Not All Kitchens Have Islands — The Resurgence of the Center Table

I know I said I would post about floors, but I decided to hold the article because there has been some recent chatter about Michelle Slatalla’s April 3rd article for the Wall Street Journal, “Why Kitchen Islands Are Ruining America’s Kitchens.” I read it. Nothing earth-shattering. To anyone who is a lover of old homes and not afraid of an UNopen floorplan — like myself — her points were, well, a bit of “been there, done that.”

During her recent renovation, Slatalla wanted an central kitchen table, one that reminded her of her grandmother’s house, and no island at all. But, “little did [she] know that dark forces would try to persuade [her] to incorporate a hulking Brutalist monolith designed to house a second sink and a spare dishwasher no one needs.”

 

 

This exchange was funny:

“Where’s the island?” my husband asked, poring over the blueprints at a meeting with the architect. “Where will we put the Cuisinart, the KitchenAid—my immersion blender, for God’s sake?”

He turned accusingly to the architect, Mark Fischbach.

“All my clients are asking for islands,” Mr. Fischbach said, tossing the live grenade back to me….

“What about undercounter wine storage?” my husband asked. “A separate freezer drawer? A trash compactor?”

“A trash compactor?” I replied. “Where do you come up with these things?”

 

The Great Island Debate

Americans like things bigger, better, and more! The rest of the world has had our number on that count for years, so no news there, either.

So, I’m not quite sure why the recent buzz. However, buzz there is. People have been getting quite heated in their defenses of the kitchen island and the open floor plan and others in their desire to bring back smaller scale and more intimate kitchens.

Treehugger , who went so far as to post a picture of Julia Child’s own kitchen in support of his argument, received quite a few very passionate responses to his take on Slattala’s article.

 

 

Even the millenial DIY duo Young House Love got into the fray with their latest podcast (minutes 9-15, if you don’t care a fig about the rest of what they’re discussing).

 

 

Kitchen islands grew in popularity during the 1980s as use of formal rooms decreased. People started knocking down walls into the living, family, and dining rooms, often doing away with the formal spaces entirely. Without the wall space for cabinetry, more storage room needed to be created, along with some sort of delineation between the functions of the wide open space.

Some arguments FOR an island (and a bit, by extension, an open floor plan):

  • Cook/dishwasher can socialize with others while doing kitchen tasks — no feeling of being “shut away”
  • Parent can keep an eye on kids while they play
  • A kitchen table doesn’t make sense if you have one 12 feet away in the dining room
  • Longer sight-lines for a more open, airy feel

 

 

Some arguments AGAINST an island (and a little bit for a separate kitchen):

  • People end up eating while seated single file, which doesn’t encourage eye contact and conversation
  • You see the mess and the dirty dishes easily from the living space
  • Some people really like privacy and quiet while cooking/cleaning up (I do!!!)
  • More storage = more unused kitchen clutter
  • What’s so bad about a pretty dining room that doesn’t need a table cleared of crumbs, crafts, and homework before sitting down to an occasional holiday, more formal, or grown-up-time meal?

 

 

Love Islands or Hate ‘Em, Just Don’t Do This

It seems like many people feel compelled to incorporate islands these days, but islands can go really wrong. I loved Carla Aston’s post on her pet peeve — oddly-shaped islands. (I know Emily Henderson has a oddly-shaped one, and she’s a millionaire blogger/decorator and I’m little ol’ me, but her kitchen island has always bugged me.)

 

Others put islands in kitchens that just don’t have the space.

 

 

 

Some really cute kitchens. The mint green one above — ahh! — I love it! But why the super, duper narrow island???? Not to mention, there is hardly room to open the stove. Chuck it, and this kitchen is perfect, IMO. Luckily, the island looks moveable.

In all of the above kitchen scenarios, I would bang my hips on those narrow little islands and tip them over, along with all their contents. Furthermore — maybe I’m the only one — but I need at least 30″ of depth to feel comfortable chopping carrots. Yes, perimeter counters are only 24″ deep, but there’s a wall at the end of them to keep my carrot tops from flying all over the place.

Here’s my thought — if you don’t have room for a 30″ island with 48″ of walking space around it (42″ minimum), you don’t really have room for an island at all. Just enjoy your walking space.

 

And if your kitchen was created with a peninsula, embrace it! Love the space you’re in. Gorgeous kitchens with peninsulas could be a whole other post!

 

The Center Kitchen Table — Traditional to Modern

What do think? (If you’re still reading, I’ll take that as a sign that you care about my opinion!) Will I sound too much like a politician if I defer and say, “It all depends…?”

I think that if I lived in a house with an open floor plan, I’d need an island. If not, then I’d have to find the best layout for my space — island, peninsula, galley, center table. You have to love the space you’re in.

Given my ‘druthers, I like a separate kitchen with a center table. I like cozy. I’m a neo-trad at heart (however much I may get really excited about lots of different architectural and decorating styles) and I think a center table is a timeless classic.

And while a center table may seem very traditional to us Americans, the Europeans — those paragons of minimalism, small-space living, and general detachment from consumerism and accumulation — can show us just how very modern a center kitchen table can be.

Here comes a whole bunch more eye candy, ranging from antique, to neo-trad, to modern. Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some additional posts you may like:

Cream & White Kitchens — Happy Accident or Stroke of Genius?

The Best, Newest Counter Surface is Beautiful & More Durable than Quartz

Timeless Shaker Kitchen Style You Won’t Hate in 10 Years

Color in the Kitchen — My Pinterest Page for the Most Beautiful Colorful Kitchens

 

And a little graphic to remember me by:

Not All Kitchens Have Islands -- The Resurgence of the Center Table

 

Do you have any feelings about the Great Island Debate? Are you in a particular camp, or, like me, are you situationally influenced? Would you ever consider just having a center table in your kitchen?

 

I promise I’ll try to have that flooring post next week. Summer is killing my blogging time. Hope you understand! Trying to live in the moment with the kiddos as much as possible while they’re still small while still taking care of clients and connecting with all of you. Happy summer Saturday!

-Amy

 

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  • Nancy

    I agree that no island is better than a small or inconveniently placed island. However I never realized until now how much I dislike a table placed in the middle of the kitchen, due to cooking clutter, unless only option.I do think that an island with dining is very convenient for today’s busy lifestyle, but am still a fan of family around the table whenever possible. Interesting article.ReplyCancel

    • Amy

      Very valid points. Just my own situation—- we currently have an island, and with Things 1 & 2 in the House, I still have to clean all the clutter off the table before meals. 😜ReplyCancel

  • Elizabeth

    I’ve always loved an island. My first two houses did not have one, but the others after that did. I like it for the extra work space when there is more than one cook.(I hate cooking alone.) The kitchen table is nearby with a view of the outdoors, that is not as possible when it is centered in the kitchen surrounded by cabinets and doorways, etc…ReplyCancel

  • Julie S

    Well, I kept trying to say how much I agreed with this post and could not halt the overwordiness! Deleted it all and just want to say I love a good kitchen table. Those English novels with country kitchens and a huge scrubbed oak table in the middle are wonderful to me. I’ve always tried to create a similar feel with my 10×10 kitchens and eat in dining spaces – never had a house big enough to have a second separate dining room!ReplyCancel

    • Amy

      There is something very English-novel, Jane-Eyre-sharing-a-meal-with-Mrs-Fairfax about a scrubbed oak or pine center table, I agree!ReplyCancel

  • Cara

    I LOATHE kitchen islands and am so sick of seeing them everywhere. I would never have one.

    At some point people will think they look dated and then will be encouraged to tear them out, wasting resources and putting more stuff in the landfill.ReplyCancel

    • Amy

      There’s the passion I hoped this post might ignite! Cara, I think your vote counts as 2. 👍ReplyCancel

  • Jenny

    This “design controversy” cracks me up!! I am 100% situationally influenced as the layout MUST work for those that use the space. Sometimes an island is the best solution, but not always… and I agree with you on Emily’s island. 😳 Enjoy your summer & those kiddos, we’ll be here whenever you can make it. 😊ReplyCancel

    • Amy

      You are so sweet, Jen, thank you. Glad to know that Carla and I aren’t the only ones whom oddly-shaped islands make uncomfortable.ReplyCancel

  • I agree that an island should not be in a kitchen unless there is space to walk and gather around it. Can’t wait for the Peninsula article as I have moved into a home with one. Everyone says “take it out” and put in a little island. We have found it quite useful and my husband has said “no” to new countertops anytime soon as he loves the integrated sink. Sad face. They work just fine though and are in good condition and neutral, so the peninsula stays for now.ReplyCancel

    • Amy

      Without knowing your room dimensions m, it’s impossible to know whether an island would be a good fit for you. My parents’ kitchen and my sister’s both have peninsulas, and they’ve been perfect for the space. In their situations, an island would not fit and would be an awful use of space — not an upgrade at all, no matter how much on trend. Erin at Elements of Style has a gorgeous kitchen with a peninsula.ReplyCancel

  • Suzanne G Towles

    I’m fortunate to have both an island and a kitchen table in my 26-year old home. I like the island for it’s storage space and it’s very handy when entertaining buffet style, but I also love my farmhouse table and Windsor chairs. We always ate as a family when my children were young and, in fact, we still do when they come to visit. If and when we do remodel, I might extend the counter top on the top to accommodate a small stool underneath, but If I had to choose between the two, I think I’d pick the table.ReplyCancel