Islands to Ooh and Aah Over, and Which Work

Islands have become the go-to space to build in extra cabinetry, place some appliances and have more counter surface for working, eating or just hanging out. They also can become the focal point of the room.

But …there’s a big but—actually several–when you plan. It takes up valuable real estate and needs to be large enough to perform at least one or more of these tasks. You should be sure to
– Allow at least 4 feet from perimeter counter to the island’s edge to walk around easily;
– Make it at least 4 feet long–some suggest up to 6 to 7 feet;
– Be sure it can be at least 2 feet and preferably 3 feet wide or larger.

Conversely, it doesn’t have to be as enormous as some have become. “They’re getting bigger so people can spread out and use a laptop,” says Chicago designer Tom Segal of Kaufman Segal Design. Too big, and it will be the only thing you see!

Other do’s and don’ts that make your investment smarter:

Designer Lori Gilder Photo: Bethany Nauert

1. Minimize too much busyness. You don’t have to vary the color and material of the island countertop and cabinets from others in the room. One difference is fine.

Design & Photography Jennifer Bunsa

2. Pick a countertop material that serves its prime function. If part of the area is for baking, consider marble or even quartzite that’s cold and smooth to roll out dough. If it’s a place for a young family to dine, draw, do homework and play, make it extra durable such as quartzite again, or quartz or a quality granite.

Photo: for

3. Limit appliances. Too many and you chop up the work surface or have too many people using the same area. Maybe, a bar sink for small clean-up jobs, a microwave kids can access without crowding the main work area, a cooktop if there’s not enough perimeter space or a beverage center/wine refrigerator at one end. But not all!

Designer Rebecca Reynolds Photo: Michael Partenio

4. Put it at the right height. Most standard counters are 36 inches from floor to the top but if it’s for bar-style seating you may want to go up to 42 inches. Have some counter overhang for feet to rest comfortably.

Designer J Witzel Design

5. Limit cabinetry. An island can be a great place to have more storage, but select items stashed there that make sense. If part of the island is for baking, maybe a drawer for baking equipment but not storage for pots and pans or spices. You can also keep it light with open shelves underneath.

Designer Richard Anuszkiewicz Photo: Jennifer Hughes

6. Use lighting judiciously. Unless your room has recessed cans overhead, a trend that’s fading because it makes rooms look like Swiss cheese, you need good illumination for tasks and mood. Rather than the usual three-pendants-in-a-row cliché, consider one glamorous fixture to make a statement.

And if you don’t have room for an island, consider a small movable cart on wheels with some built-in storage space.


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