Today's kitchens boast islands that are more beautiful, versatile and functional than ever. The centerpieces in these four homes are no exception.
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.”
The center island is topped with sturdy marble, 2½ inches thick. Bright red metal stools, oversize globe pendants and chrome drawer hardware accent the classic look. Photo by Michael Ventura.
Pushing the Envelope
Amy and Andrew Herman really wanted a kitchen island. They had lived in their Chevy Chase Village home for 12 years and were updating it room by room, but Amy was anxious to get to the kitchen. It wasn’t very old, but it had dark cabinets and dark granite countertops, a circulation-blocking peninsula, and lacked storage and seating. “It wasn’t warm or welcoming, and people didn’t want to linger,” Andrew says.
An island was central to the plan they envisioned, but when they consulted a kitchen designer, he came back with bad news. “We tried it within the existing space, but it just wouldn’t work with everything they wanted,” says Jerry Weed of Kitchen and Bath Studios.
The couple hired architect Geri Yantis of Sutton Yantis Associates Architects in Vienna, Virginia, and builder Michael Lerner of Meridian Homes in Bethesda to increase the square footage just enough to allow for an island. The team devised a plan to take advantage of a relatively new zoning code and extended the kitchen’s 10-foot-long back wall with a 26-inch box bay bumpout at the rear of the house.
A 72-inch-by-40-inch island now stands in the middle of the expanded room. “I was particularly obsessed with the size of island,” Amy says. “I put blue tape on the floor to make sure there would be ample space to circulate, pull out trash cans, and fit three stools.” The island also features a 27-inch farmhouse sink and a dishwasher.
The Hermans didn’t want the sink on the outer wall facing the yard, away from the action at the island. “We spend a lot of time there and wanted to see out and have conversations,” Amy says. Locating the cleaning functions in the island freed up the wall cabinets for much-needed storage, including deep drawers. “Jerry spent a lot of time on the cabinet layout,” Andrew says. “It was a bit of a puzzle to get everything in.”
A built-in banquette provides a comfortable spot for the Hermans’ two teenage children to relax. With good lighting and built-in USB ports, it’s great for homework and keeps the kids in the common space instead of up in their rooms. Photo by Michael Ventura.
The finishes are light and bright, with painted maple cabinets made by Christiana Cabinetry and marble countertops. “We selected timeless materials that tie into the rest of the house,” says Amy, who consulted with interior designer Marika Meyer of Marika Meyer Interiors in Bethesda. Amy eschewed the ubiquitous subway tile backsplash in favor of large, textured white square tiles.
Transforming the kitchen turned into a much bigger project than the couple had anticipated, but it was worth it. “We really had fun with it, and I think that was a function of waiting,” Andrew says. “It’s our ideal kitchen, and there’s not one thing we would change.”
The open kitchen/family room design enables the Lehrers to be together while they’re cooking, cleaning, dining or relaxing. A “floating” cantilevered maple slab serves as an adjoining dining table. There are two seating options at the island: high-back, leather-covered side chairs at the dining table, and modern chrome and molded plastic counter stools for chatting with the cook. Photo by Craig Kozun-Young.
Center of Attention
When Marilyn and Sande Lehrer moved into their brick center-hall colonial in Upper Northwest D.C.’s American University Park neighborhood in 1982, they weren’t worried about the home’s flaws. It had a typical small-galley kitchen, plus an informal eating area converted from a garage by the previous owners and located around a corner, two steps down. “It took us 30 years to realize it was inconvenient,” Marilyn says with a laugh. “We were just happy to have our own house.”
When they finally took the remodeling plunge, they went all out, removing walls and opening up the rear of the house to improve circulation and make way for a 400-square-foot addition. The new eat-in kitchen and adjacent informal living area have an open, airy feel with a vaulted ceiling and windows all around. The style is contemporary, with sleek lines and high-contrast colors that reflect the couple’s aesthetic and the décor in the rest of the house.
The kitchen layout revolves around an 84-inch-by-40½-inch island with a prep sink and disposal, work surface, storage and a 54-inch-by-36-inch custom-integrated dining table that saves space and provides a sleek focal point. With this tabletop, the total length of the island is 138 inches. “The island sort of evolved,” Marilyn says. “It was a collaborative effort.”
Photo by Craig Kozun-Young.
D.C.-based architect William Feeney commissioned the tabletop, a cantilevered maple slab that appears to float. It is offset slightly, giving the appearance of overlapping the cabinetry. “It adds a nice design element in the space,” says designer Stephanie Fried of Jack Rosen Custom Kitchens.
The bold black-laminate front cabinets from North American cabinetmaker Cabico’s Elmwood series feature a modern horizontal grain. “They are dark, but it works in this kitchen because there’s so much light,” Fried says. The Lehrers wanted a smooth, modern backsplash, so interior designer Sherry Crocker of Crocker Design Associates in Bethesda suggested 3/8-inch tempered glass painted bright yellow for a pop of color and high contrast with the cabinets and the white quartz countertops.
The Lehrers are really enjoying the new design, whether it’s breakfast for two or while they’re entertaining a crowd. “There is plenty of room for lots of cooks in the kitchen, extra seating at the holidays and everyone feels connected,” Marilyn says.
The island acts as a central cleanup center with two dishwashers, a trash compactor and a deep sink. On the outside wall are two French door ovens which the homeowner can open with one hand. Photo by Stacy Zarin Goldberg.
Design within Reach
The owner of this home in the Kenwood neighborhood of Chevy Chase cooks and bakes practically every day, but a genetic muscular condition was making it increasingly difficult for her to work in her old kitchen. The existing space was small, divided by a peninsula, and heavy items were hard to reach. “I wanted easier access to appliances and storage so I’m not stressing muscles at the end of the day, when they are the most fatigued,” says the married mother of two teenagers.
She turned to Nadia Subaran of Aidan Design in Silver Spring to create a kitchen that was less physically demanding. Having waited a long time for this renovation, she had a clear vision of her ideal setup. A central cleanup center with two dishwashers and a trash compactor was a priority. “The entire 114-inch-by-42-inch island is dedicated to trash removal and washing dishes,” Subaran says. A 30-inch-by-10-inch undermount sink is deep enough to conceal dishes so they aren’t visible from the table. When planning kitchens, Subaran always defers to the everyday function. “If it works well for large gatherings, that’s great, but we never start there,” she says.
An existing stone fireplace in the informal dining area was covered with drywall and topped with a restored barn-beam mantel. The refrigerator and freezer are divided into two 24-inch-wide columns (at left in the photo) so that nothing is stacked high and out of reach. Photo by Robert Radifera.
The island is a focal point, so it had to have the built-in functions but also appear as a soft element in the room. Cream-painted cabinets and white Macaubus quartzite counters blend in with the homeowner’s serene palette and collection of white ceramics and Swedish antiques. “This room is all about the view and the connection to [the] eating area,” Subaran says. “It was important to use panels on the island appliances because stainless steel would have chopped it up.”
The new ergonomically designed kitchen is just what the homeowner ordered, and she and her family use it constantly. Even small touches, such as the built-in, spring-loaded shelf to lift her stand mixer to counter level, help facilitate her daily routine. “All of it has made an enormous impact on our lives,” she says. “It’s so much easier to prepare nice meals now.”
A kitchen island was a must-have for this family of four. The center station houses a range, a wine cooler, ample counter seating and deep storage drawers for pots and pans. Warm wood-toned cabinets, refinished original oak floors and pale blue glass subway tiles soften the edges of the contemporary kitchen. Photo by June Stanich.
Jeremy Krishnan and Prasanna Satpute-Krishnan relocated to the D.C. area several years ago and were looking for a house in a convenient, close-in location that was also surrounded by nature. They chose the Bethesda neighborhood of Carderock Springs, which checked all the boxes, and settled into a split-level house built in 1962.
The house was in original condition when they bought it, “right down to the stove,” Jeremy says. The kitchen and main living areas were small and too chopped up for this family with two growing children. “We wanted to open it up and update it, but maintain the modern style and midcentury spirit,” Jeremy says. They enlisted Case Architects & Remodelers in Bethesda to handle the design and construction of a renovation that entailed removing two walls, extending the kitchen by 9 feet, and adding an attached two-car garage.
The kitchen is now exposed to the living and dining rooms, and revolves around a long island that measures 141-inches-by-40-inches and is packed with functions. There is seating for four, storage on both sides, a wine cooler tucked into one end, and a full-size range with an exhaust fan overhead.
The range has ample workspace, with a full 24 inches of surface on its right side. Sliding the range down to one end gave flexibility to the island, as the other end is open for eating and serving. “When we do a range like this, we put it away from where people are hanging out,” says Case’s TJ Monahan, who worked on the project.
Photo by June Stanich.
The homeowners opted to break up the long run of cabinets visually by using two different varieties from cabinetmaker Crystal Cabinet Works: a carbonized bamboo and a dark cherry with a sepia stain. The island's snow-white quartz countertops set it apart from the perimeter, which has gray countertops. The white quartz wraps one entire end of the island for a waterfall effect.
The new space is now the epicenter of the home’s main level and just what the Krishnans had in mind. It’s great for parties or a quick bite, and the kids have even started to help with food prep. “They love the island and the low built-in microwave,” Jeremy says. “Everything in here is easy for them.”