Island Living

Today’s kitchens boast islands that are more beautiful, versatile and functional than ever. The centerpieces in these four homes are no exception.

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Amy and Andrew Herman increased the square footage of their Chevy Chase home to allow for an island. Photo by Michael Ventura. 


The kitchen is the hub of the home, and the island is the hub of the kitchen. An island is often at the top of a homeowner’s wish list because it offers so much in one practical package. In many homes, the island is the family command center for everything from morning coffee, cooking and baking, homework and holiday buffets, to just hanging out with friends and neighbors. “The trend has been growing for 30 years,” says Jerry Weed, owner of Kitchen and Bath Studios in Chevy Chase. “Kitchens are larger, prettier, and people are spending more money per square foot.”

Designers agree that islands are here to stay, and they are getting bigger with homeowners wanting as much space as their kitchens will allow. “Eight feet long used to be the general rule, mainly because that was the limit for a countertop material without seams,” says Nadia Subaran, co-owner of Aidan Design in Silver Spring. “Now that larger seamless slabs are available, nine- and 10-foot islands are the norm.” She recommends keeping the width of an island to a maximum of four feet. If they are any wider, the middle becomes inaccessible.

The key to a successful island is flexibility, and for that reason the tiered configuration (differing heights for the seated bar area and the food prep area) is losing popularity. “We’re not doing as much higher bar seating,” says designer Stephanie Fried of Jack Rosen Custom Kitchens in Rockville. She finds that her clients prefer a flat expanse because it’s a cleaner look and more useful for cooking and entertaining. 

Designers are also improving island seating arrangements, making them more conducive to conversation. Rather than having people lined up like ducks on one side, they’re creating wraparound seating for socializing face-to-face. Extending the end of a countertop 15 to 24 inches can accommodate legs and a couple of extra stools. 

Because they are so prominent, islands now provide a great opportunity for a creative design element. Set it apart and make a personal style statement with an accent color or finish, or showcase a unique slab of stone. “The tops are such a focal point, we like to use materials with some pattern and movement, so the eye has someplace to go,” Subaran says.

Tastes are shifting from furniture-look pieces with ornate corbels to simpler, more streamlined looks. “But people still do want interesting finish details,” Subaran says. As for task lighting, homeowners are opting for fewer, but larger, fixtures over the island. “For instance, we’ll do two large globes instead of four mini-pendants,” Subaran says. 

Islands are infinitely customizable, and there is a size, style and function to fit every kitchen and taste. “I don’t like to prescribe how homeowners will use an island forever,” says TJ Monahan, director of project development at Case Architects & Remodelers in Bethesda. “It’s got to be flexible enough to change with people’s lifestyles.”

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