I am no snob when it comes to where you get your kitchen from. Seriously, with the right bells and whistles you could make any box bought kitchen look like a million bucks.
But one thing that cheapens a kitchen quicker than a "my-stick-figure-family" bumper sticker on a Mercedes Benz, is having a kitchen island that lacks the due attention paid to all four sides.
If you have the luxury of enough space to fit an island into your kitchen, there are a few things to avoid so you don't end up with a kitchen island that is more Shipwrecked than Temptation, more Magaluf than Maldives.
A kitchen island has 4 sides to it, fact. It would be called a peninsula otherwise.
Typically, one side, the side facing into the kitchen, is the practical side. Comprised of cabinetry, doors, drawers etc. This side probably houses your hob, the kitchen sink and maybe a wine fridge if you're fancy. It's the working side. Without taking anything away from it, this side of the island is just an extension of the kitchen and it is what it is.
Obviously you want this side of the island to look good, but it takes its lead from the design of the rest of the kitchen.
Just like a mullet, with business at the front and party at the back, the opposite side to the island, the side facing into the room, is generally the social side. The side that probably gets the most attention and designery frills.
Nestled with bar stools, an inset panel of some sort, a tile inlay or a special finish even. The "party at the back" of the island is where we throw most of our efforts to make the biggest impact. Even if we choose to keep things simple here, our choices in bar stools or furniture pick up the slack.
However there are also two other sides to an island that seem to get less attention paid to them than page three on a Google search result. I know each kitchen is unique, so layouts will differ, but in most cases, these two "other sides" of the island can be categorised as the following:
1) The dark side of the moon, where the dog bowl or the recycling bin lives.
2) The side panel that you see every time you walk into your kitchen.
Chances are, that if you are going to buy your kitchen from the likes of a Magnet or a Howdens or have pieced the units together with an IKEA diy, these two ends of your island will most likely just be completely flat pieces of board that form both the outside of the island and the inside of the cupboard.
Take a look at some of the big name kitchen brands. Blakes, DeVOL, Plain English, the kinds that make up kitchens bespoke almost all of the time. One thing you will notice, is that these end panels are never left without some sort of detail on them. It may not be enough to draw attention to them in a shouty sort of way, but it's kind of like the times when your plain mate Jane wears mascara. You can't quite put a finger on it, but she does look good today.
I always say that the best designed rooms are the ones that have had some sort of design detail applied to every surface, and the same goes for your island. If you don't want your island to feel like it came in a box, you need to ensure that these 2 side panels are never left bare.
Whenever I design a kitchen island I always think “furniture” before I think “kitchen.” I know not very house is suited to replace their island with a table, but one should always consider the principles of furniture design when planning their island. If you think of your island as a piece of furniture that is meant to be appreciated from all 4 sides, it is less likely to be boring.
There are about a billion ways to deal with the two "main sides" of an island, this blog isn’t about that, it's about what to do to prevent the "sideburns" from letting the rest of the room down.
If you are designing a kitchen from scratch, obviously you have the luxury of choosing what you want your island to look like, but this doesn't necessarily mean that mistakes won’t be made.
Identify which side of the island is the dark side of the moon. Fortunately this side doesn't really matter in the grand scheme of things. Most of the ideas below can be applied to this side of the island. So for now, if it's out of sight, it's out of mind.
Just too add however, the dark side of the moon is the side were you should put your electrical sockets so you don’t have to look at them. This isn’t 1925 we all know your house has electricity, we don’t need to see your sockets as we enter a room.
A detail I literally cannot stand, is when the profile of the recessed kick plate wraps around onto these side panels, so that your island looks like its sitting on a little platform.
I usually don't post images of things I don’t like (as not to offend the original designer) but in this case I think it's important that you know what I'm taking about so you can avoid this detail.
Sorry | Sorry | Sorry
To counteract this, make sure that your side panels run to the floor. Unless you are cleaning your kitchen daily with a bath full of water, the "my mop will mark the sides" excuse isn't going to fly. Use a hoover and a damp cloth.
Where possible, wrap your seating area, the mullet, around the side of the island that is most prevalent when entering a room. You will need to make sure that your work top over hangs the unit by about 30cm so you can comfortably tuck a couple of bar stools under here, but this is by far the best way to avoid seeing a boring blank side panel as you approach.
If this isn't an option, and you only have room for seating on the one side of the unit, or don’t like the idea of the L-shape configuration, make sure that work top doesn't sit completely flush with the side of the units below.
In other words, your worktop needs to be wider/bigger than the cabinets below. Ideally on all four sides to some degree. As little as a 2cm overhang works for the three sides where you don’t have seating.
Although it doesn't solve the problem entirely, having this small overhang on the worktop prevents these blank sides from looking neglected. I always think that an island, which has the base unit and the worktop finishing completely flush, looks like the stone guys buggered the template and only just go the top to fit. It's a case of bigger is better in this case.
Integrating details like open shelving or similar is good way to rid your island of the blank panel issue. These designs can be incorporated into both traditional and contemporary kitchen styles, so if this is your vibe, and the space and any storage restrictions allow, definitely try and incorporate this.
Wrapping your stone work top down the side of your island isn’t a get out of jail free card. I have done a blog post about quartz and stone worktops, and sometimes too much of something (fake stone) can be bad thing.
Personally I prefer to only have the worktop wrap down the one side of the island, with the other side being the overhang, where your bar stools live.
If you aren't in the bespoke boat, or if you have now suddenly realised that you are the proud owner of a prominent blank side panel, and there is nothing that can be done to change the seating configuration or the worktop, "retrofit" is now going to be your new favourite word.
Companies like Rowen & Wren have fab brass and bronze hook rails that can easily be screwed onto the side of a cabinet. This way, by literally hanging a dish towel, sprig of dried herbs and a wooden utensil off this, you are closer to a deVOL kitchen than you were before.
Obviously hook anything you want off this, but the idea is that you have added another layer to this blank panel. Layering is good.
Another retrofitting option, and this works if you have a hand-painted kitchen, is to install a small bead on the side of the island. It doesn't need to be very pronounced at all, but just something to interrupt the flatness of it all. This bead can be anything really, a half round, a flat strip or something slightly more ornate. It’s really up to you. Most hardware stores will have pre-made lengths of most profiles.
Once it’s installed, just paint it the same colour as the rest of the island, and Bob's your uncle.
So whether you're dropping some serious tin on a new kitchen, or are buying it in a half price sale, with installation included, have a think about those 2 side panels. Kitchen islands aren't generally still considered to be the height of domestic sophistication like they were in the 1950's, but that doesn't mean that we should let them become ordinary. I've written a lot today about two small, flat pieces of wood, but those pieces of wood are important and they make all the difference.