Island in the Sun

A kitchen island is the most versatile element in the room. A large one acts as a focal point while a smaller, cart-like design works as an accent piece. It separates the cook from people hanging out in the kitchen, while still allowing everyone to interact. When the kids aren’t doing homework on it, the countertop serves as a place to dump groceries. Nassau Suffolk Lumber & Supply’s Cecile Cote, based in Bohemia, addresses the functionality and aesthetics of islands and how to create the proper space.

Pulse: How do I design an island?
Cecile Cote: Well, what do you want to use the island for? If it’s for food prep, it should be counter height [36 inches], a rectangular shape and the standard size is at least 4 feet long and 2 feet deep, with a little bit of overhang. If you want seating, then you need 15 inches of overhang for legroom (or 12 if you’re struggling for space), so you’d use a 36- or 39-inch-wide countertop—that’s 24 inches for the base cabinet plus the overhang.

Pulse: What if I want to entertain in a tighter space?
CC: For a small space, I’d reduce the depth of the cabinets. The standard depth of a base/island cabinet is 24 inches, but if you’re just constructing a bar island to stand at, use an 18- to 21-inch base at 42-inches [standard bar height]. It’s basically for party guests to hang out, but still allows some storage underneath.

Pulse: What about materials for the top?

CC: Most of the time you use the same material for the island as you do for the countertop. Some people choose a wooden butcher-block top for a rustic look. For baking purposes, choose marble. It’s a cooler surface, though it is more porous than granite or quartz. Also, with the marble top or butcher block, it is a contrast and makes the island pop as an accent piece. If you have quartz countertops, a butcher block can offset the all-stone look. [Find out about engineered stone and concrete counters in our Renovations column on page 84].

Pulse: How can you make the island more versatile?
CC: By using two levels [at 36 and 42 inches]. This blocks off the kitchen/prep part from the entertaining part. Sometimes people put sinks or cooktops in the island too, and don’t want them to be at the same level as the space where people hang out. We sometimes put outlets for appliances and add prep sinks, which is good for two cooks.

Pulse: How about adding style?
CC: Painted wood lends itself to a country-style look, but a natural cherry or similar wood stain will also work. For a contemporary look, use drawer bases with big, wide drawers and long wire handles, as opposed to doors. Don’t use raised panels, use more of a slab or flat front on the drawers and doors; you don’t want a lot of detail or molding, it’s more of a straight-line look. For a traditional look, you’d have a raised panel and a mixture of doors and drawers.

36 inches is the minimal distance to have between any surface and the kitchen island, though 42 inches is the ideal. Don’t have adequate space? Build an island on locking caster wheels so it can be moved when not in use.