Storage solution, bookshelf, preparation surface, dining spot and even a sink; the kitchen island, invented by an Italian company in the 1960s, is at the heart of the most important room in the house.
Such is the popularity of this freestanding statement unit that there’s another type of island making a mark — the solid work table as seen in Downton Abbey.
Here’s what you need to know about the design, colours and quirks of this kitchen apparatus.
Multi-purpose: The Benchmarx Cambridge island
The cost of a kitchen island can range from £300 to an astonishing £50,000, for which you’ll acquire an additional work surface and a piece of modern sculpture, similar to the likes of Catherine Zeta-Jones’s ornate marble island unit and breakfast bar in the 19th-century New York mansion she shares with husband Michael Douglas.
But you don’t have to splash out: make an instant impact with a freestanding, easy-to-assemble counter such as Wayfair’s Felisha kitchen island (£399.99, wayfair.co.uk).
While many suppliers sell islands as part of their kitchen ranges, the top names in the bespoke deluxe kitchen island game are Rossana (rossana.com) and Molteni & C Dada (molteni.it/en), both Italian. Designers suggest that, whatever your budget, determine the island layout by how you intend to use it.
In most cases, a combination of storage, stools, open shelving for the display of bottles and cookery books, and perhaps a sink, will suffice. But, to add flair, dimmable pendant lights are a failsafe forumla.
Kitchen island fan Catherine Zeta-Jones
For the more ambitious, a multi-height island allows you to incorporate a lower space for dining. It can also serve as a desk to write your own Aga saga, perhaps.
To show off your MasterChef credentials, you can fit a stylish hob, with an integrated extractor hood, or large chrome sink with pull-down tap. An embedded champagne ice trough is the top social accessory.
For most, size is the key issue. Bella Glenn, design expert at Benchmarx Kitchens (benchmarx kitchens.co.uk), emphasises that a huge island can be an obstruction rather than a convenience: ‘It’s vital to have room to move between the island and the rest of the kitchen.
‘Before we installed our island at home, I put down parcel tape on the floor to mark the point to which the dishwasher and other doors opened out. I wanted to have four bar stools, but opted for three, so that people sitting there would have sufficient legroom.’
Shaker-style kitchens, first crafted by an 18th-century religious sect known as the Shaking Quakers, continue to dominate the look of the 21st-century island.
You’ll recognise them by their simple, unadorned square doors with an inset panel and characteristic cup-shaped handles — rustic enough for the country kitchen set, but sleek enough to blend into an edgy urban interior.
Some manufacturers produce handle-less Shaker units for an even simpler finish. Glossy magazines often veer towards showcasing the metallic monolith as the epitome of cool, yet peek inside newly renovated Notting Hill town houses and you will find this traditional design is still at the heart of the stylish kitchen.
What your home really need is… a cactus
Cacti do not make demands
How do you suggest that you are aware of this year’s growing botanical trend without investing heavily in chintz?
Buy a large cactus, or several smaller cacti (to be grouped together in rose-gold pots).
Cacti do not make demands. They ask only for light and a little water, now and then.
A collection of different varieties from garden website Crocus will set you back £12.99 (crocus.co.uk).
If you are serious about being a plant parent (yes, this is a thing) you can attend a workshop to learn how to tend to your mini-desert.
If any type of plant develops a death wish while in your ownership, a collection of ‘faux’ cacti from Cox & Cox costs £40 (coxandcox.co.uk).
Such is the focus on the kitchen island that people are prepared to splash out on its worktop, while economising on the surfaces for the rest of the kitchen.
This has boosted demand for veined granite worktops — both scratch and heatproof — costing as much as £450 per sq m. Durable laminates are about a tenth of the price, while oak surfaces (about £299 per sq m) evoke a sense of the Cotswolds, even if you live in the heart of the city.
Dark greys and moody blues remain the hippest shades for islands, and work best against paler units and walls.
BACK TO BASICS
The worktable used by Mrs Patmore, the Downton Abbey cook, is making a name for itself once more.
This glamorously utilitarian piece has deep drawers for wooden spoons and ladles, and sends out the message that the owner is a serious cook.
Yet it’s more than likely that those with a kitchen big enough to accommodate one, such as from bespoke furniture maker Plain English (plainenglishdesign.co.uk), will also have an island around which guests can congregate.
The IKEA Rimforsa work bench (£350, ikea.com) would suit a hard-up fan of the Downton scullery aesthetic.