The Perfect Island

The Perfect Island


As a professional kitchen designer I receive many interesting requests from my clients when discussing the redesign of their spaces … but the one request I hear most frequently is, “Do you think we could have an island in our new kitchen?”


There is a good reason for this frequent request.  Islands, when designed correctly, add wonderful function and aesthetic value to a kitchen space.  Unfortunately, I have encountered far too many kitchens – whether in the preliminary planning stage, or recently built without the guidance of a professional designer … with islands that do not function well … that ultimately result in more obstruction and inconvenience than benefit.


There are several things that make an island a wonderful amenity when it is part of a carefully thought out kitchen. First and foremost… it must appropriately fit the space while maintaining adequate clearances and walkways around its perimeter.  All too often, islands are squeezed into too small a space and as a result appliance doors don’t open to allow adequate access and the cook is cramped and uncomfortable in this important workspace.  Conversely, I have also encountered designs where the island is disproportionately too small relative to the size of the kitchen.  The result is a ‘wimpy’ look that appears to be more of an afterthought than an integral part of the design. The ideal dimension for the walkway around an island is 42” for a single cook kitchen and 48” for a two-cook kitchen. In some situations, however, an absolute minimum of 36” might be acceptable, but this minimum dimension should be carefully scrutinized for impact on the design and safety of the kitchen.


Kitchen Island with multiple functionsIslands work best when they play an active role in the kitchen. In addition to augmenting the storage and counter work space, an island’s function will improve immensely with the addition of a prep sink.  Forming a work triangle with the refrigerator and cooktop, an island prep sink will likely become the most frequented work space in the kitchen. Very little happens in food preparation without water or electricity, so be sure proper electrical receptacles are included in the design, as well.  These important features will naturally draw the cook towards this airy and open workspace.   If an island  sink is not an option, consider adding a cooktop, a dedicated bake center or snack bar seating to give it purpose; because an island without ‘purpose’ will otherwise become just a collection site for ‘clutter’.  When seating is added, it is important to provide adequate knee space, as well as clearances for stools to be pulled out and stored.  Knee space clearance will vary based on the height of the snack bar: 18” for 30” ‘table-height counter, 15” for 36” standard counter height and 12” for 42” bar-height.


Lastly, consider the aesthetic design of the island to make it a focal point in your kitchen. An interesting shape, contrasting countertop, alternative finish and interesting pendant lighting will elevate this wonderful amenity to become the important feature it is… the number one requested design element in kitchens everywhere!


Rebecca Gullion Lindquist, CMKBDI am a columnist for Duluth Superior Magazine, a monthly publication dedicated to the finer attributes of life in our Northland.  My column appears in the Style section and is titled ‘Living by Design’.  The following column was published February 2013.

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