Once a modern status symbol, the island unit is now widely regarded as one of the most useful features you can have in any kitchen. In farmhouse kitchens, they are fast replacing the traditional cook’s table; still providing a similar social role, but with surfaces at a more comfortable height for prepping.
‘To maintain an authentic farmhouse style, we like to design kitchen islands that look like freestanding pieces of furniture, topped with natural surfaces such as solid stone or a chunky butcher’s block,’ says Richard Davonport, managing director, Davonport.
The best islands are carefully located to ease traffic flow through the space, rather than creating a barrier, and, with seating included, will help secure the kitchen as the natural hub of your country home.
1. Stand out with stone
A seriously striking stone doesn’t need to cover every surface to make a statement – allowing you to invest a little more on something truly special, like this Terra Bianca Satinato Marble.
In fact, many designers recommend switching up the worktop on an island as a way to help it stand out as a freestanding piece of furniture, lending farmhouse-style kitchens a relaxed ‘unfitted’ feel.
Terra Bianca Satinato Marble by Cullifords
2. Split levels
Dining at table height is undoubtedly more comfortable than when perched on bar stools, so if you don’t have a separate dining table consider a split-level island. This clever design uses a change in worktop to clearly demark the cooking and eating zones.
Providing ample leg room is an important comfort factor when sitting for prolonged periods – aim for an overhang of at least 30cm.
Photography / Darren Chung for Harvey Jones
3. Create a cook's table
Styled on the traditional cook’s table typically found at the heart of farmhouse kitchens, a long-legged island is perfect for baking and food prep. In island form, the drawers are deeper than an actual cook’s table, so there’s no need to compromise on storage.
Lifting the island off the floor is also a well-recognised design technique for making a kitchen feel more spacious. Table style islands aren’t usually suitable for sink installations but the electrics for a hob can be hidden inside a leg if required.
Photography / Bespoke kitchen by Plain English
4. Find a flow
‘Planning a curved island unit within a rectangle or square room is a real joy. Curves not only introduce a safety aspect with fewer sharp corners, but a softer design aesthetic, too,’ says Darren Taylor, managing director, Searle & Taylor.
‘This kitchen features a lot of straight lines, especially because of the stunning beams, so we added curves to provide contrast. Seating around a circular table allows for a more sociable dining experience and we designed the breakfast bar as a raised area so that three people could sit round it comfortably.'
'This was also designed at a height where they can look directly out through the windows to the lovely countryside beyond.’
Photography / Paul Craig for Searle & Taylor
5. Start small
An island doesn’t have to be huge to prove a valuable asset. If space is tight, you’re not ready to commit or you just want flexibility, a freestanding unit could be the answer. Make sure it’s light enough to move without damaging the furniture, flooring or your back!
This vintage style piece in the home of fashion writer Louise Roe was made from the same reclaimed floorboards as the flooring below to achieve design cohesion with an element of relaxed imperfection.
London Grey quartz worktops by Caesarstone. Cabinets by British Standard. Design by Louise Roe.
6. Design around an obstacle
If you’re going open-plan and have unavoidable structural joists to navigate around, an island unit can play a big role in maintaining easy traffic flow through the space.
‘The island in this kitchen has been designed around the large pillar in the centre of the room, creating additional space for food preparation and storage, whilst allowing the Aga range oven to remain the focal point.'
'Without the island, the pillar would have been far more obstructive and visually dominating,’ explains Richard Davonport, managing director, Davonport.
Photography / Tillingham kitchen by Davonport
7. Zone the surfaces
Switching up the surfaces can prevent a long island from appearing bland and monolithic. It’s also a popular way to zone different uses, in this case copper defines the breakfast bar/social end, while marble demarks cooking and cleaning.
When connecting two materials it is essential to get a neat joint to avoid creating a dirt trap – request a line of silicone if there’s a water source close by. Alternatively, make a feature of the divide by going chunkier with one surface to create a purposeful step.
Photography / The Real Shaker Kitchen by deVOL
8. Include a corner bar
Positioning bar stools at right angles aids better eye-contact for conversation compared to a lining stools up in rows.
This chunky timber corner bar puts the chef centre of attention for a sociable cooking space with ample room for four guests. Raising the breakfast bar is a great safety feature when including a hob within an island, especially for children.
Photography / Laura Marin for Extreme Design
9. Create a display
A mix of open and glazed shelving lends lightness to this impressive 4m-long island. ‘It’s important to consider how an island looks from all angles, especially if it’s taking up a large footprint,’ says Pierce Coyne, design manager, Kitchen Architecture.
‘In this 18th century farmhouse, the front of the island is the first thing you see when entering from the garden. The owners wanted shelving to create attractive displays. Using bleached oak inside also links nicely with the exposed oak beams.’
Photography / Darren Chung for Kitchen Architecture
10. Mimic traditional furniture
Modelling your island on a more traditional piece of furniture can feel more in keeping in a farmhouse setting. The balanced design of this island unit mimics the symmetry of a robust sideboard, complete with pot rack style centre shelf – perfect for rustic baskets and recipe books.
A clever faux door on the left allows bar stools to be tucked out of the way, without ruining the illusion.
Bespoke kitchen by Thomas Ford & Sons. Flooring by Artisans of Devizes.
What is the best size for a kitchen island?
There is no right or wrong size but bear in mind an island measuring more than 1.5m deep will be hard to clean in the middle. And if you go longer than 3m, you’ll likely require a joint in the worktop.
‘As a general rule, we design islands with no less than one-metre-wide circumference around the island to the walls or other furniture,’ adds Richard Davonport, managing director, Davonport. ‘This allows enough space for two people to pass and still be in easy reach of food storage and fridge-freezers.’
Is my kitchen too small for an island?
‘It is all about proportions and practicality; the room needs to work ergonomically and have enough space to move around. For example, to incorporate seating on an island, we would suggest a minimum of 1.2m between a breakfast bar and a wall or furniture,’ says Richard.
Don’t install an island for the sake of it, they have to play a vital role in cooking efficiency (preferably multiple roles) and not get in the way. Try using a table or even boxes to block out the space for a few days – it’s a great way to work out how an island will impact the room’s flow.
What is modern farmhouse style?
‘Modern farmhouse style incorporates the traditional elements of a country kitchen all in one room, with fitted furniture,’ explains Richard.
'A traditional range oven is always the focal point with a prep table (now in the form of an island) taking centre stage, complemented by other traditional-style elements such as open-style dresser units, fixed food pantries with cold shelves and Butler sinks with bridge taps.'