The kitchen island has finally been dethroned as a domestic status symbol. I absolutely love it – I’ve always hated them. Why? Because they’re the epitome of style over substance, routinely inefficient and potentially dangerous.
Oversized oases stranded in the middle of a kitchen, often surrounded by a pair of grating, back-crippling bar stools — aka adult high chairs — with the obligatory built-in bookcase or wine rack and a sink or cooktop.
They’re kind of too high a kitchen prep table that you can’t stretch your legs under. Often costing tens of thousands of pounds, they were considered the pinnacle of kitchen sophistication in the early noughties.
Their popularity coincided with the dissolution of the dining room. As open-plan living became a dream, walls collapsed throughout the house, and anyone who could afford it converted the Victorian side back into oversized kitchen-dining-with family rooms, often leaving the front rooms completely deserted in the process .
The units usually walked around the edges of these bright new superspaces, and the ubiquitous showcase island was stranded in the middle.
It was all part of the “new” relaxed way of life. No more barriers between rooms! No chef intentionally left in bondage or hidden from view!
The kitchen island has finally been ousted from its place as a domestic status symbol (file image)
It was all about looking into the room while chopping because kitchens were becoming more of a trend. Gimmicks and gadgets such as steam ovens, bread makers and spiralizers were proudly displayed.
And a huge kitchen island to house everything – or even two for those who really go for a superiority – was therefore the finishing touch.
Until now. Recent trend reports suggest that looser, country-style kitchens with ornaments and cozy nooks are taking over, leaving behind over-regulated units with kitchen islands to match.
It’s good. Because if my career in creative interior design has taught me anything, it’s that the most efficient way to cook is to have the fridge, prep area, stove and sink all in one row so you can move seamlessly and safely from one zone to another .
With an island, you’re constantly lifting hot or heavy pans, boiling water, or wet vegetables down an aisle. Dangerous if you have small children or pets that have uncanny talent when and where you least expect it.
And the increasingly inclusive nature of our kitchens means that, unless highly disciplined, such islands become magnets for administration, toys, messy items and more that have no place in a hygienic food prep area.
Worst of all, they are very flashy. Look at my marble facade, my book-like stone, my immaculate (not long) stainless steel finishes.
I’ve even seen a fully mirrored kitchen island – worse than keeping stainless steel clean! And another one shaped like some kind of futuristic sci-fi sculpture.
The size and extravagance of the island has little to do with how often the owner actually cooks. Because while we all love Bake Off, most of the recipes remain untested, and many of us watch intently as Stanley Tucci tours Italy’s gastronomic hotspots while balanced on his lap indulging in a microwave-cooked dinner. It’s all so desperately unnecessary. Not to mention expensive.
And yet there are entire magazines dedicated to the latest kitchen trends, as if their readers update them every season.
Home cooking is an extremely rewarding pursuit – never more so than when prices escalate – but much of it has led to the purchase of unnecessary appliances, alongside elevating the kitchen to a home trophy.
And so we are at a crossroads. And yet, the purpose of the kitchen itself is and always has been very simple.
A kitchen must accommodate the means for storing, preparing and cooking food and for storing it away afterwards. It could also accommodate laundry, but everything else is redundant and just a whim. It’s time we got back to a more pragmatic focus on function.
Of course, our kitchens should feel fully integrated into our homes as a whole. I say yes to some shelving or display space to house knick-knacks or artwork.
Yes to colour, wallpaper, patterned tiles, pillows and comfort. Yes, to twice the storage space and twice the power outlets you think you’ll ever need. Yes to built-in herb containers, hobs and extractor hoods.
But no, simply no, to the island.
When planning a kitchen from scratch, it helps to start by telling the truth.
A kitchen must accommodate the means for storing, preparing and cooking food and for storing it away afterwards. It could also accommodate laundry, but everything else is redundant and just moody (file image)
How much do you actually cook? Do you regularly prepare meals yourself or do you tend to order take-away or eat out? Do you work with a variety of ingredients or stick to just a few favorites? Do you love throwing dinner parties or is it just a dream?
Before having kids, I would regularly spend all day preparing meals for a dinner party for ten, but these days I’m more routine than preparing dinner for the kids or sharing a pot of tea and cake with a friend.
There is no judgment on the above – just acceptance of reality so that you can have a kitchen that actually fits your life now.
If you want a large, versatile worktop to gather in your kitchen, could I suggest a table?
An L-shaped or galley layout will always be the most efficient for what I have at home. And with the galley you have storage on one side and the sink, prep and hob on the other.
There is a plethora of amazing countertop surfaces available today, from easy-to-clean and lightweight ceramic that looks like solid stone, to wood and even copper, which is naturally antimicrobial.
Anything goes for the cabinet fronts (except mirror or stainless steel if you value your sanity).
Don’t be afraid of color either – my heart dreams of a light yellow shiny kitchen, maybe I’ll go there soon.
Updating your cabinet doors is one of the easiest ways to quickly give any kitchen a new look. Turn on new grips and your update may be complete. No island required.
And if you want a large, versatile worktop to gather in your kitchen, could I suggest a table?