Kitchen islands were made up to be the best thing since sliced bread, and many a new home owner was enticed to dabble with the idea of having one. There are some obvious advantages to having an island: for one thing it allows for a lot of more work surface, it offers more options for arranging the usual kitchen appliances without having to have ceiling-high storage units, and it works well for collaborative cooking and socialising while in the kitchen.
This being said, a kitchen island also has serious disadvantages: it requires specific preparations for the electrical cabling and extractor fan installation, and it needs A LOT of room to set up properly. In the end, it is similar to a huge table that you cannot move. If you intend to use the island as a breakfast bar, you’ll either have to add more surface to the island that sticks out over the units to allow for proper seating, or you’ll have to sell off some prime storage real estate where the knees will go. Both those options will either require a lot of space or a loss of functionality of the island.
And this is really the crux of those kitchen islands: they require a lot of space! This means they only really work well in giant kitchens, or in a huge space with a kitchen wall to one wall.
This made me think: who do I know who has a kitchen island? I know some people who do, and they are lucky in that they have an enormous kitchen. Most people I know, and most flats I have visited privately or on business had kitchens the size of a smallish corridor, with barely any space to work as a team, let alone having any furniture beyond maybe a folding table and a set of chairs in there, if at all.
Why choose a kitchen island at all? The main reasons are storage, ease of work surface access, and the social element. I suspect a modicum of show-offity as well, in some cases. Let’s look at the three main reasons:
Here’s the thing: I often see kitchen islands in combination with a selection of low storage units under the work surface, accompanied by lush, empty walls or abundant decorative elements on the walls. In terms of storage, the island has not really added much that could not have been achieved with hanging cabinets. And to be frank, I prefer having my cups, mugs and glasses above the ground, not having to kneel on the floor to drag out something from the back of the cabinet. The same goes for cooking utensils, condiments and staple foods like noodles or rice. I would not want those to be at knee level. That may be a personal choice, but if you ever have been in a position to look for that one particular cooking pot at the back at floor level, you’ll understand what I mean.
When it comes to work surfaces, I cannot fault the kitchen island: it adds a lot of surface, provided the surfaces that sit against the wall are not cluttered up with kitchen apparatus, in order to keep the central island empty. One main reason the island is often kept empty is the danger of things falling off the edges, or because the island houses the sink or the hob.
On the other hand, the wall-mounted surfaces now often end up bearing the brunt of the job of holding space for all kinds of mixers, breadmakers, juicers, toaster, kettle, etc. Not quite the decluttered vista you would wish for.
That being a good thing from a social point of view during the cooking process, it does not inspire to sit down and eat because it’s not quite a social surface with a used and potentially splattered hob and a half-full sink right next to you.
YES, the island can be a social space during the cooking process: the cook can be in constant chatting contact with the guests, they can jump in and lend a hand when it comes to chopping stuff and then sit down again. A drink can be handily put down outside of the danger zone and constant movement around the kitchen island is a possibility.
The only thing that separates the kitchen island from a breakfast bar seems to be the height of the surface and the available surface and usefulness for cooking, though.
Lots of pros and cons are in evidence here, but it all boils down to the available space. I believe that the hype around kitchen islands has introduced many of them into spaces that were too small to actually accommodate one. Plus: interior designers and architects seem to have finally caught up with the realities of today’s real estate: kitchens are simply too small and need vertical storage rather than horizontal options like this.
I say congratulations if you have the space: go with the kitchen island if you need social contact during cooking. Otherwise, stick to storage up the walls, I guess.
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Hi, my name is Tilo Flache. My current mission: help my clients declutter mind and space.
This blog contains pointers for your journey towards a happier living experience.