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Kitchen Carts Buying Guide

Islands in the Kitchen: selecting a kitchen island

There never seems to be enough counter space in a kitchen especially if you live in an apartment or a smaller house. Kitchen carts and kitchen islands can free up the counter space you do have by creating task specific stations for food preparation, rolling out pastry, or housing small appliances such as a microwave or a toaster. Kitchen carts were originally used as casual teacarts or as a way of transporting snacks from the kitchen to the living or family room. They have evolved into stylish “must have” kitchen furniture pieces featuring shelves, drawers, stemware and/or wine racks and cabinet storage. Some kitchen islands even include serving compartments with heating elements to keep food warm. An island or kitchen cart can help you organize your accessories and cooking utensils. When buying a kitchen island or kitchen cart, choose one that will complement your existing décor. To help you decide what kind of island or cart you will need, here are few basic suggestions.

Before You Begin

Since kitchen carts and kitchen islands come in a wide range of styles and sizes, decide where it will go and then take measurements; you don’t want to end up with a unit that’s too big or too small.

Do you prefer portable or stationary? Kitchen carts almost always have wheels or casters and tend to be smaller in size and more compact than kitchen islands. Some brands and models of carts have casters that can be locked into place. They can be moved easily around the kitchen or from one room to another. Kitchen islands that are not permanent (built-in) are available in both stationary and portable models.

What are you using it for? Consider the features you want your island or cart to have. If you are purchasing a kitchen island specifically for baking or food prep purposes, you might want one that includes a number of adjustable shelves. Or if you want to use one predominately for additional storage, select a kitchen island or cart with large drawers and/or cabinets.

What Type of Kitchen Cart Do I Need?

Versatility and mobility make rolling carts attractive when entertaining guests, transporting food from the kitchen to the dining room or surprising someone with a birthday cake. They are also handy in the kitchen for increasing work space and storage. They are generally smaller and more compact than kitchen islands. Rolling kitchen carts with special features such as a drop leaf, can add more work space while not taking up much more room. Some models can even be folded away when they are not needed.

Utility carts are remarkably functional and come in a variety of styles, with many different features. They can have shelves with a countertop or a hutch or a cabinet. Or they can be a cart of shelves you can use to store laundry soap, cleaning supplies, extra dishes or a special set of pots. Utility carts can have locking casters, so they can be secured for the task at hand, but portable when they need to be.  They can be used as a place to make coffee or to store often-used items such cereal or tea.

Rather than using valuable counter space for appliances you need on a regular basis, consider adding a microwave cart to your kitchen. Depending on the type and style, the microwave can sit inside the hutch or on the top shelf, allowing you to use the space to rest hot plates, display decorative condiment bottles, or store your blender. Microwave carts can be state of the art, ranging from a stylish hutch with glass doors to carts with cabinets complete with a built-in outlet. They can feature enclosed or open shelving, cabinets and wire storage baskets. A microwave cart might also include a spice rack, utility drawers, adjustable shelves and locking casters.

Butcher block carts are kitchen carts with a wood block at least 2 inches thick for cutting meat or vegetables. True butcher block tops provide a smooth surface for food preparation, and are available in mobile or stationary models. Select a butcher block cart with high-quality wood top: it will be easy to clean and maintain, and will not easily scratch or chip. Butcher block carts can have features such as drop leafs, additional pull-out work surfaces, hide-away trash can receptacle, paper towel rack and towel hooks.

Portable or stationary kitchen islands are the ideal compromise for creating more work space in a kitchen without the cost of a custom built-in island. They can increase the amount of available counter space while providing storage for pots and pans, baking utensils and appliances. They are typically larger in size than kitchen carts. Kitchen islands can include features such as drop-leafs, casters, multi-tiered shelves and countertops made of materials such as wood or granite designed for specific tasks like chopping vegetables or cutting meat.

Islands that provide additional food preparation or eating areas by expandable counters, drop-leafs or pull-out boards are ideal for kitchens with limited space. After deciding where you will put your island, consider how much room you will need to walk around it and if there is enough space to open cupboard doors or extend the drop-leaf. Before purchasing a kitchen island, decide what features the unit should have; take into account how you will be using the kitchen island. For example, if you are buying one especially for food preparation, select one with hooks for hanging utensils and shelves to store large bowls.

Longer work surfaces with multi-tiered shelving differentiate food preparation tables from kitchen islands. They can be stationary or mobile, or with casters that can be locked into place. They are perfect for creating more space in the kitchen, allowing one or two people to do separate tasks at the prep table, while another person is working at the counter or stove. Tabletops are user-friendly, made of materials such as granite or treated wood to allow for easy clean-up.

What Kind of Material Should I Choose?

Medium density fiberboard or MDF can look and feel like real wood. It is produced by gluing multiple wood fibers together using heat and pressure. Since they are made from recycled materials, kitchen furnishings manufactured from MDF are more affordable than solid wood products, and are strong and durable.

Wood veneers are produced when thin slices of real wood are adhered with heat and pressure to the piece of furniture. Because it can be applied to any smooth, flat surface, this is a popular method of giving furniture the texture and appearance of genuine solid woods while keeping costs down. Wood veneer furnishings are lighter and less expensive to ship.

Laminates generally refer to a type of finish that is applied to furniture, usually pieces that have been made some kind of engineered wood. They are produced by pressing layers of materials such as plastic, metal and wood together, applying it to a wood frame and then sealing it with a thermosetting resin. They don’t fade and are available in solid colors, patterns and simulated wood grain. Laminates are commonly used for kitchen carts because they are strong, durable and easy to care for and can withstand heavy use.

Considered to be the most durable material for furniture, genuine wood furnishings are constructed from wood cut from the trunks of trees like beech, oak or maple. Because solid wood furniture is not made from recycled or processed materials, it is more expensive. If your budget allows for a kitchen island made of real wood, choose one with a protective finish to minimize scratches. A resilient finish will also make it easier to clean.

Fashioning metal into functional items like furniture and artwork has been done for over 5,000 years. Since pure metals are too soft, too brittle or chemically reactive, two or more metals are combined together to create an alloy. Alloys are stronger and more stable. Because all metals are subject to the effects of time and oxidization, you will want to choose a utility cart with a durable finish or one that is made of scaled metal which is resistant to corrosion.

Tempered glass is made by either treating it with heat or with a chemical solution, which makes it stronger than regular or annealed glass. It is designed to break into small fragments rather than large shards, like untreated glass. When selecting a cart made of glass or one with a hutch with glass doors, choose one that uses tempered glass, since this will make it stronger and safer.

What Style of Kitchen Cart Should I Select?

Traditional style is a reflection of past trends and socials customs from historical periods like Louis IV, Queen Anne and the Renaissance. Traditional furniture is characterized by medium to dark finishes, graceful curves and carved detail. Inset panels, leaf and vine motifs and bun feet are typical classical accents.

Modern kitchen carts and kitchen islands are characterized by polished surfaces, geometric shapes and neutral palettes. Metal and glass are common construction materials. The focus of this style is on form and function.

Contemporary style, like modern, is also known for its clean lines and geometric shapes. However, unlike the modern style, contemporary furnishings are often softened by curved or tempered lines. Contemporary style will utilize a variety of finishes, palettes and materials to create texture and visual interest.

Transitional merges elements of both the traditional and contemporary styles for a more formal yet relaxed look. Lines and forms tend to be simple and sophisticated. The emphasis is on uncluttered detail. Demonstrated by the use of straight lines contrasted with tapered legs, a transitional mobile kitchen island will blend easily with eclectic or more traditional furnishings to complement your current décor.

Country furnishings are scaled down versions of more formal furnishings like French Provincial, English Country or Colonial. Country style is characterized by milk-painted woods, lighter wood finishes, muted colors, simple lines and a comfortable feel. It can also include whimsical details like hand-painted stenciling, hand-carved insets and soft curves.

What Else Should I Keep In Mind When Choosing a Kitchen Cart or Island?

Before buying a utility or serving cart, give some thought to any special features you would like it to include such as wire basket shelving, wine bottle rack or a removable tray.

If you like the idea of being able to move your kitchen island or cart from place to place, but would like the option of parking it while completing a particular task, select one with locking casters.

Drawers are always a welcome addition when purchasing a kitchen cart or island. But consider what you want to use the drawers for. Deeper ones will be more suitable for storing pots and pans, while shallow drawers are better for keeping utensils or dish cloths in.

If your kitchen has sufficient floor but limited counter space, consider purchasing a microwave cart or a work center dedicated to a specific activity.

When buying a kitchen cart for a special purpose such as food preparation or making candy, make sure that the counter top material, such as wood or marble, is appropriate for its intended use.

Drop leafs and expandable countertops can be used not just for food preparation, but also as a place to eat.

If an island or utility cart is no longer needed in the kitchen, consider moving it to the laundry room, porch or even the garage for extra storage.

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