Fantasy Island

Filed in Design and Decor by on August 9, 2015



By Merrie Sue Holtan | Photos courtesy Calla Lily Designs


Picture ancient relatives gathered around the cooking fire to share food, tell stories and forge emotional ties. Throughout history, family loyalty grew stronger by everyday routines such as eating together. By the 19th and early 20th Centuries, with additions of gas, electricity, stoves and refrigerators, the kitchen became the heart of the home with the kitchen table as the family’s gravitational center.


Post WWII kitchens replaced the all-white kitchen design with colorful décor and added a U-shape. By the 60’s and 70’s, kitchens turned gold and avocado, and more women entered the workforce. Current culture including the popularity of the food channels, celebrity chefs and the realization that men also enjoy cooking set the stage for the kitchen island movement in the 1970’s.


The island has replaced the traditional kitchen table, and the walls have come down merging the kitchen, family room, living and dining rooms. The family cook is no longer segregated, and the island often provides a stage to cook in front of friends. The kitchen island transforms from a place to build a Lego castle by day into a Hipster bar by night where good friends and family chat over appetizers.


An elegant solution for usable workspace


Kitchen islands have now become the norm rather than the exception. One out of every two new homes will have a kitchen island.


“I would say that 90 percent of the kitchens we work on will have some type of island or peninsula, which will eliminate the formal dining room,” says Emily Stock, designer at Cullen’s Home Center in Fergus Falls. “Many customers have moved on from portable islands because they are using the island for appliances. I also see customers using their island as a bar for entertaining.”


The basic fashion forward kitchen island is a centrally located countertop primarily for food preparation, auxiliary cooking needs, ample seating and storage. It has a smooth countertop from a standard kitchen material such as tile, stainless steel, wood or stone and serves busy families well. The top, usually waist level or higher, has drawers for food preparation tools and utensils.


A more advanced island design features a working sink, garbage disposal unit, dishwasher, side pull out cutting board and trash pull outs. Well thought out storage areas include sliding shelves, baskets and sorters. Overhead island illumination works well with recessed light, focused track lighting or hanging pendant lighting.


More elaborate islands feature small refrigerator units, televisions, electric burners, griddles or grills and an exhaust fan to draw heat and smoke away from the kitchen.


Heart of the kitchen


Amy Nelson, Kitchen and Bath Specialist with Stenerson Lumber in Detroit Lakes, explains that while kitchen islands are still function-based design elements, the look of the island has become much more important.


“Today’s island often has furniture-like details such as posts, feet, skirting and trim,” Nelson says. “ In lakes country, white painted cabinetry is the most popular for the perimeter of the kitchen, but people often choose to add contrast with a pop of color for the island or a different wood species all together, often with a darker stain.”


Homeowners may chose a simple countertop for the perimeter and then go “all out” for the island, using the perfect piece of stone or quartz to showcase the natural color and movement of the grain. Butcher blocks still remain quite popular.


“Most islands are rectangular to keep straight lines and simplicity, and the multi-level surface seems to be fading away,” Nelson says. “Most opt for a single flat surface. They are designed as large as the space will allow for smooth kitchen movement.”


Island choices reflect lifestyle


Aubrey Costello, sales designer with Showplace Kitchens in Fargo, says she first begins with the client’s lifestyle.


“This is the foundation of the island design for the gathering hub of the home,” Costello says. “I believe the bigger the island the better. The minimum walkway around should be 36-42” in a one-cook kitchen and a two –cook kitchen might require 48” spacing. The islands we’ve done tend to have a painted finish in contrast to the stained wood perimeter cabinets. Stone has been an extremely popular countertop, and quartzite stone has really risen in popularity. Customers are choosing a leather finish, rather than shiny. It’s a happy medium between gloss finish and honed finish, a touchable texture.”


A creative touch


According to Jamie Wallace, Calla Lilly Designs in Fergus Falls, sometimes the space in the kitchen is too tight for a large permanent island.


“We can incorporate a smaller island on casters,” she says. This is easy to move within the space as needs arise and can be removed all together. The drawback is lack of permanent seating, but it still allows for more work area.”


Wallace believes that lower island counters allow for comfortable, table height seating and gives the option of using dining chairs. Counter height keeps the island at the same height as the rest of the kitchen and calls for counter height stools. This is perfect for the client who enjoys baking and canning and wants to use every inch of countertop. The third option is bar height, where the counter is raised to allow for bar height stools. The raised counter conceals some of the mess of a working kitchen and allows seating and/or serving counter separate from the main prep counters.


Designers predict future kitchens will make room for the double island and integration of fridge/freezer drawers, icemakers, coffee stations, microwave drawers and wine fridges. Advancing technology allows for drawer outlets, USB port outlets and countertop charging pads along with internet ready appliances.


Evolving from a simple table, the kitchen island has transformed from a luxury item into an everyday necessity.


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