The Two-Island Kitchen

Because the kitchen has evolved into an important center of activity for the family, the shape of the room has changed substantially in recent years. Additionally, the kitchen is oftentimes more centrally located in a floor plan.

Rather than enclosing it with surrounding walls between the garage/laundry room and living spaces, open space planning increasingly focuses on a view to and from the outside or into adjacent living spaces, resulting in fewer wall cabinets than in years’ past.

From the smallest New York loft apartment to the most spacious estate home, today’s consumers are looking for a designer who can more creatively manage the space by moving away from the four traditional kitchen shapes to produce both a functional and inviting room.

One way designers can change the way they organize these larger roomscapes is to consider two islands in a kitchen – or, reintroduce the “farmhouse” kitchen table – to echo an island nearby. Another idea is to detach a peninsula from the wall it is anchored to, transforming it into an island.

These various island shapes can be perpendicular or parallel to one another. They may relate to one another, or serve very different functions.

However designed, the concept of creating a plan with more than one island is being employed by successful designers everywhere. In the 2008 National Kitchen & Bath Association Design Competition (see related story, Page 104), two talented designers used such an approach. Joan DesCombes, CKD of Architectural Artworks Inc., created a great kitchen by including two different areas for friends and family to gather. Anthony Albert Passanante, CKD of Peter Salerno, Inc., planned two large islands to facilitate the cook’s favorite baking hobby, and to provide space for multiple chefs.

Identifying Activities

As you consider creating a plan with two islands, the first thing you need to do is identify all activities that will take place at or around the islands. Think about the following:

  • If two cooks prepare a meal together, storage on both sides – or even all four sides – of the island is important. For such a work-around/walk-around island, placing a sink facing the end (with a single-handle water/temperature control behind the spout) may be an ideal spot for cooks on each side to access the water source.
  • If the island will serve as the second cook’s hobby center, a place for the wine master’s tasting parties, an area for a children’s juice and breakfast bar or just a “hangout” spot, the island can have one “working” side and one “people” side.
  • Both islands may serve one cook. The center area can provide landing space, the second larger island acts as a “barrier,” with people seating placed at this island, which defines the edge of the cooking space.

The concept of a barrier island is worth detailing a little more. For some families, everyone “cooking” together means just that – everyone has a job in meal preparation, table setting or clean-up. There are lots of people in and out of the space layout, and they all need a spot to work from. I consider this “cooking as a social event”.

Alternatively, many cooks enjoy having people in the kitchen with them, but not intruding into their workspace. I call this “cooking as theater.” For this second consumer, the “barrier” island creates an invisible threshold so individuals visiting the cook, acting as host or hostess (with access to the entertainment center or refrigerator) do not enter the cook’s work space.

Diverse Design Elements

While function is key to the design of the islands, kitchens with two islands can also greatly enhance the beauty of the kitchen space because they invite diversity in design elements.

I have seen plans with very functional, large single islands – but, I must admit, they remind me of an aircraft carrier! Others are so large – and square – I doubt anyone can get to the center of the structure to use them, or to clean them.

Additionally, such large islands may force the traffic patterns to be continually moving in a racetrack shape. Splitting these large islands into two elements has several advantages:

  • It gives the designer greater color and design freedom to add an accent color.
  • It provides a way to sprinkle seating throughout the space, rather than just restricting it to
    one area.
  • It allows a much more free-flowing traffic pattern for family and friends who may be sharing the space, or visiting with the cook from a proper distance.

Clearly, the first question is: “Where will the major centers of activity be placed on the kitchen plan, what sort of people interaction does the cook(s) anticipate, and what activity responsibilities could be assigned to multiple islands?”

Planning Suggestions

To start the planning process, here are a few suggestions:

  • When working with multiple large island objects, think of each of them as a total block of space. I locate the work areas between cabinetry along walls and the islands under consideration. Next, I select any point-of-use appliances, as well as identify the best location for major elements. This helps determine what the ideal size of the various islands would be. Creating templates of these island shapes that meet the workstation or socializing criteria makes it easy for me to move them around the plan when considering different options.
  • If you are including specialty cooking areas, specific refreshment centers or other centers of work activity away from the primary work zone, counsel with your client about what duplication should be planned for utensils, bowls, containers and any food stuff (spices, etc.) that may need to be in more than one location in the kitchen.
  • If your plan initially is a U-shaped kitchen with one peninsula leg and an island, consider moving the peninsula away from the wall so it becomes the second floating island. This may improve the traffic pattern for the overall space. Similarly, if your solution seems to be creating a very narrow, long island, break it up into two separate cubes of space. In a contemporary kitchen, these two islands may be mirror images of one another.
  • Carefully plot the walking space based on how people will pass one another. A 36"-wide walkway is only acceptable for the cook if he or she is literally walking between two counters. If the cook is addressing and using an appliance or cabinetry with doors, the industry standard of 42" must be met. If people will walk side-by-side with one another through the space or behind the cook, that 42" can be cramped: These primary walkways should be 45" to 54" wide.
  • If a table arrangement is limiting your ability to solve a space dilemma with double islands, consider making the table a key workspace in the kitchen. It can be in the center of the kitchen, inviting a person to be seated while working, or be comfortable as they gather around to visit. Of course, this only works if there is plenty of walkway! Alternatively, the table can be just outside the working island – long, narrow tables work very well and use space efficiently (30"x60", 36"x72" or 36"x84" table sizes).
  • You can make a more generous area available to the island if you eliminate a table completely and substitute some type of bench or banquette seating. When you attach one, two or even three walls around a seating space, you save from 30" to 42" each time the walkway from the table to a wall behind it is eliminated.

Ergonomic Specifications

In the drawings on page 100, the ergonomically correct specifications for booth or banquette seating are illustrated based on the dimensions listed in Architectural Graphic Standards.

Of special note when planning this type of seating: You must pay close attention to the type of seating cushions that will be used. If you have very firm upholstered seats, they will typically finish at 19" off the floor. Therefore, if the seat is 2" thick, the woodworking may end at 17". However, if the person sits on a very soft cushion, the banquette structure needs to finish at 18" to 19" off the floor.

Secondly, although Architectural Graphic Standards does not address this because its detailed drawings are driven by commercial restaurant standards (where the table is normally not moveable), my experience is that home banquette works far better when it is a bench/table/chair arrangement or an L-shaped banquette with a table. I prefer this arrangement because a seated person can “pull” the table closer to make it more comfortable.

Design Ideas

When it comes to designing with two islands, here are a few ideas:

  • Vary the two overall island sizes, as well as individual cabinet heights within the two pieces.
  • Decide if the two islands need to be identical in configuration, or whether one can have a furniture-piece personality. This decision is normally driven by which island will receive the most use by the cook.
  • If you are separating two islands, introduce different door styles, finishes or hardware. Consider including open display space, as well as enclosed spaces in one of the islands. Be cautious: If you include glass doors, make sure the glass is tempered.
  • Wherever there are sinks, think about how the clutter of a working kitchen can be concealed from visitors. Duplicating recycling centers and dishwashers so all of the sinks are complete centers is a good way to control dishes and refuse.
  • When planning to define one of the islands with overhead decorative lighting, save that great solution for one of the islands: Do not have hanging lights over both – which will look like too many hanging lights. Make sure the decorative light does not block a sight line to a television the family members may be watching when seated or when working at the island under the decorative lights. Additionally, be very careful about the sizing of any light fixtures you plan on hanging above a 42" raised counter if your overall room finishes at 96" off the floor.
  • A large space may be enhanced both functionally and aesthetically by organizing the space around two center room island structures. Traditional planning standards continue to guide the creativity process when designers expand their application to two islands, rather than one.