How To Build A Two Tier Kitchen Island: The Definitive Guide

While the functionality of a two-tier kitchen island has been a subject of debate for a long time, this island style comes with one fat advantage: it can add extra dimension to your kitchen and add visual interest to any design. If you don’t have a kitchen island at all, you can build a 2-tier one yourself. If you already have a standard island, you can add an extra tier.

Start with cutting wooden boards to dimension to construct a frame. Add plywood panels as sides and tops, or incorporate cabinets. Install the preferred countertop, then add the extra tier and cover it with a matching top. That’s how to build a two-tier kitchen island.

Are Two-tier Kitchen Islands Out Of Style?

Whether or not two-tier kitchen islands are out of style is up to debate. Some claim they aren’t functional or that they cram the kitchen space. The truth is, a two-tier kitchen island will only cram up your space if you don’t measure it right.

As a rule of thumb, you should have at least 3 1/2 to 4 feet of space around the island in all directions. If you don’t have this space, any island will feel crammed into your interior. The more room you have, the more airy and spacious your kitchen will feel.

That said, two-tier kitchen islands are in as much style as standard islands. They won’t hide a messy countertop but can add visual interest to an open-space kitchen and dining area. In a smaller open space, a two-tier island can help you differentiate between the living and cooking/dining zones. Moreover, you can use the tier as a stylish bar when entertaining family and friends.

DIY: Building A Modern Two Tier Kitchen Island 

Building a two-tier kitchen island from scratch could seem complicated, but the project is easy to complete if you have some carpentry skills. Follow the steps below.

Things You Will Need

  • Circular saw
  • Miter saw
  • Cordless drill 
  • Screwdriver bits
  • Caulk gun
  • Wood screws
  • Wood glue 
  • 150-grit sandpaper 
  • 220-grit sandpaper
  • Silicone adhesive
  • Painter’s tape 
  • Painting supplies 
  • Power sander
  • Carpenter’s square
  • Birch plywood panels
  • 1” x 4” wood boards 
  • Base kitchen cabinets (optional)
  • Countertop cut to dimension


The average kitchen island measures 80 by 40 inches and is 36 inches high – the same height as your base cabinets. The tier can be as tall as you want, but the entire island shouldn’t be more than 42 inches tall.  

For this island height, you can easily find matching bar stools and use the tier as a breakfast or entertainment bar.

Regarding the tier’s other dimensions, you can make it as long as the island or shorter if you want to add more visual interest. The thickness can also vary based on your needs. Typically, a 10-inch tier is perfect for a quick breakfast or to place snacks and drinks on it when you have friends or family over. 

A 20-inch tier could be more functional if you also want to use the island for work, but it will take up a lot of counter space.

With this in mind, here’s how to build your two-tier kitchen island.

Step 1 – Build the island base and upper frame

Use the 1 x 4 boards to build a frame for the kitchen island base. You need four lengths for the sides (two x 80-inch long and two x 40-inch long). Fix them with wood glue, then use screws to fasten them securely. This is your island base.

Cut lengths of wood boards to reinforce the base by creating wood studs secured with cross pieces. Fasten them with screws. Use the same steps to build the upper frame.

Step 2 – Build the island sides

Cut the plywood to dimension. For the island size mentioned above, you need two sides that are 80 inches long and 34 or 35 inches tall, depending on the countertop thickness. The other two pieces should have a size of 40 by 34 or 35 inches. 

Step 3 – Assemble the kitchen island

Place the island base on the floor and use wood screws to fasten the side panels to it. Then, ask a couple of helpers to hold the upper frame and fasten it with screws. Your kitchen island base is now completely built, but you still have to build the tier.

Step 4 – Build and install the tier

Cut the wooden boards to dimension to build a tier. The tier should bring the total height to 36 inches, so account for the counter thickness. Generally, it should be about 6-7 inches high, 80 inches long, and 10 inches deep.

Thus, cut two long boards with a dimension of 80 x 6 inches (considering a top thickness of two inches) and two pieces of 10 x 6 inches.

Fasten them to one another with wood screws, then use wood glue to fix the tier to the island. Let it dry completely before proceeding.

Step 5 – Sand the island

Sanding the island is crucial to allow the paint to adhere properly and to prevent accidents. Use a sander and coarse (150-grit) sandpaper to smooth the surface. Sand until the surface is smooth to the touch, then switch to 220-grit sandpaper and sand again.

Use a rag to wipe off the dust each time you change the sandpaper, then clean all dust with a vacuum cleaner.

Wipe the island with a damp cloth, remove excess moisture with a dry towel, and let it dry completely.

Step 6 – Paint the island

Use a paintbrush to apply a coat of wood paint primer to the surface and let it dry for about two hours. Apply a second coat if necessary, then use a roller or brush to apply the paint.

You can use the preferred water- or solvent-based paint. Alternatively, you can skip the paint and primer and stain the wood.

For a smoother result, you could use a paint spray gun instead of a brush or roller, as long as you can paint the island outdoors. Apply two coats of paint or stain, then let dry completely.

Step 7 – Install the countertop

Once the paint dried, install the countertop of your choice. The base countertop should have a size of 81-82 by 31-32 inches, going from the tier to 1-2 inches past the island edge. Fix it with wood glue or caulk (all countertops) or brad nails if it’s a wood countertop.

Install the tiered top using the same technique. For the best results, both the island top and the tiered top should be made of the same material. That’s it. You can now enjoy your island. 

For a quicker solution, use two 40 x 40 inches base kitchen cabinets covered with a top to create an easy-to-make kitchen island.

Note: All stationary kitchen islands are required by law to have at least one electric outlet. Check out our guide to learn more about it and how to run electricity to the kitchen island.

Kitchen Island: Two-Level vs. One Level

One-level islands are modern and sleek. They can give a streamlined appearance to your space but aren’t very comfortable for sitting. 

Two-level islands work well as partitions in larger kitchens and open-space living area concepts. The split level also becomes a necessity in homes where cooking and entertainment happens at the same time on a regular basis, the tier giving you some privacy while still being present for your guests.

In the end, the choice is yours. What works best for your home, and which island style do you like? Pick what suits you best.

FAQs: Answers You Should Know

In addition to everything above, here are a few other answers to questions you might have.

Is it cheaper to build a kitchen island?

Building a kitchen island yourself is much cheaper than buying it or having it custom-built. When making it yourself, you’ll only have to pay for the cost of materials and to rent the power tools if you don’t have them. The whole island would cost you about $500 at the most.

Major kitchen furniture manufacturers charge about $3,000 for a standard island. The costs could go up to $7,000 for a premium island or $10,000 for a custom-built one.

For a budget solution, transform a bigger table or two base cabinets into a portable kitchen island.

Where should an island be placed in a kitchen?

The center of the room is an ideal spot for a kitchen island if you have a large kitchen, but you can also place it near a wall or as an extension to the cabinets if you need easier access to wall outlets or appliances.

Should you put a two-level island in a small kitchen?

You shouldn’t put any type of island into a small kitchen, but if you truly want one, go for a single-level island. A two-tier will make your room feel cramped.


Kitchen islands work as functional and design elements in one. A two-tier island is perfect for dividing a space or ensuring some privacy while entertaining guests. Hopefully, this guide will help you build the kitchen island of your dreams.

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