Fantasy Island

By Steven V. Philips

“Are you going to be landing aircraft on this island?” he asks. Someone is thinking my kitchen island concept is a trifle grandiose. Admittedly there wasn’t even a small island there before the renovation, so that someone is also thinking “really stupid idea.”

In my mind the final kitchen design was pretty much firm. But because the electric service AND the plumbing were going to have to be moved AND the proposed new counter acreage was beyond my skills, the total renovation of the kitchen led us to a kitchen cabinet company, rather than to SVP, the locally acknowledged (i.e. with the family) Destruction and Rebuild expert. Plus several snide remarks by “a local resident” who wanted the kitchen redo started and finished in the same decade. Always these petty demands from us Artistes.

Anyway, this aviation question is coming from the Kitchens-Are-Us doubting staff designer.

“Ha-ha” snorted bitter me, having being cheated out of wielding a crowbar. “Live and learn, young inexperienced lad.”

Our house has a living room where we don’t live. Museum-esque is its role, although every year during our annual Holiday party several people are allowed to line up in there while waiting to get into the kitchen and the adjoining gathering room, which is where we really live. Thus, a big and convenient kitchen is important to everyday life in our house.

Since the original design of our kitchen area had a U-shape counter (and a lot of empty space in the middle of the room), I knew an island would give us more efficient real estate. The mind of Michelangelo at work is so beautiful.

My completed island is 27-square-feet of surface. Sink, dishwasher and a cabinet face the cooking area. On the other side are full cabinets with pull out shelves and drawers over. At the end, facing the seating area and television screen, is the cookbook corral – deep and high shelving because cookbooks come in awkward sizes. Seriously, if I somehow got stranded on my island, I’d have everything I need.

This island is frequently Buffet City. String those plates, napkins, utensils and serving pieces along here and an obviously undernourished parade of eager neighbors sails smoothly by foraging as they proceed. The island is only six steps from the cooktop and oven. Food moves efficiently from prep area to serving island and nothing gets cold. Electric outlets at each end for warmers, well-lighted from above and, for you neurotics, clean-up is so easy as the crumbs sweep right into the Corian sink.

Buffet-ing on, go bold and get a runner for the whole length and you’re in decor mode. Call me fowl but chicken wire or screen sprayed the color of the season works. Or traditional fabric in colors and patterns that reinforce your menu theme. Centerpieces can sit among the serving plates or behind them. Candles, real or LEDs, work here, high or low. Florals or decorative objects establish the ambience. Remember to work your decor in-the-round because it can be seen from all angles.

But enough about my brilliance. What if you just haven’t got the space for incoming aircraft? Well, go smaller! Think about a roll-out piece for when you need it. Or a smaller island with two levels for three functions: food prep, meals and buffet service. Go on an Internet prowl for ideas.

  • Details, details. You want to keep 38” to 42” clearance around the island. Height 36”. Think about having latching drawers if young children) are prowling the kitchen. Make the surface material or color different from the counter. Or make it three inches thick. Use six-inch radius on the corners rather than two-inch. Give the whole island a different style from the surrounding kitchen cabinets.
  • Install drawers for storage as opposed to cabinets with doors (even if they have pull-out shelves). Think about it. You have to open both doors fully, blocking passage, before you can pull out the shelf? Phooey. But a caution: use no more than 30”-wide drawers unless you’re using high-end materials. Lower-end hardware binds and drawer bottoms tend to droop with time and under cast iron cookware. Like your mother-in-law.
  • Power outlets on ends/sides. Good for warming trays, food processor, juicer, the vacuum or a fabulously lighted tabletop Christmas tree that the dog can’t knock over.
  • If you use an island with a bar level top on part, that island will also block the view of the kitchen from the sitting area. Not so bad if you drop the croissants on the floor or when the dog sticks his head into the oven-resting casserole for a light snack.
  • As for me, next time I’ll do all self-closing drawers. No lower doors. And an overhang so as to use the island for casual dining too. And maybe even hanging pendant lights but situate them high enough so that they don’t block a view or hit you on the head when you journey to your favorite island.

15 thoughts on “Fantasy Island”

  1. We have a dining room like your living room. My fantasy would be to knock down the wall between kitchen and dining room and install your island. Still hopin and dreamin!

  2. The island is the key to any great kitchen. It also acts as a great barrier to keep buffet go-ers out of your way while preparing the food. Another epic article by SVP.

  3. Mr Phillips has some wonderfully detailed ideas for kitchen islands. Designing the island with drawers instead of cabinet doors would be a stupendous improvement. Great article again, sir. Keep up the good work.

  4. Insightful tips and what a great set up in the kitchen! I don’t think a kitchen island could ever be too big. Perfect for cooking, cleaning, and entertaining. I want one just like it. And love the under-mount sink, really makes a big difference.

  5. As always, I enjoy the wit and topics Mr. Philips shares with his readers. I have taken notes and tried to incorporate his ideas into my living space.

    I look forward to his monthly insights. Keep them coming….

  6. Island living and entertaining is always appropriate where I live. Am wondering if the wise Mr. Phillips also included a disposal in the island sink,as I have seen where it could be of great use. I do enjoy his articles and sense of style!

  7. space around the island is key, and it was nice to see Steven give some suggested clearances to really make the design livable. I’m currently enduring a bad design, where the oven door opens fine, but getting roasts in and out requires my wife to be a contortionist….no wonder we eat a lot of soup and sandwiches. Keep the humor and tips coming.

  8. Love life on the island! Yes, the overhang with bar-height stools is a nifty idea. Only need it on one side. The only problem with your inspiring articles is that I don’t know which project to attack first. All your columns are first-rate. Thanks!

  9. e (pls use just a lower case e; it's my sig. thx.)

    Genius! I especially like the island’s integrity and independence from the style of surrounding cabinetry. Most surprising, however, is that I was unaware Mr. Philips knows my mother-in-law.

  10. The latest article by Mr. Phillips has given me some great ideas for my island kitchen. It is flat, closed off on either side with a sink in the middle–so can I really call it an island. The best suggestion is to have the side facing the kitchen higher than the other to hide the kitchen mess. Once again, Mr. Phillips has some of the best, most useful ideas I’ve found. I look forward to the next issue.

  11. More great tips from the ever insightful Mr. Phillips. Thanks for always giving me something to think about in home repair/improvement.

  12. Creatively written, great tips, and I love the line, “Seriously, if I somehow got stranded on my island, I’d have everything I need”.

    Very entertaining read, looking forward to the next article!

  13. Mr. Phillips never fails to come up with great ideas – very clever and love the wit as well. Always look forward to his articles!

  14. It never seems to fail. Every time Steve publishes one of his articles, I find I am in the same project mode It’s obvious he has had some architectural training cause he uses all those technical terms that I have to go look up.His wisdom,however;is a great joy and comfort to my spouse who doesn’t believe that a bigger hammer is really the solution to most of her problems. If she starts to think I am part of the problem, I could be in deep DoDo. I am a faithful reader of Steve and almost consider him a friend and wonder why no invites to his Island Smorgs has been forthcoming. Anyway, thanks again for the insights into Island living. Can’t wait for further enlightenment.

  15. All well and good if one has 15 acres to develop an island. When one only has a puddle to play in, an island is sort of difficult piece of landscape to create. I am told if I really want an island, the kitchen make-over and expansion will be in the $70,000 range.

    Could I contract you, Mr. Philips, to rearrange my existing square footage into one of your island fantasies? Your writing certainly inspires my fantasies.

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