What’s at the top of every customer’s kitchen wish list? A big island! But what should you consider when planning the layout? We have four of our talented designers weighing in with their opinions: Doranne Phillips-Flynn, Randy O’Kane, RitaLuisa Garces, and Fabrice Garson.
Many older kitchens are configured in a U-shape with a peninsula. People always want to ditch the peninsula in favor of an island. But sometimes the space just doesn’t allow for it. It’s the design equivalent of trying to fit 10 pounds of sugar in a 5-pound bag. This leads us to ask whether or not the peninsula is dead. While Doranne feels it’s definitely passe’, the other three concur that spatial limitations often require it. This most often occurs in urban settings. For these two condos in Boston and NYC, a peninsula turned out to be the most efficient use of space and maximizing storage.
Both kitchens incorporate luxury materials, design details, amenities, and appliances. They feel spacious and modern, not cramped or dated.
There are instances where both a peninsula and an island are appropriate. In this NYC apartment, the designer embraced the quirky room by zig-zagging the cabinets around a window niche, terminating the 5-sided layout with a peninsula for counter seating. There was still enough space for a narrow island that provided additional prep space.
In a particularly large kitchen, this designer used a typical U-shape with the peninsula adjacent to the breakfast area in order to include a table-facing sink, a paneled beverage fridge and a microwave drawer. A perfect solution for a kid zone and entertaining! Yet there was plenty of room for a generous island that accommodates extra storage and three stools.
Though Doranne is normally not a fan of the u-shape, she suggests the alternative of an “island peninsula”, which she defines as a “pseudo island” where the peninsula comes off a wall. An example of this is an NYC apartment that originally had a standard peninsula that resulted in a circuitous route to the kitchen. The designer removed the peninsula and instead added an “island” against the space between the windows. Now there’s direct access from the front door. The island peninsula houses the sink, dishwasher, more storage on the back side, and two stools.
Another “pseudo island” is found in this luxury NYC condo. In this instance, there was no problem with limited space. On the contrary, the kitchen had a generous island that housed a second sink and additional storage on the back. But they wanted some counter seating outside the main cooking area, so a peninsula with storage for serving pieces and 2-3 stools was set against the wall.
Is there another option to a peninsula for a small space? Doranne, Randy, and Rita all mention the iconic galley kitchen. A New York City brownstone got a makeover into a stunning 19th century scullery kitchen, with marble checkered floors, black and cherry cabinetry, and gleaming brass accents.
Soft, dreamy color palettes of blush and periwinkle keeps these next kitchens feeling fresh and interesting. Though both incorporate shorter cabinetry for under-window storage at the far ends, they are still technically galley kitchens.
Just because a space is small doesn’t mean you can’t lavish it with upscale design.
When you’re insistent on an island but your space is tight, what’s the smallest one that’s practical? We have some divided opinions on this. Randy and Fabrice think it’s entirely dependent on the size of the kitchen. Rita doesn’t recommend anything smaller than 27” x 54” for the best utility and esthetics. Doranne’s smallest island was 18” x 48”; the client was initially reluctant about its tiny footprint, but ultimately found it to be well worth it. However, Doranne prefers a minimum of 24” x 72”. For spacing around the island, Doranne likes 42”, with 60” in front of a refrigerator. Rita also likes 42”, but will make aisles bigger in high traffic areas. Randy prefers 42”- 48”, but has done aisles as narrow as 36”; Fabrice also says that 36” is the bare minimum.
In an NYC penthouse, it was determined that a bigger island that extended in front of the range would be too close to the dining table. Instead, a small steel table frame was covered in the countertop material, with stylish waterfall ends. Though diminutive, it holds two stools and provides extra prep space facing the dramatic city views.
A small island can still pack a big design punch. In a converted wedge-shaped factory building, this loft’s challenging footprint was celebrated, not disguised. Contrasting kitchen flooring demarcates what is, in fact, a literal work triangle. The island’s five-sided form proudly reiterates the room’s configuration; three waterfall ends accentuate its one-of-a kind geometry. With storage and seating, the island’s size in no way diminishes its usefulness and impact.
Is there ever such a thing as too big of an island? Fabrice says it totally depends on the space and has, in fact, designed an 11’ island for a long, narrow kitchen that seated five and included a prep sink; it worked beautifully in the space. Rita feels that anything over 10’ simply looks overwhelming. But Rita, Randy and Doranne warn that, if you want a single material on the island free of seams, the slab size must be considered. Most slabs fall into the 54” x 120” range, but are irregularly shaped with rough and cracked edges. Once it’s squared off and the edge detail is milled, you’re left with a smaller top than that. Although you can find slabs that are larger than that, it definitely limits your choices.
Two examples of jumbo islands are this Hamptons kitchen (Bull Path) and one that was originally designed as a display for our Mamaroneck showroom. (Fabrice’s Artcraft display.) The Hamptons kitchen exudes a beachy vibe with its driftwood-colored wood-look laminate cabinetry. Contrasting that is the white quartz countertop with double waterfall ends; only a sink interrupts the workspace.
Our display kitchen also sports waterfall ends, but here a beefier look is achieved with a 2” mitered thickness. At one end of the island, a piece of stone is inlaid into the floor, then appears to rise up to another waterfall that forms a clever table for four. The island is so spacious that a prep sink and a cooktop barely put a dent in the work space.
If the island is too large for a seamless single slab, or if the customer just doesn’t like the look of a massive top, the surface can be broken up with either a different material or a different height. The end of this island (Adams) is raised up to minimize the island’s bulk and visually separate it from the dining area.
To create one-of-a kind island seating, these attached tables incorporate wood tops in unique ways. In one, an actual live edge tree slab gets support from bundled tree branches for a touch of the outdoors.
In the other, a stained ash wood top with a weathered steel tulip base, echoes the breakfast table at the nearby banquette.
For a customer that wanted an expandable table attached to the island, an ingenious walnut pullout mechanism is inlaid into the granite and extends onto the tabletop for a sculptural look.
A supplemental island accent can also provide additional prep space, as in this 3” thick end grain walnut butcherblock, conveniently placed across from the range and incorporating a second sink.
What about mixing different colors on the island cabinetry and tops? Once again we have divided opinions. Doranne is not a fan at all, and prefers one color for all the cabinetry and a very light/white color for the countertops. Her favorite is white quartz, though she also likes lightly veined or speckled patterns. Fabrice finds that more than 50% of his customers choose a different material for both the island cabinetry and the countertop. Both Rita and Randy regularly mix colors and materials for islands. Since painted kitchens are still popular, they both may use a different paint color on the island, or even use wood or a wood-look laminate on the cabinetry. Though in a small kitchen, Rita might keep all the cabinetry the same for continuity, and only use a different material for the island top.
For this city loft without space for a separate dining room, the owner decided to forgo island storage in favor of a dual-purpose prep and dining table. The pedestal supports match the base cabinetry and allow clear sight lines from the living area to the back wall. While the perimeter countertops are honed black granite, the table is honed white marble with back-beveled edges. A sheet of glass protects the marble from food or wine stains.
A dramatic mix of color and materials suits this downtown apartment in a trendsetting neighborhood. Bold blue paint on the perimeter is tempered by the white countertops and classic subway tile backsplash. But the island is a nod to traditional design, fashioned in white oak and featuring corbels at the overhang. Here the counter is granite with blue undertones to tie into the blue cabinetry.
Is there ever an instance where you’d have two islands? For Doranne, that’s a hard “no”. Her clients all want huge islands; the bigger the better. But Rita, Randy and Fabrice feel there are circumstances where double islands are appropriate. Rita and Fabrice point out that, in especially large rooms, having separate islands humanizes the scale and avoids the threat of an overly large island engulfing the space.
Additionally, Fabrice notes that clients sometimes want entirely different functions for the islands. Perhaps one island is for food prep, where there may be a small sink, a second dishwasher and other appliances so that it functions as a work station. The second island might be a place for homework and gathering. This was the case for an empty nester couple who watched their grandkids after school. They wanted countertop space for readying a meal while the kids did homework and crafts. While the prep island is across from the sink, the other one is perpendicular to that, just outside of the work zone. Both islands have seating in case the kids want to help at mealtime, or if guests want to socialize with the cook.
As far as what should go in the island, unsurprisingly there’s no consensus here either. This decision seems totally dependent on client preferences and space constrictions. Rita finds that, while there may be a few below-counter appliances, most prefer a clear, uninterrupted top surface for the greatest prep, serving, and casual meal flexibility. The other three designers cite that trends include a secondary sink, microwave, wine fridge, refrigerator drawers, and warming drawer. Illustrating this is a workhorse island that incorporates a sink, paneled dishwasher, trash pullout, microwave, and warming drawer.
While conventional wisdom says that an island isn’t the best place for a cooktop or range (splattering, steam and smoke in your kids’ faces?), space constraints sometimes make it necessary to place it there. Fabrice indicates that some of his clients actually request their cooking appliance in the island so they can engage with their guests.
Most difficult for customers is selecting a countertop material, made even more so by the profusion of choices now available on the market. Clients often have an idea of what they want, but rely on their designer to inform their choices. Rita is a naturalist, and always prefers the beauty, variations and movement found in marble, quartzite, and granite. She educates customers on the pros and cons to gauge their comfort level and makes her recommendations accordingly.
Randy rarely uses granite these days, with the exception of “Jet Mist” (often honed). While marble is beautiful, Randy cautions about its susceptibility to staining and acid etching. Even quartzite can be worrisome, since some are as fragile as marble. Because of its durability and ease of maintenance, she often recommends quartz, though the client has to understand that it’s more evocative of real marble and stone, not an exact replica.
But if you can embrace the materiality of a man-made product, a bold unapologetically faux veining pattern can be just the right focal point for your space. A newer trick in Randy’s design arsenal is Nano Glass, which looks like marble, has a wonderful sheen and depth, and is extremely strong and dense.
Doranne and Fabrice are firm proponents of quartz for its ease of care, durability, and consistency of pattern. Doranne sticks to white and light colors, and feels granite is too busy for today’s esthetic. Fabrice often integrates butcherblock or a live edge counter. He loves the warmth of the wood against the mostly white expanse.
After all this valuable advice, are there still some final thoughts from our designers? Of course! The first thing this should illustrate is that there’s not necessarily any right or wrong answers to these issues. I’m often asked, “What are people doing?” My response is always, “Everything!” Fabrice stresses the importance of island seating. Once you have an island, people are going to gather around, so if it’s at all possible (even if it’s only a couple stools), definitely do it!
Randy pays close attention to the placement of appliances so their locations make sense for the family. She also addresses counter heights at the island. Though Randy prefers a single 36” height for the entire island, some families like a lower 30” table height for seating, or a 42” bar height. And don’t forget to check that your stools are the correct size for your counter.
Rita’s caveat is to be realistic about your space, your budget, and your family’s lifestyle to guide your selection of materials. And both Rita and Doranne urge you to trust and listen to your designer. Their wealth of experience can help you avoid costly mistakes and ensure you get the biggest esthetic and functional bang for your budget. Though Rita says that doesn’t mean ignoring your own creative instincts! Design is a collaborative process and your participation is paramount to the success of the project.
And one more thing: design should be fun. Imagine the excitement of having the island of your dreams.
This post was written by senior designer, Paulette Gambacorta. Paulette has been designing kitchens with Bilotta for over 27 years.