Today’s Top Kitchen Island Styles
No one can deny that the kitchen island has become one of the most functional parts of today’s kitchen. In fact, many may argue this facet is the most functional part of the modern kitchen. It can be used for cooking, food prep, clean up, serving, baking, eating, homework, chatting with guests, and sometimes a combination of all of the above. With glistening hardware, finishes that rival that of high-end furniture, and rich stone countertops, today’s kitchen island styles are as beautiful as they are functional.
There are many variables that go into the design of a kitchen island. An island must be the right size and the right shape for the kitchen. Furthermore, it must have a clear-cut job—or jobs– to do, and it must define the style of the kitchen; be that Traditional, Contemporary, Old World, etc.
Basically, there are three styles Traditional, Contemporary, and Transitional. The latter is a combination of Traditional and Contemporary. However, of the three, many exciting sub-styles sprang from the Traditional style such as the very popular Farmhouse style.
Traditional Island Features
In the race to win first place in popularity, Traditional runs neck in neck with Contemporary. Some years Traditional wins by a nose, and some years the popular vote goes to Contemporary. But regardless of the official race score, Traditional will always win the heart of America. Its graceful door styles, charming turned millwork, and beautiful finishes help create captivating kitchen islands. Traditional style islands can be almost any finish and certainly do not have to match that of the other cabinetry.
White is currently very popular and always will be. New colors are coming out continuously, often enhanced with rich glazes like coffee or olive. Gray is a big color for Traditional islands. Wood finishes are also seen.
Traditional islands often boast tons of storage space behind their elegant doors and drawer fronts, but they also pack some heat: dishwashers and dishwasher drawers, steam, conventional and microwave ovens, cook or rangetops are common additions. Usually, an extra sink or possibly the main sink is located on the island. Apron sinks are very popular in Traditional style islands. Bookshelves and eating counters are also popular.
- Raised and recessed panel doors and drawer fronts
- Beaded and plain inset cabinet construction, often with exposed hinges
- Turned table legs, corner posts, carved corbels, turned feet, legs and decorative end panels
- Glass display doors
- Painted finishes with or without glazes
- Rich wood finishes
- Impressive ogee and stepped countertop edges
Although the island is the workhorse of the kitchen, don’t attempt to pack too much into one island. If necessary, and you have enough room, include two islands. Limit any appliances to the side where your main work triangle is located and use the other side or sides for eating and/or storage. You don’t want to run circles around the island when preparing dinner! As far as Traditional countertops, stone takes it usually in the form of granite or marble. These are not only elegant but durable. Other countertops for Traditional islands include rich teak wood countertops and quartz.
Contemporary Island Features
Contemporary islands have clean lines and an uncomplicated appearance. Contemporary is a simple elegance born of natural materials, colors and textures–rich earth tone shades of brown, tan, cream, sage, rust, and gold and innovative materials like recycled and ‘’green’’ products. Natural finished wood, often exotic, stone and rock, gleaming metals—usually chrome, nickel or stainless steel—and sleek simple hardware, lighting and faucet design. Polished metals are beginning to take a backseat to brushed or satin. As far as decorative features, it’s the opposite of Traditional but unlike Modern, the Contemporary style is not devoid of décor. It is never cold but, in fact, very comfortable and inviting.
Rather than the gracefully paneled cabinet doors of a Traditional style island, Contemporary islands feature classic Shaker or slab door styles and drawer fronts, open shelving, simple stools—often backless, sleek state-of-the-art appliances, and sophisticated countertops with neat, unpretentious edge styling. Countertop materials run the gauntlet from wood to stone to innovative forms of solid surface. Pro-style and stainless steel appliances are almost textbook in Contemporary style kitchens. Range tops and ranges, under counter refrigeration and dishwashers, are usually stainless steel.
Contemporary Characteristics Include:
- Frameless, European style cabinet construction
- Full overlay doors in a simple Shaker-style or as a plain slab
- Stone, wood, or solid surface with simple edge styles
- Natural materials with clean lines
- Floating shelves
- Brushed stainless, nickel, or chrome metals
The Transitional style is a marriage of Traditional and Contemporary, combining elements of both its parents. Transitional islands are often more elegant and decorative than Contemporary but less detailed than Traditional. The cabinet doors include elements of Traditional in styling with framed inset construction, matching end panels, and a mix of stainless steel and paneled appliances. Hardware can be simple and sleek or oversized for an extra punch. Metals run the gauntlet from chrome to nickel, bronze to copper, with emphasis on mixing metals for added visual interest.
Transitional Characteristics Include:
- Framed and frameless (European) cabinetry construction is often mixed
- Door styles are always recessed panel, with a varying degree of detail on the framing bead
- Hardware can be more decorative but not too decorative
- Stainless steel as well as paneled appliances, most often the dishwasher
- Millwork includes simples
- Countertops are stone or wood with simple edge styles
- Neutral paint colors, light wood finishes, often exotic
There’s a mix of natural and man-made in Transitional kitchen islands. Cabinet finishes are often neutral paint, mixed with unique wood finishes and exotic woods. Islands are masterpieces of both new and old, natural and manmade, luxurious and simple. You won’t see elaborate cabinet feet or turned legs but squared end posts, feet, and island legs abound. Countertops are granite, marble, and sometimes wood or quartz.
American Country has largely been replaced by the Farmhouse style which made #1 most popular kitchen style for 2018 defeating both Traditional and Contemporary in a stunning upset the likes of which we haven’t seen in many years. But it’s easy to see why America loves the Farmhouse kitchen. They’re bright and sunny, cheerful and comfortable, charming and welcoming. The materials used in this historical kitchen design are, again, natural—rich wood finishes, paint with lots of glaze, either distressed or clean white, ceramic tile, stone, and bronze, copper, pewter, nickel or black metals. The style is decorative, in fact, a controlled clutter is part of the style.
Cabinetry for the Farmhouse Island is simply framed often with corner posts and simple corbels. The cabinet feet and island legs are prevalent but often not quite as elegantly styled as the Traditional style—they tend to be a little heavier and more substantial. The Farmhouse style is attractive to the eye but more solid than the elegant Traditional with a welcoming down-to-earth practical look and feel. Like French Country, the Farmhouse style is flexible and can be very rustic or more traditional in style to suit the owner without damaging the design.
Farmhouse Characteristics Include:
- Simple framed cabinet doors and drawer fronts, sometimes with glass inserts
- Hardware is less decorative than Traditional but more so than Contemporary
- Metals are copper, bronze, pewter, nickel, or black
- Lighting is simple pendants or iron chandeliers
- Countertops are granite, marble, slate, soapstone or wood with simple edges
- Sinks are bronze, copper (often hammered) granite, ceramic, fireclay
- Faucets are Victorian styled
- Undercounter appliances are often hidden behind cabinet panels
- Millwork such as turned island legs, cabinet feet, simple corbels, corner posts
The Farmhouse Island is usually a blend of island and the traditional farmhouse table. These tables in historical farmhouses were massive and used for any number of kitchen chores and large enough to seat a crowd. Island bookcases, bead board, stone or wood countertops with simple countertop edge styles are the order of the day. Farm sinks are almost mandatory and often even a secondary sink will be in the farm style and always with wonderfully graceful Victorian faucet styles. Appliances are often hidden behind cabinet panels and dishwasher and refrigerated drawers are very popular in the Farmhouse Island. Undercounter wine coolers or full-sized dishwashers can also be hidden with matching panels or made to blend in with framed glass doors.
The kitchen island is the centerpiece of your kitchen; prep, serving, gathering, and eating. While style is important, it is nothing without functionality. Make sure your island isn’t just a pretty face, however. Make sure your island gets that job done.