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Cramped kitchens with limited cabinet, drawer and counter space are usually par for the course when living in a small space, but functional storage solutions like kitchen carts and rolling islands can help you expand your kitchen and store your cooking essentials without the clutter. Not only do they provide additional shelves and cabinets for storage, but they can also add counter space if you need an extra cooking station. They’re also a non-permanent storage solution, meaning they can be functional for renters or people who aren’t quite ready for a kitchen remodel.
Finding the right size and style of cart for your kitchen typically depends on how much space you have to work with and the amount of items you’re planning to store. To help you decide on the best kitchen cart for you, we consulted organizing experts on what to look for when shopping for one and got their specific recommendations for shoppers.
SKIP AHEAD Best kitchen carts
What to consider when shopping for a kitchen cart
When choosing your kitchen cart, it’s important to consider your needs within the kitchen, according to Rachel Rosenthal, organizing expert and owner of Rachel and Company. For example, you may be less selective on the storage aspect if you’re simply looking to increase counter space — in that case, you’ll want to “consider purchasing a cart with one shelf instead of multiple drawers and cupboards,” noted Caroline Solomon, a New York-based professional organizer.
Kitchen carts come in a variety of styles and colors that can fit your particular aesthetic. They can be “infinitely versatile” and serve as everything from a bar cart to a buffet area, according to Solomon. However, when shopping for a kitchen cart, there are a few things to consider when it comes to size, storage capacity and portability.
Size and space
A kitchen cart should be proportional to your kitchen to avoid taking up too much space. “You don’t want to clutter up your kitchen by adding a bulky piece if you are already tight on space,” said Rosenthal. For a smaller enclosed kitchen, Solomon recommended a thin kitchen cart with drop leaf pieces for easy storage.
Most kitchen carts sport wheels, which means they’re portable if you need to free up space or move them out of the way when they’re not in use. This is a feature you won’t typically get with a stationary kitchen island.
The type of storage you need in your kitchen cart depends on what you’re planning on storing. “Consider a cart that has cabinets versus open shelving if you are looking to store food items, [or] look for options with bonus storage elements like hooks to hang things like a kitchen towel or spoons or even a paper towel holder,” suggested Rosenthal. If you’re lacking drawer space for kitchen tools and silverware, “consider one with multiple drawers,” Solomon added.
Kitchen carts: Limitations
While kitchen carts can be extremely practical, there are a few limitations that you should consider before purchasing one. Rosenthal noted that if you don’t have the adequate floor space for a cart in your kitchen, then “maximizing vertical storage might be a better solution.” The open shelves in a kitchen cart can also be both a pro and con since they can be “tricky to organize and can ultimately add visual clutter to your kitchen,” according to Rosenthal.
Though a kitchen cart does provide extra storage space, you should also be selective about how much you keep in it to avoid making a small kitchen feel even more cramped. “It’s important not to overload it with tools and gadgets — it might be tempting to fill every last nook of your cart with stuff, but this will only make a tiny space look tinier and even more cluttered,” Solomon noted. “Keep only the items you use on a regular basis here, and even then, keep these items to a minimum.”
Best kitchen carts and islands in 2021
Since we don't test kitchen products, we rely on expert guidance and recommendations in order to provide you with product picks. Below, the experts we spoke to share their top picks for kitchen carts and islands from popular brands like John Boos, IKEA and more.
This stylish kitchen cart features two drawers and two shelves that are covered by doors, making it easy to keep kitchen appliances and cookware out of sight. The butcher block top — made from solid wood — can be good for an additional chopping station, while the two hooks on the side let you easily access spoons, spatulas and other kitchen supplies while you cook. The castor wheels also lock when not in use, making this both a great stationary and portable option. You can get this cart in either White or Black.
Solomon considers this kitchen cart “chic yet functional” since its stylish marble top can be used for both basic food prep and entertaining guests. The cart sports two open slatted shelves to hold your plates and pans, two drawers and two black painted metal handles on either side to hold dish towels. “Plus, unlike many kitchen carts with open industrial shelves, its ash and oak-wood open shelving offers a nice change of pace,” Solomon added.
“It’s no secret that John Boos makes the best cutting boards around, and this kitchen cart is the perfect combination of craftsmanship and functionality,” said Solomon. While this is a pricey pick, she said It’s ideal for the seasoned chef or baker “who might need extra space for all their pots, pans and mixing bowls.” It features a stainless steel frame for durability, a towel bar to keep dish towels accessible and two sturdy shelves to store food and other kitchen items. For the top, you can choose from the brand’s removable one-and-a-half-inch-thick maple and walnut butcher block cutting boards.
This option from IKEA, which measures about 16 inches wide and 35 inches tall, “fits in even the smallest of kitchens,” according to Solomon. It comes with two shelves in solid oak that can be adjusted using the built-in grooves, allowing you to store larger and taller items without hassle. The countertop also comes with a drop leaf that can be folded down when not in use to create more space, along with a small drawer to store silverware and other smaller essentials.
Another enclosed option, the Belmont kitchen island “keeps everything contained in drawers and cabinets so there is no added visual clutter in the kitchen,” Rosenthal noted. It includes a sliding door cabinet — a practical feature if your space doesn’t accommodate outward-opening cabinet doors — and an adjustable shelf to help store bigger appliances. The four tapered legs make this a stationary kitchen island, but you can purchase separate casters to conveniently move it around. You can purchase this island in either Black, White or Mint.
If you want all the standard features of a kitchen cart — including the open shelves, enclosed cabinet, drawers and wooden countertop — this option from Threshold has it all. It also sports side hooks and a towel rack for additional storage. However, due to the glass door and open shelving, Rosenthal warned that things need to be stored thoughtfully to avoid clutter. This kitchen cart is available in both White and Grey, and features wheels on one side to move it around.
If you’re looking for a more affordable cart that can be functional in a small kitchen, Rosenthal recommended this rustic-style version can conveniently hold food while cooking or hosting guests. The two mesh shelves have a weight capacity of 9 pounds each, allowing them to store plates, serving bowls and dish towels (but not heavier appliances like some Instant Pots or air fryers).
This free-standing kitchen island from IKEA, which doesn’t include wheels, gives you extra storage and a cooking station as well as a dining table or workspace. According to the brand, you can fit bar stools approximately 24 inches high within the opening. The other side features two large shelves, while the top is a solid oak butcher block. For additional storage, you can also purchase a separate overhead rack for the island that equips ten hooks to hang utensils and a shelf to store pots and pans.