Kitchens have gone through many changes during the past 50 years. Features that once were considered luxuries are now expected by consumers. The kitchen island is one such feature. Unfortunately, not all kitchens can accommodate an island. The island may create a space problem or actually impede traffic flow.
The term “island kitchen” could mean 80 percent or more of the cabinets, appliances and counter surfaces are in the island with only a few tall cabinets against the remaining wall space. Imagine a condo on top of a high-rise in downtown Chicago. The kitchen has a 270-degree view of Lake Michigan. Or maybe your client is on the island of Maui with a spectacular view of Haleakala National Park or the outer banks of the Carolinas with an ocean view. In these rare circumstances the island would comprise the bulk of the kitchen.
For most people, however, the “island kitchen” simply means an island in their kitchen. As designers, our first responsibility is to make sure there is room for the island. The National Kitchen and Bath Association has several recommendations that will help ensure a functional as well as safe island. These recommendations can be found in NKBA’s 31 Kitchen Planning Guidelines book, which is available at Nkba.org.
NKBA suggests a work space for the cook of 42 in. between the counter overhang of the main part of the kitchen to the overhang of the island counter. Handles for appliances that protrude beyond the counter overhang would also be included in the spacing requirement. Because many kitchens with islands are used by more than one cook, the 42-in. minimum recommendation would be increased for multiple cooks or helpers to 48 in.
Another factor in determining the size of the island would be its function. If you and your client decide the island would be a perfect cooking center, the size would be based on several things. First, to function properly, the island must be large enough to contain a complete cooking center, including the cooking surface, pot and pan storage for the most frequently used items, drawer storage for utensils and lids, counter work space and space behind the cooking surface to prevent accidental access. Mechanical elements such as task lighting and ventilation also should be included. The minimum size for a cooking center with a 36-in. cooktop would be about 72 in. by 35 in. A sink and cleanup center would be a little longer (minimum 84 in.) but could be as little as 26 in. deep unless you stored the frequently used dishes on the island side opposite the sink and dishwasher.
Islands often encourage family members or guests to help during meal preparation or cleanup. A second sink almost always is a welcome addition to an island regardless of the island’s main function. But before you convince the homeowner of the second sink’s value, determine if plumbing the sink is possible. Don’t forget that the island must have GFCI-protected receptacles.
If space is a problem for one of the major centers, consider a simple work island. A 36-in.-wide base cabinet would meet the minimum preparation center recommended by NKBA. If work space around the island is not possible, consider mounting a smaller base cabinet on casters. It could provide a backup counter/work space at almost any center in the kitchen then be rolled out of the way when not in use.
Many islands serve dual purposes. A popular second use for the island would be for dining. To ensure a comfortable dining space, make certain to provide at least 24 in. per seated diner and add an extra 6 in. for family members or guests using wheelchairs. Failure to provide adequate knee space can result in bruised knees or damage to back panels beneath the knee space. The necessary knee space decreases as the diners’ hips are located at higher elevations. For typical chair height of 29 to 30 in., plan a knee space of 18 in., or 19 in. for a wheelchair. A 15-in. depth is ideal for 36-in. eating counters and 12 in. will be all that is needed by the time the counter is set at a height of 42 in.