Ask Nicely: Can you help me explore which options to consider and how to get the most out of the design?

Dear Evelyn,

I am an avid HGTV fan. I love to watch the popular design shows because I want to stay up to date on design trends. One of my favorite elements are the fabulous kitchen islands. Kitchen islands seem to be a hot commodity right now; which inspired me to explore new options for my own outdated kitchen. My goal is to incorporate an island that will enhance my kitchen both aesthetically and functionally– an island that my family won’t be able to resist gathering around, while at the same time, creating more efficiency to the overall space. Can you help me explore which options to consider and how to get the most out of the design?

Dear Island Lover,

This reminds me of that fun question, “If you were stuck on a deserted island and had to choose 3 things, what would you choose?” However, in your case, the question is more like, “If you were designing the kitchen island of your dreams, what are your must haves?” This is an important question, as we know that the heart of many homes is the kitchen, but of course, the heart of the kitchen is often the island. Here are six tips to consider as you design your island paradise; one that feels like an oasis.

1. First, ask yourself, what is the island’s function?

Before you start to think about counter tops and finishes, the first thing to consider is what your island’s main functions and priorities are going to be. Perhaps you should think of your lifestyle and then write a list. Would you like to devote more of the design towards cooking or gathering to eating? Will it be used primarily for prep work or entertaining? How about the kid’s homework? If you want appliances and sinks in your island, you’ll need more space. If it will be used just for casual meals, seating should be your priority. Or would you like to use it for all of the above: prep work, cooking, cleaning, eating, homework and entertaining? It is important to determine what your emphasis will be, and that will help to steer your design.

I would recommend thinking of your island as part of a solution to your kitchen’s overall flow of working and living patterns. Then allow the other design details to fall into place.

2. How will an island fit into your kitchen layout?

Kitchens tend to have a busy nature that makes the space anything but static. Designing a functional layout requires every part to be cohesively designed, to ensure that the “working” space of your island functions with the rest of your kitchen in a way that makes the most sense. Creating a work “triangle layout” is key. This layouts revolve around a basic connection between the refrigerator, stove and sink; keeping everything within arm’s reach while you’re cooking. For example, an oven built right into the island looks impressive, but it achieves a lot more than that. It creates the coveted “triangle layout” between the stovetop, refrigerator and sink, so you can chop, sautee’ and rinse dishes with the greatest of flow and ease.

When designing your island, it is also important to create open floor area to make room for traffic while cooking. The design of the entertaining/eating side of the island is usually determined by the adjacent space (a dining room or living room) if there is one. If your kitchen flows right into the living room, an island or bar layout can be the perfect way to separate the spaces without feeling disconnected.

3. What appliances do you need in your kitchen island?

If you decide you want to integrate appliances into your kitchen island, you need to plan for function as well as spacing. List the appliances you want in your island, in order of priority.

Here are a few appliance choices and scenarios to consider. A range: if you’re installing a range, you must also consider the space needed for an exhaust vent or hood. A dishwasher: will the main sink also be configured into the island? If so, spacing is key. Do you have a large kitchen? If your refrigerator or stove isn’t near the island, you may want to incorporate a small undercounter refrigerator, microwave or warming oven. Will your appliances be concealed to add a sense of visual continuity, or will your they be focal points? Since appliances can easily be the most expensive part of a kitchen remodel, deciding what can fit into your new kitchen and where it will go is a critical decision.

4. How high should the counter be?

This is a frequently asked question. First, determine your seating height. If you want to have bar stools at your island, you’ll need to decide if they will be 36 or 42 inches high. A 42-inch-high bar stool and counter allows for more flexibility in design, as the island can then have two levels. Two levels will enable you to have the working side set lower for prep work and the dining side higher to accommodate bar stools. And, here is a cool tip, the area in between is a great place for electrical outlets.

For a more universal design, a 36-inch-high counter provides for seating that’s between a typical bar stool and a table seat. It doesn’t allow for as much flexibility in design, but can be a good choice for a designated eating area. I suggest leaving at least 12 inches of overhang for seating areas, but 15 to 18 inches tends to feel more comfortable.

5. Do you need a designer?

Kitchen islands are often a main gathering area, work space and focal point, therefore it requires a lot of thoughtful consideration when implementing your design. A designer will offer you a professional sense of proportion and will take care of planning for all its proposed uses. You should consider working with a designer, especially when your island is related to more than just a working kitchen, but an overall design feature for your home.

6. Set the mood

There’s no denying the allure of a glorious counter space. If your desire is to create an island that family won’t be able to resist gathering around, then you should choose fixtures, features, textures and color scheme to set a mood. Warm tonal colors, pendant lights, high-backed stools, a pot rack hanging overhead, and other special finishing touches should be chosen to create a space that makes the kitchen feel more, well, homey.

This is your opportunity to design an all-purposed island that gives your family no excuse not to sit and savor a meal– even if it’s just cereal topped with milk!

At Nicely Done Kitchens, we take a comprehensive approach to design, creating the perfect island as a part of your complete kitchen remodel. Ready to get started? Call us today at 703-764-3748 for a complimentary consultation.