Portable islands can transform a small kitchen

June 17, 2006|by CHRISTINE BRUN / Copley News Service

For the serious cook, a kitchen island is as delicious to contemplate as a vacation spot in the middle of the sea. It represents an extension of work space, a convenient place to plug in an appliance or a work surface near one of the main work centers in the kitchen - the sink, the range, and the cooktop and refrigerator.

In larger kitchens, the island can also double as an eating bar or offer a place for a cooktop or maybe even an under-the-counter oven. But small kitchens are often limited to the three basic areas with little room for much else.

In a space-restricted condo or modestly sized older house, the kitchen island must also be small. Unlike its large-kitchen counterpart, it can't afford to be devoted to luxurious purposes but must be packed with function and flexibility.

Whether you own your home or rent, there are ways to solve this riddle.


The island shown in the photo here is an unusual size and shape: small and round. The island is 37 inches in diameter by 35 inches high, with pivot drawers that open 45 degrees for access. This particular example comes with a functional eucalyptus wood butcher-block chopping top. Assembly is required for this solid pine Piedmont Kitchen Island from the mail-order house Ballard Designs, and it sells for just under $700.

Another variation is the What's Cooking Kitchen Table Island that converts from a square into a circle. The idea for this versatile piece is that the top transforms from a 40 11/16-inch square to a 53 11/16-inch circle when the drop leaves are raised.

This piece is perfect for an intimate meal in the kitchen, and it also features a marble insert, wine bottle storage, two towel bars, a baking-sheet rack and an open shelf. Locking casters and an all-around finish allow one to move this piece anywhere in the general vicinity for convenience. Made by Stanley Furniture Inc., this model comes in White Pearl, Grande Marnier (a medium wood tone) or Black Opal finish.

For a kitchen that is more narrow than wide, look for something rectangular. Some islands on the market measure more like 21 1/2 inches to 26 1/2 inches in depth by 61 1/2 inches to 74 inches in length. Make sure to find a piece that is about 36 inches high for comfortable use.

The models in IKEA's free-standing kitchen unit series have adjustable legs for uneven floors. Called the VARDE series, the base cabinet units could satisfy the requirements of an island.

IKEA also carries several movable storage and work surfaces that feature locking casters. From stainless-steel tops to oiled-birch chopping tops, such carts are just slightly more narrow. Their FORHOJA serving car is designed by Nike Karlsson to function at 16 7/8 inches wide by 39 3/8 inches long and 35 3/8 inches high. Because two narrow drawers open from both sides, this piece could work in the center of a galley kitchen.

In any configuration, a modest island might be just the ticket to converting a cramped kitchen into a handier one. An extra drawer or two, a cutting surface, wine storage and an extra towel bar could transform the life of the resident cook from frustrating to satisfying.

Christine Brun, ASID, is a San Diego-based interior designer and the author of "Big Ideas for Small Spaces." Send questions and comments to her by e-mail at or to Copley News Service, P.O. Box 120190, San Diego, CA 92112.

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