While “living on an island” may suggest isolation or loneliness, the phrase actually holds a far different meaning in the kitchen. In fact, a well-designed island – complete with ample seating and dynamically aesthetic countertops – can hold the key to creating a space that is ideal for entertaining friends and for large family gatherings, while still being durable enough for day-to-day use.
Rylie Larimer, owner/designer for RJL Designs, LLC in Colorado Springs, CO, explains: “Today, clients want more personal choices included in their kitchens and often there are families cooking together more and needing more available diverse workspace.”
To that end, it is not unusual for designers to spec 36" work surfaces and 42" bar height for islands, mix a variety of different countertop materials, or establish islands that will have distinct levels; particularly for those households with family members with height differences or varying accessibility needs.
Likewise, designers are also finding green and antimicrobial options very popular on islands and countertops, often selecting bamboo butcher block as well as recycled concrete and glass countertops for a more natural sensibility.
Ultimately though, it is a designer’s ability to creatively establish a highly functional and attractive island – one that encourages entertaining and gatherings – that set any kitchen project apart.
On this and the following two pages, KBDN looks at some recent creative applications for islands and countertops.
Island in the Stream a Centerpiece for Clients
For her recent island kitchen project, Tiare Noelani Cowan, CKD, Allied ASID, needed to divide and conquer.
Cowan, president of Honolulu, HI-based Archipelago Hawaii explains: “The clients wanted a gathering place at the kitchen area but also wanted a sense of separation from the dining and living room spaces.”
To achieve this, Cowan created a raised bar which wrapped both sides of the kitchen island, providing ample seating opportunities and a sense of separation.
She adds: “Since there was so much counter space in the kitchen we felt we wanted to change the bar top surface to add some interest. Therefore, we decided to use a dark walnut butcher block counter for the raised bar area which plays off the cabinetry finish, keeping the simple scheme of the kitchen but adding a nice textural detail to the space.”
Cowan selected a Silestone top for the center island, which combined with the butcher block, establishes a true focal point. The Silestone is also continued along the perimeter countertops, which paired with the Sollera cabinetry in a Whistler door style, adds warmth and cohesiveness.
“We’re seeing a lot more mixing of countertop surfaces in kitchen designs. This allows for a more dynamic design and the ability to bring in some different textures to add interest to each kitchen design,” she says. “Butcher block, as used here, is becoming a more popular countertop choice because it is being offered in so many different wood species now, not just the standard maple we have seen.”
From a spatial perspective, the island also serves as a dividing element from the main living space, further defining the kitchen, she explains. The island holds the cooktop and a second sink which allows for non-intersecting work triangles if more than one person is helping with the meal preparation or cleanup.
Completing the look are Thermador appliances, she adds, including the refrigerator with 36" French door and bottom freezer model, as well as the 30" double oven and double convection model.
Designer Solves Space Concerns with Unique Island
If one is good, then three is better. So says Anthony Albert Passanante, CKD of Anthony Albert Studios in Waldwick, NJ, who incorporated three distinct countertops throughout this recent kitchen project.
He explains: “This particular kitchen hosts three different countertops: granite for the perimeter and the working part of the island, a walnut wood top for the seating area of the island and a 2"-thick leathered black granite for the hutch behind the island. The island is painted a chocolate color with a sand-through, while the hutch in the kitchen is also the same color.”
He continues: “The challenge with the 10'-long island was that the space was not that deep and the ceilings were 10' high. So, I designed the island in a way that allowed plenty of room for traffic flow and room on the working side.”
Passanante created a two-level island to bring a different material in and also to counteract the high ceilings. Specifically, a 2"-thick walnut top was used for the high part of the island and Passanante had a wall built which features stone tile below the walnut top – which also ties into the tile on the hood. The island provides ample seating, as it measures 42" high in the seating area.
He adds: “I installed a Sharp microwave drawer and Marvel beverage center in the island, so you can’t see them when walking into the kitchen, [yet there is still great function in the kitchen].”
He concludes: “I always try to use materials in different ways and mix materials to give the kitchen personality. The key is to take a chance because it will keep the passion flowing.”
Multi-Level Island Provides Options for Clients
When is an island more than an island?
The answer is when it provides multiple levels for various cooking tasks while epitomizing the sense of gathering that many clients crave.
These are the sentiments of Mark White, CKD, and owner of Kitchen Encounters in Annapolis, MD, when describing this recent kitchen project.
“This project was most interesting because it was installed into what used to be a family room,” he says, adding that the island actually provides a “kitchen” side and a “serving and entertaining” side.
However, this also presented White with a unique set of challenges.
“It was difficult to come up with an appropriate design for this space since it had to fit in what was a long and narrow living space. The L-shape of the island proved to be the best solution,” he says.
He says the 2"-thick Teak raised wood top has a curved seam where the straight section meets the expanded round section that wraps the corner.
“At the other end, we created a lower work station which is appropriate for baking and other prep tasks,” he points out.
Specifically, the kitchen side of the island features cherry cabinets while the serving side is made of zebrawood that matches the hutch in the corner. Likewise, the stainless steel apron sink matches the stainless steel dishwasher front and faucet, and the copper cabinet pulls match the copper hood.
“The wood tops often create a softer transition to other areas and create a more ‘furnished’ look and feel,” he says. “The key to this countertop and island was our ability to consider a variety of options and to brainstorm with the client to create a great solution.”
Designer Finds Large Solution for Clients
When Chris Hanks, co-founder of Hanks House in Albuquerque, NM, was faced with the large challenge of accommodating a family of six during a recent kitchen project, he responded with a similarly large solution.
He explains: “Supporting the Artisan Stone Collection Absolute Black Granite countertops on this 130-¾"x57" island was a challenge. Instead of traditional in-shop fabrication, everything needed to be assembled on site so it could wrap around the supporting steel and cabinet elements.”
Hanks commissioned Rocky Mountain Stone Co., also based in Albuquerque, to fabricate and install the piece.
He explains: “Because of the mitering on the island, we needed a material that was consistently dense to prevent chipping on the edges. Therefore, the Absolute Black Granite was the perfect option because it fit that demand and fit in well with other black, bold features in the appliances, including the Sub/Zero refrigerator, Wolf range, Karbon Faucet from Kohler, ASKO dishwasher and Miele dishwasher.”
Likewise, the thicker edge used on the counters offers a distinct European design influence – a perfect way to establish the minimalist theme, which is also reinforced by a custom mosaic tile backsplash by Erin Adams along with custom cabinetry by Hanks.
In fact, he adds that this kitchen reflects an unusual regional trend in the Albuquerque market, that people tend to have a preference for “aesthetics instead of performance,” he says.
He adds: “Another standout element is that the polished concrete floors present the island as if it were on a stage.”
He concludes: The reason this particular project is successful is that we viewed the island as an object – a piece of furniture – that can have its own design integrity for the space and the client.”
Kitchen Features ‘Grand Central Station’
For Rylie Larimer, a recent kitchen renovation provided a fresh start for the client.
“This kitchen was outdated from the tile counters and floors, to the appliances, to the heavy and low soffits and ceiling. The island originally gridlocked the kitchen by being the cooking space, prep area and eating space all in one. This large kitchen was dominated by the island,” he says.
According to Larimer, the final renovation plan selected was a compilation of two other initial plans. Specifically, the client wish list included a wine cooler, a second prep sink, additional counter space, new built-in appliances and a separate eating space for casual dining. In response, Larimer moved the cooktop off the island to an underused wall, removed the soffits and added a second prep sink in the new island.
“Now the 36" island complements this opened-up kitchen by being a central work space from food prep on the cooking side to clean-up on the side to the sink and dishwasher,” he says.
He adds that the 42" bar-height peninsula counter between the kitchen and dining room adds space for casual dining separate from the food preparation and cooking, and provides an opportunity for guests “to step away from the business end of the kitchen.”
He notes that the main counters and island top feature a leathered Gazon granite, while the raised bar features a leathered Blue Volga, which complements the Koch Cabinet Marquis series perimeter cabinetry.
He continues: “The leathered finish detail added the natural look and feel to the granite surface this client requested and it marries well with the stone fireplace now visible from the space, as well as the Thermador appliances we used.”
He concludes: “[With the 48"Wx84"L island as the centerpiece], this kitchen is opened up and ready to serve and entertain.”