The kitchen island is symbolic of how the modern kitchen has evolved. Once the kitchen was a place to cook and eat, an idea that has become as obsolete as the notion that the kitchen is a woman's place. These days kitchens are gathering places--not just the room where all parties end up, but often the place where they begin as well. And when we gather in the kitchen, it is the kitchen island that we gather around.
Building an island for your own kitchen might seem overwhelming, but in fact it's probably a lot easier than you think. Using pre-constructed cabinets and a finished slab of butcher block, you can effectively "sub out" the bulk of the labor, creating a professional-looking kitchen island in only a few hours, and for as little as $500.
When deciding on the size of the island to install, remember that bigger isn't always better. Counter space is great, but so is having room to move. In general you want to leave at least three feet of space between the island and existing counters and walls. When you've decided on the right size, use collapsed cardboard boxes to create a mock-up of the same length and width. Set it on the kitchen floor and work around it while you cook a few meals. This will give you a sense of whether you've sized it correctly.
A very basic kitchen island consists of a single pre-built unit with two cabinets and two drawers. If you're planning an island with more than a single unit, they need to be connected front and back, top and bottom. Clamp your cabinets together and make sure they are flush and level before screwing them together. Make sure to countersink the screws to prevent them from interfering with the units' drawers. If you are leaving any of the cabinet units' backs exposed, install some type of finished backing--bead board works well--to cover the unfinished areas.
Set the cabinets in place, mark the outer edges on the floor, and then remove the cabinets. Screw blocks cut from a 2x4 into the floor in several spots 1/2 inch inside of the perimeter you marked, then put the cabinets back into place over the 2x4 blocks. Screw the cabinet bases into the 2x4 blocks to anchor the island to the floor.
In general, you want to order a piece of butcher block that is an inch or two wider on each side than your cabinet frame. On sides of the island where there are no cabinets or drawers, you might want to allow for an overhang of 18 inches or more to accommodate bar stools. Put a generous layer of construction glue on top of the cabinet frame and set the counter top into place. Add screws that go through the cabinet frame into the counter top about every two feet for additional stability.