An isolated work surface in the middle of the room – or a piece that anchors the kitchen, providing interest and focus? Sandra Aquilina navigates the ins and outs of kitchen islands

Kitchens are busy places: the place for food, cooking and the washing up. At once private and public, intimate and sociable, they represent lifestyles – from quiet cooking moments to the laughter of friends.

That is perhaps why their construction tends to be so meticulously planned. Like cooking scents, emotions float around in a kitchen. Kitchen islands tend to be a kitchen’s focal point, becoming more than just functional pieces of furniture.

An island in the centre can anchor the space and organise the work flow while being accessible from all directions.

“If you have the space, an island is definitely a good idea,” says interior designer Michele O’Reilly. What are the advantages? “It allows for a more interactive space and creates a more social environment. Nowadays open plan kitchen / living rooms are the norm so the person preparing the food can happily work away enjoying the company of another member of the family. Also entertaining has become more of an informal affair and very often it all takes place around the island.” And this is not counting the additional worktop space and storage space”. Deep chunky drawers are comfortable for pots and pans and large bowls. Breakfast area on one side is also an option. Any disadvantages? “I see none – unless it’s a tight squeeze.”

Most apartments are modern in design so an island is very much in keeping with the style.Most apartments are modern in design so an island is very much in keeping with the style.

More and more, they are fitting into Maltese homes. “There’s a lot of development at the moment and most apartments are modern in design so an island is very much in keeping.” One of the advantages is, however, that an island will work equally well in a traditional or vintage – as well as modern setting. “That’s not to say that you cannot fit an island into a more traditional setting because after all, it’s the design on the doors which will determine the look. Most of my clients go for one, if the space allows.”

Space is in fact the determining factor. Size matters: too large and it will become an obstacle to be navigated, cluttering your kitchen; too small and it will disrupt the kitchen harmony, offsetting the focus. The idea is to go as big as you can without cluttering.

The person preparing the food can happily work away enjoying the company of another member of the family

“The proportion of an island in relation to the entire kitchen is its most important feature. It dictates the flow and determines whether it is a comfortable space.

“If you have plenty of space, then go for an oversized island. The bigger the better in my opinion,” says Michele.

The rule of thumb is for a comfortable 1.2metre space to be allowed all around. This will give enough space in between cupboards that may be opposite each other.

“Space is key for an island used while entertaining. The countertop must provide ample surface for serving or dining. There should also be plenty of room for guests to mingle.”

And, while the aesthetics might be a determining factor, the functionality is not to be overlooked. Kitchen islands can be fitted with shelves, drawers, wine racks, towel bars, pullout bins and other amenities, as well as more space for appliances. They can conceal stools, display house plants and ornaments and store dishes.

Generally, islands are located preferably parallel to the wall units. If any appliances are to be installed on the island they should face any views.

Are appliances a good idea? “Yes. A hob is nice so that you can look out at the view or into the room and if there’s space a second smaller sink for washing vegetables.”

If you include a hob, don’t forget to add sockets because you will need them to plug in small electrical devices. “These are often overlooked and you wouldn’t want wires running from the sockets on the walls. This is dangerous and unsightly.”

An island often opens up other possibilities: to the space directly over it. Feature lights which shine only on the island as the rest of the kitchen disappears, shelves, and stylish hoods all add interest and focus to a kitchen. “A well-lit work area is essential so think about lighting when planning your island. Pendants are popular as they provide concentrated task lighting on the work surface.”

Whether it blends in with the rest of the cabinetry or stands on its own as an eclectic centre stage piece, there are of course a range of options beyond the basic box in the centre of the room.

“A thick chunky worktop is always attractive and I usually go for 80mm thickness. Cladding the two ends of the island by continuing the worktop down the sides always finishes it off. Corian is a popular choice and quite versatile in that you are not restricted in size and any joins can be invisible. Be careful when choosing white as there are many variations and choosing the wrong shade will clash against the white on the laminate or lacquer doors. Maintenance is important. Do not choose a worktop that is porous such as granite or marble because this requires routine maintenance. I don’t like to use handles on an island, this provides a cleaner look.”

You don’t have to choose a single surface, either. For example, if you decide to go for a raised area for seating then an option would be to create a contrast on the worktop itself and introduce wood in this area only. Michele continues: “A raised area not only looks good but is also practical in separating the mess in the cooking area from the guests who are seated here.”

By organising the space, kitchen islands bring together the aesthetic and the functional, the intimate and the social, as the life of the kitchen flows around them.


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