I recently shared my “limited” kitchen makeover so if you haven’t already seen that then go take a look. In that post, I briefly mentioned my kitchen island update and promised a post about it. I am delivering on my promise today. 

Let’s start by taking a look at what my kitchen island used to look like:

This is a common builder grade kitchen island. It’s a large stock base cabinet with a countertop stuck on top. Our kitchen cabinets are solid wood fronts, but the rest of the cabinet is made from laminate. So the sides and back of the cabinet are fake wood which looks really cheap. As soon as we moved into our house (over a decade ago), I hated how cheap the island looked and instantly hatched a plan to make it look better. But life and all of its busyness has kept me from doing anything about it until now.

Custom kitchen islands are very popular these days and for good reason. They are very functional and can create an attractive focal point in the room. But they can also be expensive. I certainly didn’t want to invest the money for a brand new island in my low-budget kitchen update. So instead I worked with what I had. 

I decided to add side walls to the island in order to make it look more like a piece of furniture. This would also completely cover both ends of the cheap laminate base cabinet and fill in the gap of the large overhang on my countertop. When we had our countertops replaced many years ago, they installed the island countertop in a weird way that left a large overhang on each end. 

The first thing I did was try to figure out exactly how wide I wanted to make the side walls on my island. They needed to be the right amount to fill in the extra overhang on the countertop, but also look proportionally correct with the overall size of the island. The overhang on each end of my countertop was about 7”. So I decided to make my side walls 5 1/2” wide which would ultimately result in a closer to normal overhang of 2”. The 5 1/2” size also looked proportionally right with the overall size of my island—it wasn’t too narrow and weak looking or too chunky and overwhelming looking.

Here’s a plan drawing of what I did to my island:

Now I know most people don’t have a large overhang on their island countertops like we do, but you could still get the same look even without that situation.

Here’s a plan drawing of what you could do to an island with a normal countertop overhang in order to get the same look:

If you are going to do this with a normal amount of countertop overhang then you will want to not only make sure you choose a side wall width that is proportional with the size of your overall island, but also make sure it isn’t so wide that it takes up too much leg room under the counter.

Now that I knew my wall size, I knew I’d need to use ripped down 2×6’s to frame the wall. I bought some 2×6’s and a sheet of 1/2” cabinet grade plywood. I used a table saw to rip the 2×6’s down to 2×4.5’s based on this simple math:

4 1/2” stud + (2) 1/2” plywood on each side = 5 1/2” wide wall

Then I framed out each wall. In case you haven’t framed a wall before, always build the whole frame first laying it on a flat level surface, and then stand it up and put it in place. Use a mallet to hammer it into place if needed. I did go ahead and add a few screws and nails to secure the new side walls to the existing cabinet, but it may not have been necessary because the framed walls were nicely wedged in there.

I wrapped the frames in the plywood using a nail gun to attach it and mitered the corners for a finished look.

Now at this point, you could easily add some trim to the new side walls if you wanted to. Here are a few ideas for inspiration…

The end panel of this island adds a little trim but keeps it simple creating an overall minimal style.

This island below includes baseboards and traditional paneling. It also has posts on the end of each side wall to give it more definition and interest.

Shiplap looks great on the end of an island. And I particularly like how this one doesn’t have the shiplap continuously wrapping around the whole island, but instead it is framed by two simple end posts. It makes for a nice clean look.

This is another fairly simple design for the end panel. Plus this island shows a storage cabinet along the back next to the seating. This is certainly another good option if you need the extra storage.

The X style end panel of this island helps to create a modern farmhouse look if that’s what you’re going for.

Another option is to break down the end wall into three panels like this one. And notice the baseboard design here.

This island has a really pretty custom panel detail along the side wall that reflects the design of the upper cabinets.

Hopefully that’s inspiring! But I wanted a modern minimal look for my island so I left mine as plain walls.

Next, I installed shiplap on the back of the base cabinet. This not only helped to make the island more visually interesting, but it also covered up the cheap laminate back panel of the cabinet. 


This is another area of the island that you could go with a totally different design if you preferred. The overall goal is to create a pretty pattern that covers up the cheap laminate.

I added quarter round all around the base of the whole island, and then I caulked, filled nail holes, primed, and painted everything white to give it a cohesive look. And here is the final result:

This cost me about $90 for the materials, and I think it was worth every penny. No, it’s not as beautiful as the islands in the inspiration photos above, but it looks so much better than what I had. And it’s nice to finally have a focal point in my kitchen that looks nice instead of cheap.


  1. Avatar Aileen Schier

    Love reading your blog! You manage to hit that sweet spot where sophisticated design and low cost meet. (By contrast, it’s easy to find cool designs that are super costly, and DIY ideas are look amateur.) I appreciate how you document your thought process. Thank you! BTW if you have a go-to source for learning the basic woodworking skills you use, please let us know.

    • Avatar Stephanie @ Studio 36 Interiors

      Thanks! I’m so glad you have enjoyed the blog! The only source I’ve used for woodworking is Youtube. If there’s something I’m not sure about I search for it on Youtube. I’ve also gotten a couple tips from the staff at a local lumber store. The place is a real lumber store not like Lowe’s or Home Depot and they know their stuff there.

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