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Without walls, the island keeps everything afloat

By Allen Norwood
Special Correspondent

More Information

  • Graphic: Some things to consider when building a kitchen island
  • Mapping longitude and latitude

    • It’s a long walk around a long island, even if your kitchen will accommodate one. If a kitchen island seems like it needs to stretch out more than 10 feet, maybe you could go to two islands.

    • While a slab might be available up to 66 inches wide, most of the islands Carlay designs are narrower – typically 4 to 5 feet wide.

    • The work space needed around an island also limits its size. You want 3 feet all the way around, at a minimum. If you have a refrigerator or dishwasher opening into that 3 feet, then you need even more space.

    Lisa Carlay, kitchen designer



Is there a perfect island in your wildest fantasies?

A kitchen island, we mean, in your kitchen daydreams?

If so, here’s a bit of reality: You can’t jam all the latest gadgets and gizmos into an island.

The fascination with islands is linked to the trend toward open design, said Lisa Carlay, award-winning kitchen designer at International Kitchen & Bath in Davidson.

If you knock down all the walls, you’re left with an island. If there is no wall for upper cabinets, that storage space goes to the island. If there’s not enough wall space for the sink or stove, those features go into the island.

“Nobody has ever come in here and said, ‘I want to put up more walls,’ ” she said.

So, many things end up on the island because there’s just no place else to put them, even though some are better placed on a wall.

But there are reasons that your island can’t accommodate all the features of your daydreams.

First, there’s size.

The maximum manageable size for a granite slab, Carlay said, is about 5 1/2 feet by 10 feet. If you want a far bigger island, there will likely be a seam in the countertop. “And you don’t want a joint,” she said.

Then, of course, an island that’s too wide is hard to reach across when you’re serving someone on the other side.

Island vs. cabinets

Which kitchen features are suitable for the island and which ones belong in cabinets along the wall?

For nine straight years, 2004 to 2012, International Kitchen & Bath won kitchen design honors in a competition hosted by the Lake Norman Home Builders. The company’s kitchens twice won statewide honors. We asked Carlay for her advice.

Does the cooktop belong on the island?

Some cooks like the idea. They can cook while facing their guests on the other side of the island. But parents might not want their kids to eat at the island close to the heat.

If you have only one wall and want the sink in front of a window on that wall, then the cooktop might have to go on the island. “I’m really not a fan of it, though,” Carlay said.

The best place for an oven, though, is in a tall cabinet away from the island – if there’s room for a tall cabinet after you’ve knocked down walls to create the open concept.

Families typically choose large standard dishwashers, while empty nesters – with fewer dishes – are more likely to choose drawers.

Either way, choose a quiet machine. That’s especially important if the island is open to the great room. Compare the noise ratings.

Narrowing the scope

There’s one new device that users appreciate when Carlay includes them in a design: an air switch to turn on the garbage disposer.

It works like the air switch on a jetted tub and replaces the standard switch typically located on a wall near the sink. There’s no electric power right at the switch. “You don’t have to worry about wet hands,” Carlay said.

Homeowners would be better off carefully choosing fewer features with wider appeal, Carlay said. You don’t want to over-plan and over-personalize a kitchen island.

An island planned around kids can lose its appeal after they grow up. A built-in mixer is just taking up space when you lose interest in baking.

You might think it’s cute and convenient to feed and water your dog in a cubbyhole in the island – but the next owner might not want pets underfoot in the kitchen.

“We try to hold people back from micro-planning their kitchen islands,” Carlay said.

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The Charlotte Observer welcomes your comments on news of the day. The more voices engaged in conversation, the better for us all, but do keep it civil. Please refrain from profanity, obscenity, spam, name-calling or attacking others for their views.

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