Home & Garden

Island Dreams: Maximize Your Central Kitchen

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The kitchen island comes in many shapes and sizes, and makes an oasis for our busy kitchens. Here are some things to remember for creating your dream island.

The right designer can help to enhance the way families live in their homes. For this design by Diane Feuillerat of Kitchens by Diane in Loves Park, a peninsula separating the dining area (right) from the kitchen was removed, making space for the unique island, which combines the two rooms and creates a new flow and bright space for the homeowner. (Rebecca O'Malley photo)

Ah, an island retreat: beautiful views, fantastic food, room to roam, great times with family and friends.

This isn’t some faraway place that requires luggage and boarding passes, however. It’s one that you create, customize to your personal taste, and visit several times a day, without ever leaving home.

We’re talking about a kitchen island. Like the geographic feature for which it’s named, the kitchen island comes in all sizes and shapes, in various locales, with different features and amenities – each unique in its own way. And like a tropical island, this versatile floating space is an oasis in today’s busy kitchen, a “getaway” for everything from prep work and cooking to serving and entertaining.

“The design aspect of an island is compelling,” says Rick George, president and co-owner of Lonnie’s Stonecrafters, 2529 Laude Dr., Rockford. “The limitations are whatever your mind can create. Of course, budget comes into account, too.”

An island can be done in any style, from traditional to modern; accommodate just about any appliance; and provide extra space for storage, food preparation, dining – whatever’s needed. According to experts, more homeowners are opting for a kitchen island, whether remodeling an existing space or building a new home.

“I would say that half the kitchens I’m working on right now include islands,” says Diane Feuillerat, owner of Kitchens by Diane, 6346 East Riverside Blvd., Loves Park. “They offer so much more work and storage space, and they can really change the look and feel of the room.”

Many homeowners are finding ways to open up their kitchens to allow space for islands.

“If they have a formal dining room, some people are eliminating kitchen tables, which allows islands to be larger and differently shaped,” says Dawn Levins, a designer with River Valley Kitchens & Baths, 5281 Swanson Road, Roscoe.

“A kitchen table isn’t all that interesting to look at, but an island is a decorative feature in the room,” adds Sue Bryant, Levins’ boss at River Valley and co-owner with husband Al.

Some folks are changing other parts of their living spaces in order to fulfill this kitchen fantasy. “We’re doing a ton of renovations where we’re eliminating the wall between the formal dining room and kitchen,” says Levins.

As the tide rises on the island trend, more than dining room walls are tumbling down.

In this design from River Valley Kitchens & Baths in Roscoe, the island not only provides wide deep drawers and extra cabinets for space, but the different cabinet color and granite top offer a contrast to the rest of the kitchen. (River Valley Kitchens & Baths photo)

“People like the idea of a great room, and want more open space,” Levins continues. “They’re removing family rooms or dens that abut the kitchen, or making them smaller. We’ve moved walls and doors. An owner may say, ‘We use our formal dining room about four times a year.’ So we take out a wall, add an island, and suddenly, we’ve changed the way they live in their home.”
Feuillerat did a recent remodel for a client that eliminated a peninsula and added an island.

“It was a challenging kitchen to do, but I knew immediately the homeowner needed an island,” she says. “The peninsula divided the kitchen from her dining area, and it took too many steps to get things from the kitchen to the table.” Cabinets above the peninsula further created a disconnect between the two spaces.

Feuillerat removed the peninsula and cabinets, creating one large area that now connects the kitchen to the dining area, which is located in front of a bank of windows. The entire kitchen was remodeled, and Feuillerat relocated the main sink and dishwasher to the island, which also features wide, deep storage drawers and extra seating.

“Because of the angles in her kitchen, I came up with a very cool, unique design with six different angles, and something going on at each angle,” she says. “The countertops throughout are granite, a color called hurricane gold, and the wood on the wall cabinets and island cabinets match. The hardwood flooring now matches the rest of her house.”

Design elements are limitless, from funky shapes to functionality. At Lonnie’s Stonecrafters, George and his crew can do just about anything – and have.

Customizations for islands are limited only by imagination. On this granite top, the owner didn’t want visible supports for the 30-inch overhang, so the crew at Lonnie’s Stonecrafters in Rockford supported it with a 500-pound steel plate. (Lonnie’s Stonecrafters photo)

“With our CNC [computer numerical control] saw and router, we can accommodate all of the crazy shapes and add-ons a customer may want,” he says. “We’ve cut holes for pop-up outlets, pop-up TVs. We even help with the designs, using our CAD program to plot out a template. The owners can see what their kitchen will look like before we make a single cut.”

The granite company’s projects range from very large to small islands; islands with cooktops that incorporate downdrafts rather than hoods; from countertops only to entire islands made of granite; even countertops with extreme overhangs that require substantial support.

“We did one peninsula where the client wanted a 30-inch overhang for seats, but they didn’t want any supports to show,” says George. “So we reinforced it with a 500-pound steel plate. It took eight guys to get it into the house and installed. We’ll also double up on the edge thickness to add stability, from the usual 1.25 inches up to 2.5 inches.”

“People want their islands as large as they can get and not have a seam in the top,” says Feuillerat.

While the variations in grain and mix of hues of quartz and granite are infinite, the appearance of the finished product is left completely up to nature. Concrete, however, offers the option of total personal customization, with more than 200 color options and myriad textures, impressions, images and effects.

“Whatever you can envision, we can do, from tables with concrete tops to complete islands,” says Chris Gallagher, owner, Stampworks by Design, 1210 Buchanan St., Rockford. In addition to countertops, bars and islands, Gallagher’s company does driveways, sidewalks, patios, pool decks and interior floors, using various techniques to color, stencil, emboss and imprint the concrete.

“We’ve done all kinds of projects,” Gallagher continues. “One of the most interesting is an undermount sink, with just the faucets and spigot sticking up. We’ve put lights around a sink, created glass aggregate tops, put in multiple levels.”

Gallagher can adjust the weight to accommodate the space. “Some pieces are solid concrete, if they’re going to be outside or on another solid surface. Otherwise, I use a three-quarter-inch wood core to cut about one-third of the weight out,” he explains. “It’s like an armature for a sculpture. It’s not visible in the finished product.”

Edge finishes can mimic anything from classic architecture to wood molding. “We’ve got about a dozen edge styles – roping, art deco, round, cove, ornamental,” says Gallagher.

George has installed granite tops on island that are a different material or color from the surrounding countertops. Feuillerat says she’s been seeing a trend away from two colors – “Maybe on the cabinets, but not so much on the tops.”

This multilevel island comes from Stampworks by Design, Rockford. Design options for concrete are limitless, as the edge finishes below illustrate. (Karla Nagy photos)

Funky shapes aren’t limited to the island itself. “I’ve seen island sinks shaped like martini glasses, octagons, kidney, even a long, curvy, sink that kind of winds along the top like a stream,” says River Valley designer Lisa Simpson. “It can be filled with ice, fruit, beverages and dip, for a party.”

Many other design elements can be incorporated. “One customer put glass doors all across the back and lit them,” says Levins. “I’ve seen translucent tops lit from below, recycled glass tops, tops of onyx, even soapstone and limestone.”

For one client building a new home, Feuillerat designed not one but two islands with a contemporary flair. “I love designing for a new home – it’s a blank slate, with more space and options,” she says. “These two islands are very sleek, with clean lines, black cabinets with white countertops. The 3×7 island is for seating, but it incorporates long, deep drawers for storage along the back. The 4×7 island has two wide, deep drawers, two refrigerator drawers and open shelving on one end.”

Other appliance features making their way to kitchen islands include microwave ovens and microwave drawers, wine coolers, and cook tops with downdrafts rather than overhead hoods. Many incorporate extra outlets, either along the sides or on a raised center.

The contemporary island Feuillerat designed even includes a special plug for the client’s iPod, which allows him to play music from it with speakers built into the walls.

Today’s kitchen designers are truly like travel agents.

“Just tell us what you have in mind, and we’ll make it come true,” says Levins.

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