Kitchen islands are all-purpose workhorses. They are places for preparing food and dealing with the resulting aftermath. They are hubs for socializing, places for children to do homework, areas around which guests congregate during parties, and spots to grab breakfast or a quick lunch. They are room dividers and space definers. Islands are appliance centers, waist-high storage lockers, and cases for displaying books or knickknacks. Serving buffets, functional sculptures, built-in furnishings, miniature works of architecture—islands are all of these things.
Regardless of what you do with your island or how you intend to use it, there are a few fundamentals to consider when approaching its design. Whether it’s a multi-tasking super-cuisine lifestyle center or a humble two-foot-square chopping block, the best island is a cohesive entity with parts that are in proportion to its bulk. This means that if you use legs, turnings, or feet, they should in some way relate to the form they’re supporting, and they need to look like they’re necessary. Skinny or overly frilly turnings stuck under heavy sections of cantilevered countertop or pasted onto bump outs or corners for decoration are not in that category. Neither are gratuitous angles or curves. In the same way, legs or turnings should also appear to be engaged with and part of the larger shape from which they extend. Countertop thicknesses, edges, and corner details should add to rather than distract from the main message of a kitchen island, which is ultimately, “I am a piece of furniture with (fill in the blank) function to perform.”
At the same time, don’t feel limited by the usual square or rectangular form of a single center kitchen island. It is possible and sometimes desirable to create multiple islands that do many things and that have quite novel forms. In the kitchen pictured here, the islands are hardly basic rectangles. But they are in fact pretty simple shapes, easy to read and understand, and they respond to traffic patterns and other room requirements without looking forced or contorted. The large island that separates the kitchen from the living room is a wedge with a semicircular banquette carved into it, with a small tower at the point where traffic either goes into the kitchen or the living room. The banquette and table use the rest of the island as the back wall of an implied cozy dining space. In the kitchen proper, the work island across from the range is slashed by a curved, raised bar top that orients towards the view and the main social space. Again, it’s a simple form with a twist that’s been shaped in clear response to the architectural space and outdoor views.
Overall, well-designed islands have simple anatomical segments and details that are as sensitive to line, form, and proportion as any good piece of furniture. With a little thoughtfulness and careful consideration, it is easy to create beautiful but restrained works of functional art.