Islands may well be the hardest working and most versatile aspect of your kitchen. Whether you need storage, prep space, additional seating, or a visual divider, kitchen islands can serve it all up with the style worthy of the star of your show.
Nowadays, homeowners are only limited by imagination—and, of course, budget—when it comes to combining materials, finishes, colors, sizes, and shapes into an island paradise. Following are a few approaches we encourage you to consider when designing a new kitchen or remodeling your current space.
But before we offer a taste of some of the best design ideas around, we would be remiss in not offering a couple of technical reminders: be sure there is ample clearance around your island and think carefully about whether you want a sink or a cooktop on it. That placement may make the most sense, but it may instead create an eye-sore for those seated at the island. If you feel you need a water source, perhaps a bar sink at one end is the way to go.
Most islands are rectangular, but they don’t have to be. Consider more fluid, curving shapes to add a flowing sense of movement to your rectilinear kitchen. Or, how about the opposite, like a geometric chevron shape?
If you aren’t ready to fully embrace the sculptural form, maybe a rectangular island with a curving bar on one side is a better option. Not only can this be an elegant look, but it allows those seated at the ends to better see the other diners and feel more connected. Similarly, if you have enough clearance on one long side and one short end, you can create an “L”-shaped bar to bring diners in closer proximity to each other for a more sociable gathering.
Also contributing dynamic movement is a waterfall edge countertop—at one end or both—which gives the appearance of a seamless flow from the horizontal surface to the vertical drop. This is a particularly dramatic approach if you choose a deeply veined slab large enough to allow the veining to “fall” right over the edge. We are starting to see waterfalls that flow over the edge but don’t extend all the way to the floor for a twist on this trend. If you add extra width to the countertop, the overhang provides a place for dining.
Scale is important. If your kitchen is large, you don’t want your island to appear overwhelmed. A thick or “chunky” countertop can add visual presence and heft. Mitered strips around the edges give the impression of a top several inches thick without the additional weight.
If you choose wood for the base of your island, you can certainly paint or stain it. But why not consider oiled vertical slats for an on-trend look with a mouthwatering luster; tongue and groove paneling for some farmhouse charm; or “legs,” “feet,” and other furniture details for a family heirloom vibe? If you paint, consider a bold color. As with a powder room, due to the relatively small size of an island, you can be a bit more daring with color or pattern and luxe materials, since you won’t require a lot of them.
Mixing materials can spice things up provided you don’t get too carried away with contrasting colors and finishes. Juxtaposing, say, stained wood, painted wood, and stone or tile, especially if two of those are repeated nearby, can lend loads of visual interest while still creating harmony.
Many islands offer longitudinal seating, but if your space is large enough, consider a “T”-shaped island, perhaps with contrasting countertop materials, to visually join, but functionally separate, the food prep and dining functions. You can do this even if you stay with a more traditional rectangular shape. Additionally, the dining area can drop down in height if you prefer chairs to counter or barstools. If surrounding space is no object, consider a banquette on one side of your island with a detached, but integrated, dining table and chairs.
Remember that everything on and near the island will either contribute to or detract from its impact, so think carefully about hardware, fixtures, appliances, and overhead lighting. If pendant lighting is your choice, choose an odd number. And, as long as the kitchen is bright enough overall, statement lighting offset to one end of the island contributes unexpected asymmetrical sophistication.
Since storage is generally one of the prime purposes of an island, we urge you to incorporate a variety of closed cabinets, drawers, and open shelving for maximum flexibility and functionality.
And, finally, in our tech-infused world, you might consider extra sockets and charging points in your island for both homework and work-at-home.
Virginia Beach native and JMU graduate, Chris Ettel, is founding partner of VB Homes. Ettel serves on the Coastal Virginia Building Industry Association board of directors and is past chairman of the CVBIA Remodeler’s Council.