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A kitchen island is the easiest way to add precious inches of counter space to your home. If you don't want to splurge on a custom job, you're left with two budget-friendly options: kitset or DIY. Let's look at some of the pros and cons of each approach.

Kitset Kitchen Island: Pros and Cons
Kitset kitchen islands -- the kind you buy ready-to-assemble -- are now available in a nice range of styles, from rustic to sleek modern. Although the best ones are far from cheap, they'll set you back far less than custom work. The other big advantage is convenience: kitset islands can be assembled by just about anyone.

Other pros: kitset islands are moveable, which can be useful when, for example, you are entertaining a crowd. If you sell your home, you can just disassemble your kitset and pack it up. Basically, if all you need is an extra place to stow pots, pans and cookbooks, the kitset is the most convenient solution.

Here's the big down side: you inevitably sacrifice quality when you opt for kitset furniture. In the case of kitchen islands, that lack of quality is most evident in the countertop material, which may not be durable enough to meet the needs of keen home cooks.

Kitchen Island Kitset Shopping
Going the kitset route? IKEA, the king of kitset, is the natural place to start looking. Unfortunately, IKEA offers only four kitchen islands right now, ranging in price from $199 for the GROLAND model (pictured) to $379 for the larger STENSTORP. Factor in the cost of shipping for those not within driving distance of an IKEA store and you're looking at quite a lot of money down. The pared-down style of IKEA's islands is another con: for your money, you're basically paying for a set of open shelves. If hiding clutter is important to you, look elsewhere.

Fortunately, Target comes to the rescue with an impressive selection of kitset islands. Although not necessarily sturdier than the IKEA islands, Target's kitsets at least come with drawers and/or cabinets for a more finished look, which some find more appealing than open shelving. The prices are higher, but select models come with free shipping. Expect to pay upwards of $500 for a Target island (the company's Grand Americana model is a whopping $929, although that includes free shipping right now); less than $500 will get you a nice little rolling cart, but definitely not a full-size kitchen island.

DIY Kitchen Island Pros and Cons
Kitset furniture not your thing? The DIY route is your best bet if you've got the time and talent to make your own kitchen cart-- or, if not talent, at least a willingness to learn as you go! Done right, the end result should be far sturdier than a kitset version. You can also tailor it to fit your needs. For example, you might opt for a built-in style instead of a free-standing island. In that case, you might consider adding electrical outlet/s and/or plumbing, too.

A DIY kitchen island can also incorporate a much higher quality countertop than kitset versions. Think butcher block wood, powerful granite or a tough solid surfacing product, such as Corian. These not only look great, they will last forever and resist chips and dents.

DIY Kitchen Island Know-How
The Web contains a wealth of instruction for would-be kitchen island DIY'ers. Start by gathering design ideas through keyword searches (try Google Images) or home and garden websites. Photo galleries like this one courtesy of Better Homes and Gardens are especially helpful.

Next you'll need a step-by-step guide to follow. Do It Yourself has a lengthy kitchen island article worth checking out that includes lots of design advice. It's a good place to start.

I really liked Ron Hazelton's kitchen island how-to. It breaks the project down into simple steps and includes lots of helpful photos. This one is ideal for beginner or intermediate carpenters. You'll assemble the whole thing by hand, but it's made from modular, ready-made cabinets with a butcher block countertop.

Using modular cabinets for the base gives you a sturdier and more workable storage area than an IKEA kitset, but with some of the convenience of kitset assembly. Great idea, right?

Also take a look at Popular Mechanics' kitchen island project. This one is a true from-scratch version. It's not very large, but it's a perfect little DIY project if you want to practice your woodworking skills. Read the article then click to download and print the plans.

Beginner DIY'er? If you're having second thoughts, wondering if a kitchen island is beyond your current skill level, try starting with a simple rolling cart project like this one from Home Envy. It'll let you test out your DIY/carpentry abilities without biting off more project than you can chew!



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