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Today’s kitchen islands remain a popular, sought-after staple settled into the heart of the home.
While it may seem hard to believe, the kitchen island came into modern use during the 1950s, but its prevalence in the kitchen – ramped up during the 1970s and 80s.
Don’t think you can make an island work? Think again. While space is a determining factor in the size and shape of a kitchen island, there are ways to work magic with this important home staple.
And if space allows, multiple islands can be a great option, according to Pam Lazor, owner of Casa Double L Interior Design in Riegelsville.
“What I love is to do two islands – one for food prep and having a cocktail, breakfast or a buffet area because the cook wants people out of the kitchen but wants to still see them, and the second one, which could be the same size or larger – depending on the space – for socializing,” she explained.
John Gray, project manager at Total Home Manager LLC in Hopewell, New Jersey, said layout is important to consider when adding an island.
Think about how your kitchen is used, along with who cooks and spends time there, and what best meets your – and your household’s – needs.
Island size and proportion matters, according to John Gemmi, owner of Gemmi Construction Inc., in Buckingham Township.
“The thing about kitchen islands is that everyone wants the big island, but they may not have the room for it,” Gemmi said.
Size and proportion isn’t just about the square footage available in the kitchen to build or locate an island – or the size of the island in the space – it’s also about how many cooks are in the kitchen.
“If both partners cook – and they like to cook together – you’ll want 42 inches between the perimeter area” and the island to allow for pass-by space and maneuverability, he explained.
If one person does most of the daily food prep, about 36 inches is the minimum to target when setting up the island distance to perimeter spaces, Gemmi said.
“I’d say people really still like the big island. They want to be able to sit at it and have a work station at the other end. The demand is for open floor plans with large kitchen islands,” said Jaimie Meehan, a Realtor at Melissa Healy Group at Keller Williams Real Estate in Doylestown.
Kitchen islands offer a large space to prepare and serve food, making them an important feature in most kitchens and a highly sought after element to home buyers and owners.
“An island is an open prep space, and it adds a lot more counter space to the kitchen. The island is a workhorse area of the kitchen,” said Leigh Nunno, a Realtor and associate broker at Melissa Healy Group at Keller Williams Real Estate in Doylestown.
Does everyone gather to eat casual daily meals at the island? Are children doing homework there? Is the island an impromptu work space for catching up on emails or putting the final touches on a project for busy professionals?
“Even in new construction for townhouses, the island is an important feature,” Meehan said.
While continuity often dictates the same countertop materials in a kitchen or bathroom, islands naturally provide a chance for more leeway – and creativity.
Lazor likes natural stone which offers different tactile and functional features.
For a topper cool to the touch – and ideal for rolling out pie crusts or cookie dough – marble fits the bill.
Wood is great for chopping and signals a dining area, too. Granite is ideal if you’re the kind of cook or baker who prefers placing hot cookware, pans or cookie sheets directly onto the countertop from the stove top or oven.
“Granite and quartzite are sturdy, hard and more temperature resistant” Lazor explained,” while other stones have more veining. Look to the quality of the natural stone received before it’s installed.”
Newer granite offerings have a “hidden” heating element option, allowing the island to also become a cooktop space.
Consider an alternate “chef side” with a wood block between stone to slide out for easy cleaning, she noted.
Mitered slab countertops on the island are a popular trend, to make it even thicker and beefier looking, Gemmi said.
It’s become popular to make the island a statement, setting it off or apart from perimeter cabinetry. This can be done by using different base materials, colors or with different countertop materials.
“If the island is a separate independent element, adding a different countertop can be a wonderful to make it a stand out, and island cabinets can be a different medium or a different species wood,” Gemmi said.
According to Homes & Gardens.com, choosing a different island countertop allow material choices to be driven by use and function, durability, maintenance needed and what else is going on already in the kitchen.
Consider the island height when choosing stool sizes, as well as the amount of room surrounding them.
“If you have the room for stools with backrests, they do take up more space,” Gemmi said, while backless stools can be easily tucked under a countertop overhang so they are out of the way when not in use.