Your Own Private Island: The focal point of the kitchen is now better than ever

Filed in Design and Decor by on February 28, 2014

Photo Courtesy of Swedberg Wood Products Inc.

Photo Courtesy of Swedberg Wood Products Inc.

As Mary and Mike Montplaisir of Fargo sipped their drinks at Jimmy Buffets Margaritaville in Las Vegas, they were struck by more than the fun atmosphere. The vacationing couple couldn’t stop admiring the beach designed bar top, made from poured concrete and decorated with shells.

“We could do that,” thought Mary.

They brought their idea back home to their lake cabin and built a new island from the ground up. Mike, president of M&H Construction in Fargo, knew a thing or two about concrete and got to work designing.

Using sand-colored concrete and rebar, they poured a concrete countertop. Mary personalized it with shells their children had collected during family vacations. Once set, they poured a thick layer of non-yellowing resin over the top to coat the concrete and provide a solid work surface. They decorated the sides of the top with white tile.

“It’s a conversation piece when we’re gathered at the cabin,” Mary says. “The look of ours is very specific to the lake, but there are lots of options for people. You wouldn’t need to just use shells.”

Photo Courtesy of Swedberg Wood Products Inc.

Photo Courtesy of Swedberg Wood Products Inc.

Purpose and Popularity

Concrete top or not, kitchen islands are growing in popularity. As kitchens have become the center of the home, more homeowners desire a large island where everyone can gather.

“Depending on space, we go as big as we can,” says Jerry Swedberg, co-owner of Swedberg Wood Products Inc. in Alexandria.

Those big islands are perfect for prepping meals, making it easier for a few people to cook together. They’re also a place to eat breakfast,  serve drinks, host parties, sip coffee and gather with friends. Large drawers and cabinets provide needed storage. And when done correctly, islands are the visual highlight of the kitchen.

In smaller homes undergoing remodels, even a moderately sized island can make an impressive mark. Berit Rosenberg, kitchen and bath designer for Hudrlik Carpet and Tile in Brainerd,  says she often replaces kitchen peninsulas with a new island to create flow and a gathering place.

“Some clients like to have a multilevel island that may include a cook top, dishwasher or sink, with a raised or lowered seating area,” she says. Others are choosing to do large single-level islands that workgreat for making cookies with the grandkids or serving buffet-style for family gatherings.”

Islands simply provide the ideal gathering place, agrees Jason Nelson, owner of Agassiz Granite Tops, Fergus Falls.

“They’re a nice workspace, especially if you’re entertaining,” he says. “It’s easy to converse with your friends while working at the island prepping food or serving drinks. You don’t have your back to anyone.”

Photo Courtesy of Swedberg Wood Products Inc.

Photo Courtesy of Swedberg Wood Products Inc.


Island design options are almost endless. Thankfully, designers can walk you through the process, helping you determine what will meet your needs and complement the rest of your kitchen.

A popular option today is the furniture-style island. Decorative posts, simple or decorative feet on the cabinetry and even bookcases on the ends make an island seem less like another cabinet and more like a unique piece of furniture.

“You can use tulip fee, ball feet or mission-style straight legs to make it look either very formal or informal,” says Bruce Janowiec, manager of Showplace Kitchens in Baxter. “People are tired of seeing the same toe kick wrapped around the island that’s around the rest of the kitchen.”

Another popular island options is using a contrasting color to the rest of the kitchen. For example, the island cabinetry is very dark, while the perimeter cabinets are white. Different finishes can also help the island to stand out, such as rub throughs, glazing, painting, distressing or weathering.

“We are mixing painted and stained cabinets in almost every kitchen,” Rosenberg says. “We are mixing up different door styles and different countertops too.”

Photo Courtesy of Swedberg Wood Products Inc.

Photo Courtesy of Swedberg Wood Products Inc.


Cabinetry and countertop options again really depend on your personal style and preferences. The array of materials and combinations can bring many different looks to your kitchen.

Popular cabinet woods today include cherry, alder, maple, quartersawn oak, hickory (no knots or mineral streaking) and Lyptus.

Granite continues to hold the lead for the most popular material, with quartz as a second choice. Depending on the island size, it is sometimes possible to use a remnant piece of granite, saving on cost. Rarely are two different granites used in the same kitchen to minimize patterns. Janowiec says the perimeter is typically done in granite and the island in quartz, or vice versa.

Corian, laminate and wood are additional choices.

“Wood is the new trend in island countertops,” Rosenberg says. “And not just the familiar maple butcher block, but walnut, cherry and bamboo, too.”

Janowiec says black walnut is especially striking.

“It’s fairly expensive, but everyone loves it,” he says. “People worry that it would be scratched, but it’s meant to be a good chopping block, sealed with mineral oil. After lots of use, you can just sand it down and start over.”

Your Island

With so many material and design options, you’re sure to find the best fit for your kitchen, creating a centerpiece you’ll enjoy for years.

“It’s important not to be afraid to do something different,” Swedberg says. “You don’t want something out of a box. Be creative, research online and meet with designers.”


by Amanda Peterson, a writer in Moorhead.


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