The typical locker room layout of most kitchens suits the manufacturers more than the people who use them. I love the idea of a kitchen where we can gather around an island together for everything, rather than have our back to the room, unable to interact with family and friends.
An island – or three – harkens back to the charm of the unfitted kitchens made up of furniture pieces and tables that are adapted to the family’s needs. Just watch any film set in the French countryside. The kitchens are so much more interesting and accommodating than the over designed and manufactured, prescribed kitchens that we’ve become beholden to.
I love having all the activities take place on kitchen islands. It feels wonderful to prepare a meal while the kids are doing homework at one end, and a friend is leaning on the other side with a glass of wine and “backseat cooking”.
For 25 years we’ve been renovating urban home with modest footprints and always trying to incorporate an island for the social engagement it invites. Kitchens are the heart of our homes and the islands are here to stay.
We tend to work in urban homes where every square inch needs to be thoughtfully utilized and rarely have the space for the typical double island. We have used double islands in innovative space saving ways though. Like tucking an island on wheels with a butcher’s block surface under a quartz countertop to be wheeled out to act as an extra work station during a pierogi making party or to lay out a buffet. Or adding a small utility cart sized island that can be wheeled into different locations to add a secondary prep space and even be wheeled into the dining area for efficient serving.
One would think double islands are most suited to grand homes with lots of space in the kitchens, but they can also be incorporated into smaller footprints and provide much needed flexibility.
Sometimes breaking up a long island into two units makes sense for ease of access, it can even be done with a flip up countertop separating them so you get the best of both worlds.
Often we can fudge the recommended isle distances with islands and make what is technically a one person kitchen work for 2 or more by keeping the islands short so you are never trapped by an open dishwasher.
It’s important with large islands particularly when they line up with each other lengthwise that you keep a homey feel. If not, they tend to lean towards commercial looking especially if they also line up with a traditional kitchen bank of cabinets. It can be a very dramatic and gorgeous look especially if it’s executed with minimalism.
Multiple islands also offer an opportunity to have multiple works surfaces; marble for pastry, wood for chopping, steel for surgery, and can offer different heights. Sometimes when I am beating eggs – which my grandmother insisted be done by hand – I put the bowl in my kitchen sink or on a bar stool because the counters are too high. Islands can offer opportunities for different heights of work surfaces and can even be designed to be adjustable like an electric sit/stand desk. This allows us to adjust our work surface rather than adjust to our work surface. This can even provide a surface at children’s heights as they grow so they are not stranded on a chair.
People who are open to innovative layouts are open minded and innovative and adventurous. We are so seduced by house porn, it’s rare that anything really deviates from the norm and is truly innovative. I would love to design a NEW kitchen that is highly adaptive / flexible, very high functioning, gorgeous, kick-ass and fun.
It’s critical in any aspect of home design for there to be perfect harmony between form and function; anything less is lazy and unconscionable. A double island must only be introduced because there is genuine need and space to accommodate it. This implementation must be designed to accommodate and delight.
Never squish islands into a space that can’t gracefully accommodate them.
We never want to be trapped or confined in our homes, or be afraid of stubbing a toe or bumping a hip.
Using soft geometry and creating curved islands is a wonderful way to alchemically expand our space because the soft lines let us place things a little closer together without feeling cramped and invite a fluidity of movement to inspire flow in our work. Imagine an amoeba shaped island where people can tuck into different parts and get creative with their cooking or crafts and how liberating that might feel especially if it was broken into a few pieces and could be puzzled together in different configurations.
I love the idea of lining the walls with windows and shallow (8 – 15 inches deep), full height shelving with sliding doors or even just curtains – as blasphemous as that sounds to the kitchen manufacturers. Imagine being able to just throw open the drapes on everything you need to cook with and never have to rummage through because you can see everything you might need. Then all the activity can happen on the islands where we can connect with each other and enjoy the views.
Island-life conjures up frosty slushies with fruit kabobs and reggae music to sway to while soaking in the sun, our kitchens could feel more like this too! Islands can be so flexible and accommodating especially if they are on wheels and liberated from the standard rectangular shape! New homes should have simple plumbing and electrical fit ups recessed into the floor so we can rearrange things to suit us whenever we want rather than be confined to a set way of working and living in our homes. Then islands could be reconfigured to suit our ever-emerging and changing needs.
Kitchens truly are the heart of our homes and islands create opportunities that can uplift our spirits, delight and inspire us. It’s time for a kitchen revolution and islands will lead the way.