Home Touch

Island Is Home's Chartered Territory

The kitchen island has become a fixed point on the home's architectural map. Not only is the kitchen island a place for food preparation, it also serves as a focal point in the heart of the home.

The island's functional design has even migrated to outdoor kitchens and other parts of the home, such as the master closet, says Alana Busse, National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA) Central Coast and Valleys Chapter president and a designer at Westside Remodeling Inc., based in Thousand Oaks, California.

"An island, as a home's design element, isn't tethered to a wall and is a free-standing workspace that has access from all sides," she says. "People are naturally attracted to an island because it has an open feel to it and is usually in the center of a room or space."

People just naturally hover and land around an island workspace, no matter where it's located, whether inside or outside the home. "One of the largest design requests we receive is to create a space for a kitchen island, " Busse says. "More homeowners are doing away with a formal dining room to create more space for the kitchen island."

Don't let your kitchen island become uninhabitable by neglecting to plan specific design elements. Busse says an island is usually a counter-height of 36 inches and is -- at a minimum -- 2 feet wide. "The length of an island can span up to 8 feet long, but must fit the space to allow for the traffic flow around it," she says. "An island can bridge the gap in a kitchen that opens up to a great room."

An island requires, minimally, a 3-foot clearance on all sides, with some local building codes requiring as much as 4 feet from the nearest wall. "People need to make sure there aren't conflicting doors between the island and appliances along the wall," Busse says. "It's important to know what you plan to use your island for and whether there will be a cooktop, sink or seating."

When it comes to seating around the island, allow at least 2 linear feet at the countertop for plenty of elbowroom. Electrical must be run to the island for ground fault circuit interrupter outlets, small appliances and cooktops. Plumbing is needed for a sink, disposal and/or dishwasher on a kitchen island dedicated to food preparation.

The kitchen island can be a feast for the eye by incorporating overall home design into this culinary hot spot. "An island can be made to look like a piece of furniture in a traditional home or very spare in a contemporary house," Busse says. "Make good use of the space underneath an island to stow cookware, glassware or other items used on or around the island."

Shed some light on any task performed on an island with either hanging pendants or a showstopping chandelier. If the cooking surface is on a kitchen island, the capture area of the exhaust fan should be larger to compensate for the fact that the fan will be drawing air from an open space. An island cooktop with a large hood vented to the ceiling can visually fight with hanging light fixtures, so an inconspicuous downdraft fan system might be the best solution.

The great outdoors is a whole new frontier for the kitchen island. Any appliances, countertops or cabinetry in an outdoor kitchen island must endure the elements. Be certain that any appliance installed outdoors has the UL (Underwriters Laboratory) seal approving it for outdoor use.

Busse says a dual-height island with a 42-inch-high raised counter, which can serve as a bar, and a lower 36-inch-high work counter, has fallen out of favor. "People want an island which has a large countertop that is one continuous piece of granite, concrete or quartz," she says. "While quartz may be a good option for an indoor countertop, check with the manufacturer to ensure the high-performance polymers, resins and pigments used to mimic natural stone are outdoor-rated."

The island can also be dressed up for use in a master closet. "People who have a master bedroom suite with a large bathroom and closets may have an island that serves as a way to organize jewelry or clothing options," Busse says. "A closet island is a great place to store small accessories and also doubles as a surface on which people can work."

As a design concept, the island isn't eroding: it's only becoming bigger and better, says Busse. "Today's entertaining at home is a more casual experience with family and friends," she says. "With an island, you can be part of the food preparation to catch dinner AND a show at home."

Island Ideas

-- National Kitchen and Bath Association, NKBA.org, click "Prosearch" to find a certified kitchen professional near you. 1-800-843-6522

-- WestsideRemodeling.com or call 805-499-4121.

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