Front and Center

Front and Center

Creative island and countertop applications help kitchen designers put the 'fun' back in function.

By John Filippelli

So, what better solution than to give them their very own island to enjoy? After all, with more and more clients foregoing those true island vacations to invest in their homes, installing an island with plenty of counter space not only creates a more manageable work area, but also helps to put the "fun" back in function.

These are the sentiments of Robert Sanderson, v.p./marketing for Candlelight Cabinetry in Lockport, NY, who notes: "People want highly functional kitchens, and this [can be made possible] with large, well-designed islands, which often become the center of all the functions whether it be food preparation, clean-up or buffet-type serving."

Tad Trolio, manager for Yardley, PA-based Cranmer's Kitchens by Design, agrees: "Everybody for both aesthetic and functional reasons is drawn to an island, so we are constantly challenged to do two things: Fit an island in sometimes in relatively small kitchens and then make it something extra special. In that discussion, you start to see a lot of emerging aesthetic trends."

As a result, "we are seeing more multiple layers on countertops [in the industry]," adds Mikal Shumate, CGR and president of Complete Design & Remodeling in Vista, CA. "[This offers a good opportunity for designers and fabricators because] you can design multi-level islands in any form. It is easy to take and apply the principles to any theme that you want," he continues.
To that end, Shumate notes that he has seen some unusual applications, including shelves with stainless steel poles placed in the center of granite island countertops.

Kristin Danecker, designer for Warren, NJ-based Superior Custom Kitchens, points out that she has received some unusual requests as well, stating, "People have asked for stainless steel on either side of the range, for instance. They want an insert of 12" or 15" on either side of the range because they want a place to put a hot pot."

She adds that her firm is "getting requests for unusual stone, like Petrastone. Concrete is getting popular, as well."Says Bev Adams, CMKBD, CEO for Denver, CO-based Interior Intuitions: "The higher their budget, the more variety you are going to find in countertop materials."

She adds: "I think the difference in countertops is definitely a trend. It is coming from the consumer and not the designer.

Whether the exposure has come from publications or whatever, when people come in here, they want something different."

"But clients are also concerned that there be no unsightly seams," Danecker further points out.

Adams agrees, adding that, "People are bored to death with the same surface, and they don't want a lot of lines going on. They want something more soothing."

"I like the harder, more durable surfaces with a more natural look to it, be it the man-made quartz counters or the granite countertops. In fact, we have done a number of kitchens with traditional laminate and then have done the island in quartz or granite," says Sanderson.

According to Shumate, seating is also a big issue for clients. "A lot of times the request is they want people sitting, facing a certain direction, so they can watch [the client] fix food," he points out.

Trolio agrees: "When the space allows, islands are a great design feature in the kitchen. When you have a countertop directly behind you, in close proximity, it makes for a nice way to work. Imagine working at your sink and having that extra countertop directly behind you. It makes the countertop surface more versatile and a real pleasure to work in."

Indeed, "Islands add more counter space and storage possibilities and enhance the traffic pattern by providing that central location that everything emanates from, and they are therefore becoming a more important part of good kitchen design," Sanderson concludes.

Learning curve
Danecker notes that a recent kitchen project she designed reflects a growing trend in island applications.

"Rooms are no longer square we get pentagons, angled walls and curved walls. The island has to bend [and] curve to fit the room in the aisles," states Danecker.

"People are no longer attracted to the typical one-level rectangle plopped in the middle of the room," she adds.

Pointing to the project, she says: "This is a very large kitchen that has an angled wall, so we had a gigantic amount of floor space we needed to use up. Therefore, I came up with this octagonal-shaped island that has three different levels and features double-thick granite with a double fancy ogee edge."

Featuring seven 30" corbels that help create an ornate, traditional feel, Danecker notes that the 179-1/2"x126-1/2" island needed to accommodate the clients' entertainment needs.

"They have a large family and they needed seating for five on the island. They also wanted a place for wine, a place to display items, a bookshelf, a bread drawer and a warming drawer," she explains, adding, "I find that people want an island with seating and a sink with storage. It is no longer just a place to prepare meals. It needs to accommodate people."

To that end, Danecker offers: "There is a special cabinet for a mixer, rows of drawers and a special space for a bread drawer. It also has three cabinets with pull-out shelves and a cabinet with trays inside so she can carry vegetables around the island."
Danecker concludes by offering this advice for designers: "The kitchen space is changing shape and the island really has to get away from the rectangle and explore some different possibilities."

Changing styles
According to Adams, island and countertop applications offer designers the opportunity to combine materials on an ever-changing landscape.

"The fact of not having all one surface featured is really what I have always done," she offers, citing one of her recent projects as a prime example of this type of possibility.

"It was a very large kitchen, and because of that we chose a loose-fitting look featuring Iroko wood tops [an African hardwood], limestone and two levels of granite," Adams explains.

"It gave us the opportunity to change the countertop surface on the top because you can edge all three edges," Adams adds. "There are also separations of cabinetry that make it appear like furniture. It looks like a table, and you can change the shape of the edge and treat it like a granite edge. Also, it is a solid wood top which gives the aesthetic of not being a synthetic product."
She further adds that, based on the requests she had, the material choice was obvious, noting: "With a table type of feel, there is no other choice. It needs to be a focal point."

She continues: "You see the island table with legs everywhere now, because it is becoming in many ways more the kitchen table. Having it be wood [reflects] the fact that it goes back to where things started. It gives designers a different opportunity to change countertop materials."

However, Adams is quick to note that the countertop materials also serve functional needs.

"You have a solid wood top that you can sand back, so people don't have to worry about food going into the wood. That is always issue, as people are concerned about protection from salmonella poisoning, for example. [In the Iroko tops] there is actually mink oil and different oils that repel those types of things," she explains.

Adams concludes: "The wood countertop is becoming more prevalent and used in combination with other tops, and is becoming more stylized."

Out of sight
For Shumate, a main reason why multi-level island applications are becoming popular is that they afford designers the opportunity to mask other elements in the kitchen.

"The clients in our project wanted something interesting. They requested that a sink be put in the island, but it was something they wanted obscured. So, when you walk into this room from the living room area, you are presented with this gorgeous stone that has a very multi-curved shape to it," he describes.

The bi-level island, which features granite tops, also has a main area with seating that wraps around down one side and around the end to completely obscure anything from view, Shumate notes.

"The island and countertop are S-shaped and the seating is actually at bar-stool height, which creates the visual obstruction," he describes.

"They also had enough room where we could put a good-sized island in and still accommodate the U-shaped perimeter of the kitchen with cabinets for storage," he explains.

Shumate further notes that hanging pendant lights spotlight the island and help enhance the overall design.

Describing his affinity for multi-tiered island applications, Shumate notes: "There seems to be more layers to island countertops that are meant to make it interesting and screen things on the counter so it doesn't have to be perfect all the time."

He concludes: "I think that the general idea of providing a function that also has an aesthetic appeal is something we are after for our customers. Our premise is to design what each specific homeowner wants for their particular project, but not everyone is the same. We find out what they want and then we figure out a way to do it for them."

Buffet Style
Sanderson believes that a recent island project his company completed offers a true example of meeting the aesthetic and functional needs of the client.

"It is a rather large island and the homeowner wanted to be able to use it for preparing meals and serving buffet-style while entertaining. She also wanted storage for built-in wastebaskets and storage for pots and pans, as well as for mixing bowls," he explains.

Sanderson continues: "They also wanted an antique or 'reclaimed' look, almost as if someone went to an old general store, found an old cabinet that had been painted several times, bought it and refurbished it."

But Sanderson notes that the island is unique for other reasons, as well.

"It has bun feet on it, moldings around the bottom and what we call an invisible toe kick. The toe kick is recessed in so far that it doesn't have the traditional look of a kitchen cabinet. Rather, it looks like the bun feet are holding it up like a piece of furniture," Sanderson explains.

The island has inset doors, which fit into the framework of the cupboard.

"It is made out of cherry but it has a glazed, weathered look to the finish," he offers. "The island counter is fabricated out of DuPont Zodiaq, which was selected to create an old-fashioned or older look to the pattern. There is also an ogee route on the edge of it. It is very durable, as if it were stone for rolling out dough or setting hot things on it."

In addition, the island offers a large amount of storage. "When you open these doors and drawers, there are built-in, concealed wastebaskets, pots and pans storage, storage for mixing bowls and tray storage. It is totally functional," he says.

"Over the top of the island is cabinetry [where] they wanted to store everyday glassware and dishes. [To accommodate that], we used an opaque glass called Rain Glass. It is just enough to distort, so they can keep everyday dishes in there and still have fancy dishes over that island there," Sanderson adds.

"Now, they can take dishes from the dishwasher and put them in there. The doors on the back of the island can be opened so they can load the clean dishes into the kitchen side of the island cabinets and set the table from the dining room or breakfast area side of these island cabinets," he adds.

To the left of the kitchen grotto, there is also a large peninsula that features Dupont Zodiaq counter surfaces and an undermount, stainless steel sink.

"There are oil-rubbed bronze faucets on that sink, and on the island there is what we call a veggie sink, which also has oil-rubbed bronze faucets," Sanderson describes.

"The fact that the island is different in wood, door style and finish from the rest of the kitchen helps to set it apart and add to that reclaimed look," he says, noting that the kitchen proper features painted maple cabinetry with mitered doors and antique crème brûlée finish.

"It coordinates beautifully with it," Sanderson concludes.

Three in one
It may be true that two heads are better than one, but Korkut Colakoglu used a recent kitchen island project to prove that three styles are better than one.

You see, when Colakoglu, president of Milwaukee, WI-based House of Stone, Inc. was asked to create a futuristic-looking complement to a client's kitchen, he knew that the island needed to stand out aesthetically, but not intrude functionally. A rather daunting proposition, Colakoglu notes.

"The designer wanted something that stood out and was functional at the same time. When they built the stainless steel cylinder [base], they wanted to have a second piece so that they could wrap three or four chairs to entertain while they are cooking," he explains. As a result, he designed a uniquely shaped solution for the clients with three different types of granite, and a mixture of circular and rectangular shapes.

"The half circle part needed to act as a snack bar, but space was limited. We couldn't extend the overhang more to create a bigger island, but we still had to make it visually interesting and functional," Colakoglu says.

But, while the island features an eye-catching combination of Absolute Black granite, Impala black granite and Blue Ice, the most unique aspect of the island is not even visible, he notes.

"We constructed the center island without any brackets," he notes. "There is no support underneath, so we cut it with a water jet and glued the pieces together. We then reinforced them with a steel bar and polished the surface. It is one solid piece with two different colors."

Colakoglu also points out that the island features a garbage compactor and storage area inside it for added function.

According to him, the perimeter countertops, which also feature Blue Ice, offered its own set of challenges.

"The customer didn't want to see a seam on either side of the sink because of the light coming in from the corner window," he describes. "Therefore, we had to make sure that the entire section came out of one slab and was able to be installed without any problems. The seams are actually right at the cooktop, so it gives [the perception] that it is one long countertop without any interruption."

Also of note, Colakoglu says, is that the stainless steel cylinder aesthetic was carried into the corner dining room with a table that features an Impala granite circle on it, as well.

"We filled the cylinder with sand because the top weighs quite a bit and there is no other support. The customers did not want to have their knees hit anything when they sat there. Again, we did a steel rod, which is connected to the steel base. You cannot tip it over."

Colakoglu concludes: "This project is very contemporary and futuristic, yet practical. We were very pleased with the outcome." KBDN