Kitchen Islands Go Big

As more family members gather in the kitchen to cook, do work, and hang out, the anchor of the room is increasingly a better outfitted island. Here’s what you should know to make it work and look its best.

Why the trend now?

What many homeowners tell their remodeling experts is that they want an island to help them multitask. It’s a place to prep, cook, serve, and socialize. Especially as Covid-19 ramped up, the island become a place also to pay bills, do work, and art projects. In fact, Houzz, the online design site, found in its 2021 kitchen study that two-thirds of renovated kitchens feature an island. Before Covid-19, many used the larger countertop surfaces also for setting out a buffet. Many expect that trend will return once the virus is controlled.

How big should it be?

One reason islands are getting larger is that they need to house more components to help perform so many tasks. But another is that due to the prevalence of the open-concept plan. some cabinetry, storage, counter space, and appliances had to be relocated as one—and sometimes–two walls came down to open the kitchen to an adjacent room. Some of our bigger islands measure up to 60” by 110 ½” to include all features.

Open concept floor plans means less space for shelving and cabinetry. This created a need for bigger islands to store kitchen items.

What typically gets incorporated?

Georgian prefers using traditional stile and rail, inset panel cabinet doors for their kitchen designs unless the architecture calls for something very contemporary and then a flat panel door style would be more appropriate. Appliances consume most of the rest of an island’s square footage. Typical ones incorporated are refrigerator and warming drawers, a sink—these, too, are getting as big as 4’ to 5’ long and 19” wide, a dishwasher or two, and maybe a beverage center to spare opening and closing the refrigerator for cold drinks and fruit. Some of the bigger sinks also reflect the trend of thegalley workstation, which features a faucet, cutting board, strainer, and other tools and becomes a place for family and friends to prep collaboratively.

While in years past, many installed a cooktop, we prefer not to because it might require a hood for venting, which can obstruct views of those standing or sitting around. Instead, for cooking, we might install a microwave drawer below the countertop.
For comfortable seating, we prefer stools with backs for a standard 36” height countertop and if clients prefer chairs, they might lower one side to 30”. Generally, however, they don’t include two levels.  

What about the aisles between island and perimeter walls?

As islands have gotten larger, it’s key to be sure the aisles all around are wide enough to maneuver easily. We prefer a 4’ or at least 42” width for walking comfortably and opening cabinet and range doors without bumping ones on the opposite side. Going down to 3’ is too narrow. To go bigger we may add too many steps and an unnatural feel.

Experts say that at least 42” in width is needed around the island for walking comfortably and opening cabinet and range doors.

Are granite countertops passé?

The countertop material matters for work, healthfulness, and aesthetics. As granite, especially speckled versions, became ubiquitous, new material favorites emerged, and most design pros have their favorites. We prefer porcelain, which resembles marble but doesn’t stain, etch, or scratch. It’s also heat resistant and antimicrobial. We never liked synthetic materials before and preferred natural stone, but the new porcelains look so good and work so well. They also like quartzite, a natural stone, more than manmade quartz. Some, however, prefer quartz to porcelain because of the consistency of its coloring and says less maintenance is needed than with quartzite. Whatever material is chosen, decide whether to conceal or play up seams if the island requires lengths larger than standard slab sizes.

This kitchen features a mixture of materials including marble and live-edge wood with white oak facing.

What about the color palette?

Despite the interest in bringing some color into kitchens, gray, white, and beige remain the most popular hues, according to Houzz. However, the island offers a place to introduce some contrast to what’s on perimeter boxes. A mix is also a way to add visual relief in a large kitchen. We also have found that a kitchen can be a place to have fun with color and recently designed kelly green and turquoise kitchens. But we caution not to use too many different choices. If you break up cabinetry with different colors throughout the room, then use one material and color for the countertops.

This unusual seam detail adds interest to the design while tying together two different materials. 

Other ways to distinguish one island from another?

To give a kitchen a personalized look, a number of details can provide spark. Georgian often use one overscaled light fixture above an island rather than the almost cliched trio of hanging pendants, and then add recessed cans for supplemental light. They prefer some understated but interesting hardware, perhaps, in crystal and a simple design. Other newer finishes are showing up, too, from bronze to copper, and black and sometimes more than one in a room. Georgian has added built-in troughs, some with a drain to place beverages and ice for a party, and others with a cover to conceal multiple outlets.

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