As the kitchen evolved from a workspace hidden from guests to the place where everyone wants to gather, the kitchen island became a must-have for many homeowners.
It’s easy to see why: an island not only provides an extra work surface and adds space for storage and appliances – it creates an area for family and friends to sit.
“It doesn’t matter how big your house is, everyone tends to gather around the kitchen island,” says Jessica Nicastro, a Los Angeles interior designer. “Any party you have, your kitchen island is the central meeting point. It also doubles as a buffet, kids homework center and breakfast table.”
Because islands are usually custom elements designed to fit into a specific kitchen’s layout, they can vary from house to house in terms of size, shape and function. So how do you create an island that fits your space? We asked architects and designers for their advice.
First Things First: Do You Have Enough Space?
Squeezing an island into a kitchen that’s too small to accommodate it just because you want one is likely to disappoint.
“With an island, your kitchen needs to function if more than one person is in it,” said Ms. Nicastro, pointing out that there should be enough space between the island and the cabinets around the perimeter of the room to comfortably accommodate several people — just to say the least. not to mention dishwasher and oven doors — without blocking circulation. She always tries to leave at least 42 centimeters between the island and the lower cabinets against the wall.
If your kitchen is small, there may only be enough room for a small island, she said. Then it is often better not to have an island, or to consider another option, such as a peninsula. “If it’s too small, it looks like a postage stamp,” she said. “To me, having a small island is like wearing pants that aren’t long enough.”
Do you need to include seats?
Should every island have knee room for crutches? “The answer is a firm no,” says Stefanie Brechbuehler, a partner at New York-based design studio Workstead. “Often I find it very confusing when you see a large island with lots of seating adjacent to a huge dining table with lots of seating. To me it feels redundant. But at the same time I know it’s nice to sit on an island while someone is cooking.”
To decide what works best for you, she said, consider how much seating you really need (especially if there’s a dining table right next to the island), and how much space you’ll need for kitchen supplies. In smaller kitchens, it may be better not to use stools and maximize storage space.
At Mrs. Brechbuehler’s former home in Gallatin, NY, she and her husband and business partner, Robert Highsmith, designed an island with no seats. Instead, the island has a sink and dishwasher on one side; on the other, deep storage drawers are accessible from an adjacent dining area.
What comes on top?
If you do want to sit on the island, the most common way is to place a row of counter-height stools along the front of the island, facing the kitchen. But there are many options. Sometimes designers carry out a piece of countertop on one side of the island as a dedicated spot for stools, which can be especially useful for shallow islands.
In a Manhattan loft designed by the architects at Worrell Yeung, a cantilevered section on the side of an island accommodates two stools, with ample space elsewhere for storage. “We like to activate the ends of islands, where it can function more like a desk or a workspace,” said Jejon Yeung, a partner at the New York-based firm.
For another loft in Manhattan, the architects designed an island that resembles a huge block of Ceppo di Gré marble, with two voids – one at the front and one at the side – that provide seating.
“We were a bit playful with how we formed those niches and allocated spaces to pull up a stool,” Mr Yeung said. The arrangement allows people on the island to be occupied with each other and different parts of the apartment, or to focus on independent activities.
Another option is to raise the island where people sit.
In a kitchen in a home near Lake Tahoe designed by architectural firm Ike Kligerman Barkley and interior design firm the Wiseman Group, two countertops overlap slightly: A white Neolith work surface, where the island faces the range, is approximately 36 inches. inches away from the floor (typical counter height); a soapstone table surface, where the island faces a fireplace, is about 42 inches from the floor (typical bar height).
“We really wanted it to be a nice, big table rather than an island,” said Carl Baker, director of Ike Kligerman Barkley.
The raised soapstone countertop hides cluttered dishes on the lower counter when the kitchen is in use, he said, and it also keeps computers and stationery free from splashes: “You can put your laptop on it, play a game or do a puzzle, and it keep it separate from all cooking, cleaning and liquids.”
Make it functional
An island can be as simple as a piece of countertops above regular storage cabinets, or as complex as a series of integrated kitchen appliances. Which is best depends on how much space you have and what features you want to relieve from other areas of the kitchen.
Designers often place the sink and faucet in the island (or in larger kitchens, use the island to introduce a second sink). “It’s a nice way to look outside and open up the room a little bit,” said Ms. Nicastro. When designing an island with a sink, she always uses a dishwasher and a pull-out trash can, on either side of the sink, to create a complete station for after-meal cleanup.
If you want to show off your cooking skills, consider installing a stove or hob on the island instead.
Sometimes designers also use an island to hide small appliances, such as microwaves and wine refrigerators, by tucking them into the kitchen-facing side.
Finally, don’t forget to customize the insides of cabinets and doors to maximize functionality. Ms. Nicastro likes to make room in island drawers for countertop appliances like toasters and blenders. Ms. Brechbuehler sometimes adds outlets in the top drawers so they can act as a charging station. And furniture companies often supply distributors that give each tool a special place.
“We’re focused on making sure every inch of the kitchen is functionally optimized and feels really good to use,” said Scott Hudson, the founder and chief executive of the Henrybuilt furniture company, which personalizes drawer interiors to hold cutlery. , spice jars and spatulas. “The interior is just as important as the exterior.”
Experiment with finishes
It is possible to build an island with the same base units and worktops installed in the rest of the kitchen, but the current trend is to break with that sense of uniformity and give the island a distinct material treatment.
“We increasingly see the island as something that can be treated like a piece of furniture and stand apart from the rest of the room,” said Mr. Hudson.
That may mean choosing different cabinet finishes and countertop materials to differentiate the island from the surrounding kitchen, he said. Sometimes it also means putting the island on legs to make it look more like a dresser.
Ms. Brechbuehler likes this approach. “You can think of an island as an object,” she said, treating it as a stand-alone piece. Just repeating the same materials used in the kitchen “is a bit like when you buy a bedroom suite and everything matches — it can sometimes feel like a missed opportunity.”
In a Brooklyn kitchen that Workstead designed, most of the cabinets and countertops are wood, but the island has a dark blue base and white marble top to make it stand out.
But even changing just one material is often enough. In a kitchen Mrs. Nicastro designed in El Segundo, California, she painted all the cabinets light gray, then used a white marble countertop against the wall and a dark soapstone countertop on the island. For another kitchen in Los Angeles, she kept the counters the same, but painted the wall cabinets white and the island dark gray.
Adding saturated color in the center of the kitchen “is just a nice way to ground the space,” she said. “It also gives the island a sense of purpose.”
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