Customize a kitchen island to suit your personal style, and make it even more rewarding to cook and entertain
Written and produced by Debra Steilen
Why customize your kitchen island? To get exactly what you need to enhance the way you and your family live every day—and on special occasions. Your choices for size, shape, and countertop material are just part of the equation. Check out these inspired ideas for adding functionality and style.
Shown: A graceful Kallista faucet overlooks a white island’s marble countertop and integrated sink. Slide the custom-size teak cutting board into place for food prep.
Designer Joan Nemirow wanted to give her new kitchen more of a period feel. That’s why she designed this vintage-look island, a nearly 5×10-foot walnut cabinet inspired by 18th- and 19th-century English furniture styles. Outside, the island boasts burled walnut and decorative veneers. Inside, the island sports multiple storage drawers with adjustable pegs for safe china storage. The island’s teak top and stainless-steel sink provide functional work space.
Curved stretchers connect the island’s shapely fluted legs, partnering with the drop pulls and decorative veneers to enhance the piece’s furniture-style appeal. At ground level, the wide-plank flooring (a mix of reclaimed oak and chestnut finished in tung oil) echoes the warmth of the island’s richly varied tones.
Layered with Charm
Although new, this elegant kitchen exudes old-world character. Part of the façade? A grand central island that features a rich walnut stain, dual countertop materials, and furniture-style detailing. The two-tier center portion is topped with ogee-edged Capolavoro granite from Italy, gently curved on one side to accommodate dining. A pair of butcher block-topped tables adds weight to either side of the island’s center section. Alternating stain colors—dark maple and walnut—give the butcher block tops a playful attitude.
Robin’s-egg blue is homeowner Bridget McDermott’s favorite color. So it comes as no surprise that the 10×6-foot island in her new kitchen boasts that hue—a glowing contrast to perimeter cabinets painted white with a platinum glaze. At island’s end, two sets of shelves beneath curved aprons display pretty white dishes silhouetted against a blue background. Like the perimeter cabinetry, the furniture-style island sports turned legs and detailed toe-kicks, as well as cabinet doors with beaded detailing and geometric onlays. The extended cherrywood countertop creates a dining spot for three people.
Turned legs and a cherrywood top—plus that robin’s-egg blue finish—give this island its upscale personality. But it’s the practical features that make it such a good kitchen helper. Up top, a stainless-steel sink from Franke Kitchen Systems partners with a gooseneck faucet and custom marble cutting board to facilitate food prep. Down below, the island includes a microwave oven, a warming drawer, pots-and-pans storage, and trash receptacles (far right). Everything is hidden behind cabinetry doors to keep the furniture-style façade complete.
Fashioned for a Foodie
You can’t help but notice the center island in Arlene Mead’s kitchen. Painted Benjamin Moore’s “Watermelon Red,” the island pops against the soft green perimeter cabinets that line the room. But for Arlene, a professional foodie who develops recipes and teaches cooking classes in her home, performance is more important than “pretty.” So this island includes a six-burner gas cooktop from Wolf, a prep sink, a trash pullout, built-in spice storage, and a generously sized butcher-block top from Boos Bros. Up to six stools fit around the island so students or guests can observe and chat while Arlene is cooking.
Spices are just an arm’s length away when Chef Arlene Mead works at the island’s gas cooktop, thanks to the island’s built-in shelves. The shallow shelves can be adjusted when Arlene changes out her inventory of seasonings.
This kitchen’s architectural roots are in the Roaring Twenties. But today the renovated room’s look includes a modern mix of materials—everything from steel-frame French doors to classic white subway tiles. Inspired by French farm tables, the white oak island (made by Custom Wood Craft) features turned legs and a honed Carrara marble top. Rattan baskets, rather than cabinets and drawers, help keep kitchen items organized. The herringbone floor is crafted from 100-year-old reclaimed, unfinished oak—adding a weathered texture to the neutral palette.
Designed by avid hosts Cam and Kathy Hagen, this kitchen accommodates crowds with panache. Part of its appeal? An L-shape island with dramatic waterfall edges—serving as a high-function focal point. The stylish surface—Fantasy Brown Quartzite—lends extra drama to the scene with color and texture variations that could almost double as art. The island’s angled shape puts a prep sink, cookware, storage, and a trash center within easy reach of the chef. A circular prep sink doubles as a bar sink for weekend gatherings. And on the side opposite the sink, a beverage refrigerator lets guests stay hydrated while steering clear of the main work zone.
The island’s extended quartzite countertop makes it possible for guests to sit and socialize with the chef.
Great food in a relaxed setting: That’s what you get when a kitchen design is inspired by a bistro where the chef interacts with the guests. The Viking range is key to this kitchen’s success, of course. But so is the combination island/banquette that allows food prep to coincide with conversation. The furniture-style island boasts a black-glazed finish, shapely legs, elegant end panels, and an Arctic Cream granite top. The leather-topped banquette and handcrafted oval table seat up to eight visitors.