Island life

This kitchen designed by Nukitchens in Norwalk incorporates an island with a built-in table to maximize function in the space. — Kyle Norton photo

A kitchen is the heart of the home and it’s not complete without a multi-functional island to pull it together. “The kitchen island is a place for people to gather at the center of the kitchen. Our clients want islands for cooking, baking, and eating as a family, and for entertaining family and friends,” says Gabriella Najmy, director of Nukitchens in South Norwalk.

This Watch Hill, R.I. kitchen by DEANE, Inc. in Stamford provides space for casual entertaining for family and friends, which is a trend in kitchen design. — Tim Lee photo

Homeowners are favoring modern decor. “Design has become increasingly simplified with cleaner lines, flat panel doors, and handleless kitchens,” says Najmy, adding that quartz is the trending countertop surface. “Our clients love it because it’s easy to maintain and there’s a great selection of colors and patterns.’ To continue the contemporary feel, painted cabinetry is popular. “We’re designing lots of natural walnut and textured melamine cabinetry.”

Today’s designers are also incorporating accessories on the island. “For those who love to cook simultaneously while entertaining, a cooktop in the island can be integrated in the design,” says Najmy. “We often include seating at the island with decorative stools, bookcases for cookbooks, microwave and/or refrigerator drawers to improve function of the kitchen, and pendant lighting above the island to add a level of light to the space.”

For a homeowner in Southbury, a custom, rectangular island topped with Carrara marble is a statement piece providing storage and workspace. “We wanted a clean, somewhat timeless look,” recounts the owner, noting the size and design of the island suits the design of the woodwork, offers functionality with seating, and accommodates a wine cooler and a microwave. “It anchors the room and contrasts the white cabinets on the perimeter. We tried to make sure to keep the lighting over it with an open see through feel so it would not take away from the island itself.”

Doing double duty: These two kitchen islands from Front Row Kitchens in Norwalk offer tons of storage as well as ample seating and prep and serving space. — David R. Sloane photo

Terry Scarborough, designer/director of sales for DEANE, Inc. in New Canaan, agrees the island is a kitchen’s main hub. “Islands serve as a prep area as well as a spot for casual dining,” Scarborough observes. “While we often put a prep sink on the island, some clients just prefer a large, uninterrupted workspace with no sink or appliances.”  

According to Scarborough, a transitional style is trending — classic with a contemporary twist: “Clients like cleaner, less fussy lines which suit many architectural styles of homes.”

Scarborough sees islands becoming larger and serving as a focal point where clients can add color and personality. Navy and other blues are popular to contrast with white cabinets on the perimeter. “For wood, walnut continues to be hot, and driftwood finishes plus rift oak in natural or gray tones are also popular,” Scarborough notes.

This Southbury home features a huge Carrara marble-topped center island including a wine fridge and microwave complemented by four large bar stools. — Becky Hood by Planomatic

Waterfall countertops are seen in contemporary kitchens. “This is when the countertop ‘falls’ to the floor on each end of the island. While it does prevent accessing storage from the end, it’s a dramatic look, especially when the material has a grain pattern,” explains Scarborough.

Granite tops are falling out of favor, according to the experts. “It’s due to the trends in design  toward more whites and grays. Clients are looking for easy care and low maintenance; therefore, we’re seeing an increase in the popularity of quartz countertops. The techniques have improved so that many imitate the look of marble and natural stones quite well,” Scarborough explains.

DEANE, Inc. has a beautiful gray counter in its Stamford showroom made of Lapitec, a sintered stone. “This is a relatively new category of man-made material created through a process that applies extreme heat and pressure to a mineral blend until it binds together,” Najmy says.

Scarborough notes that many homeowners are choosing marble because of its timeless appeal and beautiful appearance. “Another category of natural stone is the Quartzites. They’re harder than marble and easier to maintain,” she says. Thickness of the countertop is relevant. “While stone and quartz countertops are the standard one-and-a-quarter-inch thickness, a top of two-inches thick is popular on islands. This adds to the cost, but gives a nice ‘beefy’ look to the island as a focal point.”  

A large, dark walnut island from DEANE, Inc. in Stamford shows off the function of having a generous sink and the beauty of a solid 2” thick countertop. — Paul Johnson photo

Matt Giardina, president of Front Row Kitchens in Norwalk, says island designs are based on a homeowner’s needs. “More islands have sinks versus cooktops, but we do both all the time.” Giardina agrees that there’s a trend toward quartz countertops due to its unique color options and low maintenance. For wood, he notes there are a wide variety of colors and different species. “A wood top combined with a stone counter on a single island is an interesting look,” he adds.

Homeowners are also seeking large islands, according to Giardina. “Clients want 10-foot to 12-foot or longer islands that can seat eight or more people.” Front Row has incorporated multi-functional details over the years. “One of our more unusual design features was a 42-inch TV that was on a lift which came up from under the counter and swiveled,” he recalls.

There are many options when it comes to island design. “Every design naturally flows from the size and shape of the room,” Giardina concludes. “Overall, we’re seeing island designs trending to a more modern feel but the style always should feel right for the house.”​