Written by Cheryl Kees Clendenon

It seems lately when most people are dreaming of their ideal kitchen, an island is high on the wish list. Islands can be an integral part of the design layout and improve overall functionality or they can be an impediment to the flow of the work space.

Wood "island" within larger island

Wood "island" within larger island

How can you determine if your space can handle an island and if so, how to take it up a notch in design? Carefully consider your floor plan and the amount of overall space you need for an adequate sized island as well as the space around it to maneuver easily. A good island layout functions as a “traffic cop” directing traffic around the primary cook zones and should be a minimum of 30 inches wide. The length is negotiable but I would recommend at least 36 inches. If you do not have at least this amount of “heft” to the island, you risk making it look crowded and undersized at best, and at worse are creating a hip busting, aggravating obstacle to good movement around the kitchen.

Ok, let’s say an island is going to work well for your design. Now let’s move on to making it the envy of the neighborhood! Here are some suggestions for adding increased utility and original personality.

  • Think about the seating. Do you need seating? If so, how many seats. Rule of thumb is 24 inches per diner but if you have smaller bar stools or smaller diners i.e. children…then you can fudge this a little. Don’t crowd it.
High bar seating

High bar seating

  • One level or two? One level is best for entertaining and maximizing the work space. The space can double as a serving area when not used as seating. Hint: if one level works for you and you have a sink in the island, install an air switch for the disposal. This is a small flat button that is installed in the countertop and is far better than cutting into your side panels with a switch, or worse, having to open the cabinet door to turn it on.
  • Try very had to have one slab of stone, granite or other solid countertop material if one level island. Seams are a no-no. I repeat, no seams
  • If you want two levels, then that is fine, if it works. Hint: Don’t buy into the conventional idea that the 6 inches of raised bar “hides” anything. It does not. No one is fooled into thinking the kitchen…is not really a kitchen.
  • Make the island different than the rest of the kitchen. Try different cabinetry materials or different countertops, but not both. Or, think about two islands in one with two different, yet complementary materials such as the wood and copper in above picture.
Peninsula "island" that is unusual but works for this young family

Peninsula "island" that is unusual but works for this young family

  • Consider legs or feet on the island but execute it well. Legs should be sturdily connected with an apron much like a typical table. Feet can be individual feet or a furniture style arched cutout. Hint: If budget constraints do not allow for a complete remodel of your existing space, think about simply replacing the island and island tops and paint the perimeter cabinetry. This can get you much further on a smaller budget and you can have a well designed island. Replace the other cabinetry when you have additional funds.
  • Don’t be afraid to have just a working island and no seats. If you have ample seating adjacent to the kitchen space, then perhaps a working island with great targeted storage is a better option. Don’t force the seating aspect if you do not have ample room for people to pass by comfortably. Hint: If you can, mock up the island in the proposed space and “live” with it for awhile to see how well it works…or doesn’t. Islands can be a focal point of style in a kitchen as well as a gathering spot for friends and family.

This is my single favorite space to design in a kitchen! There are countless ways to creatively interpret the client’s personality and desires with extraordinary results. For more information on kitchen islands:

kitchens.com

hgtv.com

thisoldhouse.com

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