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Creating the perfect kitchen island

  • This undated photo shows a kitchen in a Pasadena, Calif., home designed by Betsy Burnham. One key to planning a great kitchen island, Burnham says, is leaving plenty of legroom for barstool seating along one side. (Christopher Patey/Betsy Burnham via AP) Christopher Patey

  • This undated photo shows an urban farmhouse style kitchen in a Manhattan Beach, Calif., home designed by Betsy Burnham, where the kitchen island offers ample storage and an extra prep sink for use while cooking. (Jenna Peffley/Betsy Burnham via AP.) Manhattan Beach

  • This undated photo shows a kitchen in a Santa Monica, Calif., home designed by Betsy Burnham. Although tiny pendant lights were once popular, designers now tend to choose more substantial overhead lighting above kitchen islands and select fixtures that can express the homeowners' personal style. (Laura Hull/Betsy Burnham via AP) Laura Hull

Associated Press
Published: 10/5/2018 5:56:13 PM

Interior designer Abbe Fenimore knew that adding a kitchen island was one of the most important decisions she’d make in remodeling her 1940s-era home in Dallas. A well-designed kitchen island can offer storage space, a work surface, comfortable seating – even a cooktop or spare sink.

But like so many aspects of kitchen design, it needs to be planned with extra care. An item this large and central isn’t something you’ll want to replace within just a few years.

So Fenimore and her husband created a cardboard island in their kitchen with precise dimensions to live with it before committing. They tinkered with the details on its size and location. They debated which features were necessary, and which were too much of a splurge or took up too much space.

In the end, that island “has become the literal hub in our home for socializing,” Fenimore says.

We’ve asked Fenimore, founder of the design firm Studio Ten25, and two other interior designers – Los Angeles-based Betsy Burnham and New York-based Jenny Kirschner – for their thoughts on great kitchen-island design and trends.


Because careful planning is so important, Burnham suggests working with a designer on kitchen-island design or finding resources online for drawing up a floorplan.

“You’re going to need about 3 feet of space around it – at least 3,” she says. Homeowners sometimes end up with too crowded a kitchen if they choose an island that’s too large.

“It shouldn’t literally be an island off by itself,” Burnham says, “but it shouldn’t be too close to perimeter countertops either.”

Other important questions: How many people do you want to seat? Leave plenty of depth for people’s legs when they sit on bar stools or seats at your island.

And do you want one level or two? Burnham loves the clean lines of one level surface. But Kirschner sometimes designs an island with two levels – one at counter height for cooking prep and a lower level at table height, so you can sit in chairs rather than bar stools.

Families with young kids who worry about little ones falling off bar stools often love this option, Kirschner says.


Some of Fenimore’s favorite elements are deep, pull-out drawers for pots and pans, and drawers with mechanisms that lift a mixer or other small appliance up and out for easy use. Also: drawers designed to hold containers of spices, and deep drawers holding metal containers for serving utensils, as you might see in a restaurant kitchen.

“A lot of people underestimate storage needs,” Fenimore says, so really think about how you cook and what you use.

Kirschner also suggests considering what you might want to store that isn’t technically a “kitchen” item. Her island includes drawers for her children’s art supplies, because the island is where they do arts and crafts projects.

Islands often have closed storage, but some people prefer some open shelving.

Fenimore has a trash can built into her island, with a stainless steel opening in the island’s surface where unwanted items can easily be swept during cooking. It’s a detail that didn’t add much to the cost but makes life exponentially easier.


It sounds lovely – having your stovetop in the island, so you can chat with someone seated there while you’re cooking. But things splatter, Kirschner points out. And tearing up the floor to add power and gas lines can be expensive if your kitchen doesn’t already have these utilities in the middle of the floor.

The same goes for adding a sink to your island: These designers say an island sink is a great feature and popular with clients, but you have to consider the expense if you’ll need plumbing work done in the floor.

Lastly, your cooktop needs ventilation. Do you want a range hood mounted in the ceiling and looming over your kitchen island?

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