First, islands work. Because they can be accessed from all sides like the old kitchen table, they're ideal for a variety of kitchen tasks (see "Function First," below).
Second, these freestanding pieces instantly become the focal point of a kitchen because they can have the look and feel of furniture rather than components in a domestic laboratory.
Third, islands help kitchens adjust to some of the big changes in American life in the past few decades. In June Cleaver's 1950s kitchen, all the appliances and cabinets were tacked to the walls of a closed-in room. Today's kitchens are not only open to other rooms but they also have to accommodate multiple cooks, kids doing homework, and even party guests.
The phrase I hear most often—true of my own house as well—is "Like it or not, everybody ends up in the kitchen." A well-designed island offers a place for people to congregate while at the same time separating those who are cooking and cleaning from those who are just hanging out.
When planning an island, here are the key points to consider.
Islands have to work to make them earn the space they occupy. Here are the four things islands can do and some design suggestions for each function.
Clearance for the dishwasher door in the open position.
Pull-out garbage and compost bins next to the sink.
Easy access to dish and silverware storage.
Storage for dish towels, dish soap, etc.
Dual-height counters to hide dirty dishes from view.
Outlets for small appliances.
Refrigerator and cooktop close by.
Access to compost bin or disposer.
Prep sink and butcher-block counters are good additions.
Heat-resistant countertop (stone, tile, metal) for hot pans.
At least 18 inches of space on either side of cooktop or range.
Overhead vent hood or downdraft fan (with second exhaust fan in ceiling).
Raised eating area out of the range of spatters.
Counter height/width designed for standard-size chairs/stools.
Softly contoured edge profile is most comfortable for leaning on.