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Let’s travel back to the Victorian era for a moment. See that big work table in the middle of the kitchen? That’s the precursor to the modern island. In upscale residences, that table-cum-island would have been surrounded by workers who were preparing, serving and cleaning up after the night’s meal while the lady and gentleman of the house enjoyed themselves in the dining room. Oh, and did we mention that this working kitchen was generally placed in the back of the home, where it could be hidden from view?
Today, the modern island is not just front and center (literally) in the kitchen. It’s become the heart of the home and the site of dinner prep and dinner party spreads, not to mention homework and crafts and baking. High-end islands may require superior function to act as workhorses, but, in many residences, their main role is simply as a showpiece.
So how do you translate the needs and wants of modern luxury homeowners when it comes to their island? We spoke to two industry experts, Raun Thorp, co-owner of Tichenor & Thorp Architects, and Nancy Mayerfield, owner of NM Design House, to find out.
Raun Thorp: We tend to be pretty trend-resistant; we try to design projects that will endure over time. Almost everyone wants an island that looks beautiful and is packed with functionality. Designing the island so it reads more as a piece of furniture and less like an airport landing pad gives focus to the kitchen and establishes a point of view for the space, as the island is usually the focal point. Incorporating seating, bookshelves, warming drawers and dishwasher drawers are all pretty frequent client requests.
Choosing the Right Material
Raun Thorp: We have designed islands with countertop materials ranging from white, green or brown marble to Caesarstone and even Marmoleum with a metal edge. Butcher block can also be done in a fresh way by using woods other than the standard maple; mahogany and walnut.
Living on the Edge
Raun Thorp: We have done some waterfall edges but try to use those when they make sense as an overhang that incorporates stools below.
Once Color or Two?
Raun Thorp: Two-tone cabinetry works best when the island is another color or material from the main kitchen; it then reads as a piece of furniture and breaks up the mass of the kitchen.
Addressing Spatial Needs
Raun Thorp: We have designed islands to incorporate almost everything: seating, bookshelves, warming drawers, dishwasher drawers and a baker’s table done at a lower level and in white marble to roll out dough. Sometimes, rather than designing one huge island, we have done two.
Is a Huge Island a Must-Have?
Raun Thorp: Huge isn’t always better or more luxurious. Sometimes, it’s even better to do two islands; this also adds flexibility, and it’s easier to walk around two smaller islands than one huge one. Islands do need to be functional and work in the workspace, but they shouldn’t be so overwhelming that they turn into Bongo’s Dream House with too many bells and whistles.