) a permanent island, I set out to find an affordable alternative that would meet my needs as an island, be more substantial than your standard rolling cart with faux butcher block countertop from a major chain store, and that I could take with me when I decide to move on. For a small fraction of the cost to install an island, I decided on a stainless steel prep table purchased for $189 from Charlottesville Restaurant Supply

The table is made entirely of stainless steel and is designed for commercial and restaurant-quality kitchens, coming in various sizes. The table top is beyond low maintenance, allowing me to cut and chop, sit a hot pot directly on the surface, and easily clean. The galvanized lower shelf is the perfect spot for small appliances, wine storage, or even a few decorative elements. Pulling a few barstools to the end provides guests a place to land and snack while I cook. The best part? I get to play executive sous chef every time I cook, even if I’m just making toast. 

My friend Sean found another creative solution for his Charlottesville townhome’s kitchen-island dilemma. Purchasing and refinishing a used drafting table from the UVA Architecture School for next to nothing, Sean was able to create an attractive island matching the warm tones of his kitchen, achieve the desired workspace, and provide a cozy and necessary dining spot for his many hungry guests. 

So does a repurposed architectural drafting table.

When searching for an instant island, you want to consider a few key things:

1. Size matters. It’s important to measure your space. You want a piece that still allows you to easily navigate around it, open and close all drawers and appliances easily, and that won’t close your kitchen in too much. 

2. Height is key. Standard counter height is 36 inches, so you want to aim for something in that comfortable working height. You don’t want to achieve the look of a misplaced coffee or cocktail table in the center of your kitchen. 

3. 360 appeal. You want a piece that is functional and aesthetically pleasing from all sides. If it’s meant to go against a wall, it should go against a wall. 

With any do-it-yourself project for renters, you want a piece that will transition with you. Even if your next home has an island or there’s simply no room for your instant island, consider its many uses as a work table in a garage or basement, a craft table, or even the ability to be shortened into a dining table. It’s a simple solution that will work for you now and move with you the next time you decide to go island-hopping.—Ed Warwick