Once thought of as a nice luxury to
have in oneís kitchen, todayís island ó in all its glorious
versatility ó has become an essential element. Islands have become
such a centerpiece that some who donít have one feel stranded on ó
well, you get the picture.
"About 70 percent of our kitchen
customers want one," says Molly Madsen, a designer with
Affordable Bath and Kitchen in Greenfield and Mequon. "Islands
have become a standard part of what people think of in a new or
And why not? Showrooms and promotional
photos showcase kitchen islands in almost every size, style and
function. They provide space for every function in a kitchen and then
some, a kind of Swiss army knife of living.
"Itís hard to imagine just a
simple butcher block square that was the original island years
ago," says Nick Kerzner, owner of Kerzner Remodeling and
Construction in Oconomowoc.
Milwaukee area kitchen design experts
offer advice on how to turn your fantasy island into reality.
Get a good fit
"The rule of thumb is to have at
least 36 inches and preferably 42 inches of space all the way around
the island," Madsen says. "This gives enough space to walk
past, even with stools, and to allow for dishwashers and other
appliance doors to have enough clearance. I tell people who want an
island to cut out a piece of cardboard in the size and shape they want
for their island, tape it to the floor and then walk around this space
for several days to see how it feels."
If you donít have the space, you
might want to consider a peninsula instead, experts advise.
Also, if you hang a pot or glass rack
above the island, make sure the rack is well within the island
footprint so that you donít bang your head on whatís hanging down.
Consider its function
"You have to decide whether it is
going to be a cooking space, an eating space or something else,"
Madsen says. "The flexibility of an island is that it can be your
primary cooking area, a food preparation area, an eating space, a
storage area, an interesting focal point for the room with little
function or a combination of things."
Functions may include a full cooktop,
prep or bar sink, wine coolers, refrigerators, trash compactors,
dishwashers, bookshelves and cabinets to store or even showcase china
and stemware. Russ Waters, a designer with Wisconsin Kitchen Mart in
Milwaukee, says the space will drive the function.
"You canít just load it up with
everything you can think of," he says. "A good example is
that some people try to have a raised snack area that is just 12
inches deep. You really need 18 inches; otherwise youíre knocking
Pull up a chair
Another functional rule is to arrange
island seating so that diners can interact with each other ó so donít
line them up in a single row ó and that they can also converse with
The cook can keep an eye on children
doing homework or making craft projects if there is ample seating and
counter space at the island.
Coordinate and contrast
Like his colleagues, Rob Craig, general
manager of The Kitchen Center in Brookfield, points to all the
versatility in materials and design. The materials can add a
contemporary or classic touch with how a metal or hard surface or a
carved wood is incorporated.
"You can either match or contrast
what you already have in your kitchen," he says. "Some
people choose to carry a design element to the island. You can use
heavy wood, stainless steel or quartz or other hard surface. You can
also combine the surfaces."
Robin Swernoff, owner of Lakeside
Stoneworks in Brown Deer, suggests mixing and matching granites.
"Itís not unusual to see different materials used in various
levels of an island," she notes.
Also of note is that islands have
broken out from their typical square or rectangular designs to a
variety of other shapes including curved and oval.
Place for storage, individuality
Diane Cramer, a designer with World of
Wood of Oconomowoc, says she has incorporated family antiques into a
design, provided a customized space underneath for a dog bed, built in
a television for the backside of a unit and developed a specially
designed raised 6-inch square center as a decorative focal point.
"We incorporated a little pin spot
(light) to illuminate the center, which was in a very large island
that you could not reach across," Cramer says.
Gene Mulligan of Mulligan &
Associates of Mequon says one design had a pop-up mixer in a space
with several work areas. "We did one 8-foot by 4-foot island that
had wine racks, book shelves, microwave and a rollout drawer with a
bread maker," he says. "If you have the space, you can do
Richard Froze of Froze Design-Build in
Milwaukee just completed a project that made a room divider out of an
island by building two towers anchoring a valance. The towers, he
says, are lighted and hold pantries while the valance provides a space
for artwork. The entire piece is about 12 feet long by 42 inches wide
and 9 feet high, a foot short of the ceiling.
"It divides two rooms (kitchen and
living room) in a bungalow style home," he says, adding that Arts
and Crafts Style elements were incorporated in the design.
Froze notes that another unusual island
utilized mobility as well as function. "It was basically a prep
area on rollers situated over a floor receptacle in the kitchen,"
he says. "After the prep was done, though, the homeowner could
wheel the whole unit into the dining room or living room for
Islands, then, serve the vital function
of enhancing the kitchenís expanding role as a center of household
"When you think about it, islands
make a lot of sense," Cramer says. "Not only can you do all
the things that are needed for the kitchen, it can be a place to do
homework, pay bills, fold laundry or whatever else you need to get