Is a kitchen island essential? No, but you know you want one

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As the kitchen has evolved from a workspace hidden away from guests to where everyone wants to gather, the kitchen island has become a staple 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 space for family and friends to sit.

“No matter the size of your home, everyone tends to gather around the kitchen island,” said Los Angeles-based interior designer Jessica Nicastro. “Whatever party you’re throwing, your kitchen island is the central meeting point. It also doubles as a buffet, homework center for the kids, and breakfast table.

Since islands are usually custom items designed to fit a specific kitchen layout, they can vary from home to home in size, shape and function. So how do you create an island that works for your space? We asked advice from architects and designers.

Inserting an island into a kitchen that’s too small to accommodate it, just because you want one, might disappoint you.

“With an island, your kitchen needs to work when you have more than one person inside,” Ms. Nicastro said, noting that there needs to be enough space between the island and the cabinets around the perimeter of the kitchen. the room to comfortably accommodate several people. people — not to mention dishwasher and oven doors — without blocking traffic. She always tries to leave at least 42 inches between the island and the lower cabinets against the wall.

If your kitchen is small, that might only leave enough space for a small island, she said. In this case, 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. “For me, having a small island is like wearing pants that aren’t long enough.”

Does every island have to have knee space for stools? “The answer is an emphatic no,” said Stefanie Brechbuehler, partner at New York-based design studio Workstead. “Often I find it very confusing to see a large island with lots of seats bordering a huge dining table with lots of seats. To me, that seems superfluous. But at the same time, I know it’s fun to sit sit on an island while someone cooks.

To decide what’s best for you, she said, consider how many seats you really need (especially if there’s a dining table right next to the island), as well as the space you need for kitchen essentials. In small kitchens, it may be best to give up space for stools and maximize storage space.

In Mrs. Brechbuehler’s former home in Gallatin, NY, she and her husband and business partner, Robert Highsmith, designed an island without a seat. Instead, the island has a sink and dishwasher on one side; on the other side are deep storage drawers accessible from an adjacent dining area.

If you want to sit on the island, the most common way is to line a row of counter-height stools along the front of the island, facing the kitchen. But there are many options. Sometimes designers cantilever a length of countertop from 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 Worrell Yeung Architects, a cantilevered section on the side of an island accommodates two stools, with plenty of room elsewhere for storage. “We like to activate the ends of the islands, where it can function more as an office or a workspace,” said Jejon Yeung, partner at the New York-based company.

For another Manhattan loft, the architects designed an island resembling a huge block of Ceppo di Gré marble, with two voids – one in the front and one on the side – that provide places to sit.

“We were a bit playful with the way we sculpted these niches and allocated spaces to pull up a stool,” Mr. Yeung said. The arrangement allows people on the island to engage with each other and different parts of the apartment, or to focus on independent activities.

Another option is to increase the height of the island where people will sit.

In a kitchen in a home near Lake Tahoe, designed by architecture firm Ike Kligerman Barkley and interior design firm Wiseman Group, two countertops overlap slightly: a white Neolith worktop, where the The island faces the range, is approximately 36 inches off the floor (typical counter height); a soapstone table surface, where the island faces a fireplace, is about 42 inches off the ground (typical bar height).

“We really wanted it to look like a nice big table, rather than an island,” said Carl Baker, manager of Ike Kligerman Barkley.

The raised soapstone counter conceals messy dishes on the lower counter when the kitchen is in use, he said, and it also protects computers and paper items from spills: “You can put your laptop there, play a game or do a puzzle, and it separates it from all the cooking, cleaning, and liquids.

An island can be as simple as a length of counter above ordinary storage cabinets, or as complex as a bank of built-in kitchen appliances. Deciding which is best depends on how much space you have and what functions you want to offload from other parts of the kitchen.

Designers often place the kitchen sink and faucet in the island (or in larger kitchens, use the island to introduce a second sink). “It’s a nice way to face it and open up the room a bit,” Ms. Nicastro said. When she designs an island with sink, she always includes a dishwasher and a pull-out trash can, positioned on either side of the sink, to create a complete post-meal cleanup station.

If you want to show off your cooking skills, consider installing a range or cooktop in the island instead.

Sometimes designers also use an island to conceal small appliances, like microwaves and wine fridges, by storing them on the side of the kitchen.

Finally, don’t forget to customize the interior of cabinets and doors to maximize functionality. Mrs. Nicastro likes to make room in the island drawers for countertop appliances like toasters and blenders. Ms. Brechbuehler sometimes adds sockets inside the top drawers, so they can function as charging stations. And cabinetmaking companies frequently provide dividers that give each tool a dedicated place.

“We strive to ensure that every inch of the kitchen is functionally optimized and feels really good to use,” said Scott Hudson, founder and managing director of cabinetmaking company Henrybuilt, which customizes drawer interiors to keep cutlery, spice jars and spatulas organized. “The inside is as important as the outside.”

It is possible to build an island using the same base cabinets and countertops installed in the rest of the kitchen, but the current trend is to break away from that sense of sameness and give the island a distinct material treatment.

“We increasingly think of the island as something that can be treated like a piece of furniture and could be separated from the rest of the room,” Hudson said.

That may mean choosing different cabinet finishes and countertop materials to distinguish the island from the surrounding kitchen, he said. Sometimes that also means raising the island on legs to make it look more like a credenza.

Ms. Brechbuehler likes this approach. “You can think of an island as an object,” she said, treating it as a standalone piece. Simply repeating the same materials used throughout the kitchen “is a bit like when you buy a bedroom and everything fits – sometimes it can feel like a wasted opportunity.”

In a Brooklyn kitchen designed by Workstead, most of the cabinetry and countertops are wood, but the island has a dark blue base and white marble top to make it stand out.

But even changing one material is often enough. In a kitchen Ms. Nicastro designed in El Segundo, Calif., she painted all of the cabinetry 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 countertops the same but painted the wall cabinets white and the island a dark gray.

Adding saturated color to the center of the kitchen “is just a lovely way to anchor the space,” she said. “It also gives the island meaning.”

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