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Island Design Guidelines

by Jim Krengel


o question about it, kitchen islands have been hot for a long time and they continue to be hot. If there's one thing I've heard clients say over and over again for the past 20 years, it's that they want an island -- even if it won't fit into the space. The fact is, an island (when it fits) makes good sense in the kitchen layout.

The island has its origins in the old kitchen farmhouse table, where all of the food preparation took place. Usually, it was situated in the middle of the room. This table was approximately 30 inches high -- the perfect height to stand at when rolling dough and to sit at when snapping beans. A good island acts as a stepping stone between the range and refrigerator, making kitchen tasks easier and, in some cases, less dangerous. However, many islands become stumbling blocks instead, impeding the flow of traffic and requiring the user to walk around them to go between any two points in the kitchen. Triangle Rule You should be able to draw a straight line from the center of the sink to the center of the range or cooktop, from there to the center of the refrigerator, and then back to the center of the sink. No leg of this triangle should measure more than 9 feet or less than 4 feet. If you can't make such

an unobstructed triangle, your layout will be less than desirable (see Figure 1). For an island to be really useful, it must serve some function. Either the kitchen sink or the cooktop should be placed there. Whenever possible, I locate the sink in the island, because it allows the cook to face family and friends during meal preparation (up to 70 percent of which takes place at the sink). An island is an ideal location for a second sink, an item on the wish list of more than a third of the population. Consider placing this vegetable or bar sink at the end of the island, perpendicular to its length, so that the sink and faucets can be used comfortably from either side. Clearance The National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA) has established kitchen design parameters that most designers use as a standard reference. According to these, the ideal space between an island and an adjacent countertop or appliance is 42 inches. While this sounds simple enough, there are many nuances to consider. First, where is this distance measured from? To allow an honest, 42-inch-wide walking space, the measurement should be taken from countertop edge to countertop edge. Second, if the range or refrigerator projects into the walkway space, the measurement should be taken from the farthest projection of the appliance, across to the opposing countertop edge. Forty-two inches is a tried-and-true space for a single cook to work conveniently and efficiently within. The most



May/June 2004

Work Triangle Refinement Wrong


Figure 1. A kitchen island goes from stepping stone to stumbling block if it breaks the "work triangle" convention. Locate the island so that it doesn't interfere with a direct path between the sink, stove, and refrigerator. Put the sink or cooktop in the island to make it truly functional.

common question I hear from other professionals is "Can the passage be less than 42 inches wide?" The answer is a qualified yes. I've worked successfully with less space between island and counter and have often seen it done. But before I reduce the space, I advise my customer that we'll no longer be meeting an established kitchen design guideline. To demonstrate its practicality, I often mock up a space, using boxes spaced at the same distance as the proposed new kitchen cabinets. I ask my clients to pretend they're working in this space and to consider how it feels. If the client is a large person, I delicately advise against making the space narrower; if the client is petite, I may be happy to oblige. Most often, I compromise at 39 inches. The dead-minimum space I consider is 36 inches. Anything less will simply not work, because every time the client bends to use the island base storage, she'll bump into the cabinet behind her. And nothing is more embarrassing to a designer than to discover that the refrigerator door hits the island because the passage is too narrow. When the opposite side of the island is used primarily as a walkway and not a workspace, a 36-inch space is acceptable, but a 42-inch-wide passage is still best. If you're designing a two-cook kitchen, you should increase the walkway measurement to between 48 inches and 54 inches. Designing the Island What is the ideal island size? Assuming that the space will permit it, I like to start at a nominal 36 by 84 inches. This

may seem large, but it really isn't -- for one thing, a skinny island has no "character." And if you think that 84 inches seems too long, consider that, at minimum, a 36-inch sink base, a 24-inch-wide dishwasher, and one decent 24-inch base cabinet may have to fit under the counter. Toe kicks. Island toe-kick placement should also be carefully considered. The rule of thumb is that a toe kick should be included at the base of any cabinet that one might stand in front of to prepare food. A toe kick is unnecessary below a snack bar counter, for example. Duplex outlets. Electrical codes require a duplex outlet at each end of an island. This is a safe and sensible location because it eliminates the potential hazard of an appliance cord lying across a burner or a frayed cord coming in contact with water. But I'm always disappointed when I see a duplex outlet placed right in the center of a raised panel at the end of an island. To avoid this eyesore, I often surfacemount a Wiremold outlet strip to the underside of the countertop, even though it's a little less convenient to use. Or I'll use a raised panel end with a false drawer face above it. I hinge the bottom edge of the drawer face (similar to a tilt-down sink front) and install the outlet behind it, using a shallow device box. This detail looks great and functions well. Multiple Levels Rather than settling for a plain 36x84-inch monolith, I like to add some sizzle and character to the island through the use of multilevel surfaces. A multilevel island frequently includes a standard 36-inch countertop height (best for most 43



Three-Level Layout

Figure 2. A monolithic island may be a missed design opportunity. Varying cabinet and countertop heights adds versatility and eye appeal. Lower, 30-inchhigh counters and cooktops assist shorter users, while a high counter can serve as a snack bar or tall storage, and screen the kitchen mess from outside view.

Two-Level Layout

users of the kitchen), with a 42-inch-high section for comfortable use by taller cooks, or as a serving area. A taller section also provides a visual buffer between the dining space and the kitchen (Figure 2). The third practical height falls between 30 and 32 inches, which works well for rolling dough, or to provide a lower eating center, especially nice for children. Another benefit of a low snack bar is that the chairs used in this space can be used at the main dining table when more seating is required. While a multilevel island is visually more attractive and does have many functions, the smaller surfaces may not be particularly useful for large cooking tasks. If your clients do a lot of cooking or baking, they may prefer one continuous counter. There is no one-size-fitsall solution. Overhead When I design a multilevel island, I often create a multilevel soffit above it that follows the outline of the countertop. This is an attractive and functional feature when high-hat or recessed can lights are installed in the soffit. Installing them at equal distances from the countertops makes the lighting more uniform (Figure 3). I discourage the use of wall cabinets above an island, because they interfere with the view and feel as if they are "in your face." However, if you must have wall cabinets in this location, there are a couple of things to consider. First, make certain that the ends of the wall cabinets are set back at least 6 inches from the ends of the island, to prevent painful engagement with shoulders and heads. Second, consider installing glass doors on both sides of the upper cabinets. The see-through effect creates the illusion of more space and provides a less closed-in feeling. Jim Krengel is a Certified Kitchen and Bath Designer from St. Paul, Minn., and a popular presenter at professional seminars. 44


Three-Level Layout

Figure 3. An overhead lighting soffit can follow the contours of the island surface, providing even illumination and visual interest.

May/June 2004



Ace Duraflo Chesapeake Pipe Restoration David Schneider 1325 B Key Highway Baltimore, MD 21230 AmeriGas Propane Jim Palm 4354 Norrisville Road White Hall, MD 21161 Atlantic Custom Granite & Marble Mark Clayborne 472 East Locust Street Dallastown, MD 17313 Brady Fabrications, Inc. Jeff Brady 7852 Kabik Court Woodbine, MD 21797 Builder/Architect Magazine Terri Gwyn 510 Klee Mill Road Sykesville, MD 21784 C&F Mortgage Corporation Chris Guthrie 5052 Dorsey Hall Drive Suite 202 Ellicott City, MD 21042 Capital Webtec Brian Landis 8736 Castlerock Court Laurel, MD 20723 Cinema, LLC Adam Paper 1942 West Street Annapolis, MD 21401 CRU Building Corporation Stacy Cooke 217 East Jarrettsville Road Suite 2 Forest Hill, MD 21050 Davis, Agnor, Rapaport & Skalny, LLC Paul Skalny 10211 Wincopin Circle Suite 600 Columbia, MD 21044 Farmers & Merchants Bank Thomas Myers 15226 Hanover Pike Upperco, MD 21155 First Impressions MidAtlantic, Inc. Ward Wiley P. O. Box 2120 Chesapeake, VA 23320 G1440 Matt McShane 2000 West 41st Baltimore, MD 21211 GFY Enterprises Tom Doxanas 9006 Yellow Brick Road Baltimore, MD 21237 Hirshorn Zuckerman Design Group, Inc. Karen Zuckerman 725 Rockville Pike Rockville, MD 20852 Landscape Architecture Paul Levine 3130 Gamber Road P. O. Box 686 Finksburg, MD 21048 Lee L. Dopkin Ron Ches 2100 West Cold Spring Lane Baltimore, MD 21209 Madison Capital, LLC Lisa Randle 1133 Greenwood Road Baltimore, MD 21208 Master Heat Dist. Stephen Gurley 7915-B Philadelphia Road Baltimore, MD 21237 Mid-Atlantic Millwork Sales, Inc. Josh Peizer 311 Park Avenue Falls Church, VA 22046 Miles & Stockbridge P.C. Craig Enck 10 Light Street Baltimore, MD 21202 Pactiv Buiding Products Karl Hallgren 2342 Upper Barness Road Warrington, PA 18976 Perfect Centers LLC Michael Barborka 1721 Leslie Road Baltimore, MD 21222 Peter Fillat Architects Inc. 720 Aliceanna Street Suite 200 Baltimore, MD 21202 Pier Interactive Michael Colombo 100 South Wolfe Street Baltimore, MD 21231 Roof Saver/Blocksom & Co. Andy Swan 450 St. John Road, #710 Michigan City, IN 46360 Sanitary For All Rob Weed 5673-302 Columbia Road Columbia, MD 21044 Sea Gull Lighting Eric Korn 3400 Briars Road Brookeville, MD 20833 Shuster's Building Components Dan Miller 2920 Clay Pike Irwin, PA 15642 Stewart & Tate, Inc. Chuck Crowther 4080 Palaski Highway Perryville, MD 21093 T.W. Perry Doug Kelly 8131 Snouffer School Road Gaithersburg, MD 20879 Tenacity Mortgage Mike Scully 6303 Ivy Lane Suite 310 Greenbelt, MD 20770 The Graham Company Bob Miller One Penn Square West Philadelphia, PA 19102 Uncommon USA Inc. Stacy Newman 1125 East St. Charles Road Lombard, IL 60148


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May/June 2004


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by Mark Leahy

The Key Ingredient to a Successful Marketing Plan

makes good business sense in terms of materials and design. They bring an inthe-trenches look at consumer attitudes and trends that are an integral part of the brand image you are marketing. They can, if you let them, be the behind-thescenes orchestraters of your image. When you think about how many people it really takes to build a home, it simply makes sense to include some of them in the development of your marketing plans. After all, like you, they have a vested interest in making your project or community a success, and if you really listen, you might uncover a wealth of resources that will add more customersensitive values to your entire sales and marketing effort. Mark Leahy is president of Pinnacle Design & Consulting, a Fairfax, VA-based, full-service architecture firm specializing in residential and commercial design. For more information, or to contact Mark, visit or call 703- 218-3400.


hen embarking on a marketing campaign for a new project or new community, the strategies and tactics used to execute the plan are only as good as the players involved in its development. Without utilizing all of your financial partners, land professionals, construction professionals, salespeople and architect, you have a one-dimensional document that is sure to lead you into unnecessary expenses, missed deliverables, and avoidable roadblocks. While this seems perfectly logical in theory, it is a practice that most builders overlook, because they don't see the need to involve the players until everything is etched in stone and it's time to divide up the responsibilities. One of your first draft picks should be your architect. By enlisting the help of your architect as early in the planning stage as possible, you bring a knowledgeable ally on board. Architects are trend followers and setters, they know what's new, what's old, what sells, how to integrate designs into a existing community, and what



May/June 2004





Business Development. It's a lot like dating.

offer. Value added marketing is all about knowing what people need and then exceeding their expectations. How do you get what you want and give people what they need? Here's your cue for an entrance with measured flair. Would you tell someone everything about yourself on a first date? Bad strategy. It would be overwhelming and leave less opportunity to arrange the desired second date. Solid relationships aren't created over the first round of cocktails. Yes, qualify your prospects and see if they are worth pursuit but develop some healthy curiosity about them- their interests, needs and objectives. Memorize the following mantra: It's All About Them. Defeat and rejection thrive when a business call is all about you. Your company. Your services. Your job. We've all met the salesperson who shuffles portfolio photographs like a stack of cards without first asking you about your priorities and the salesperson trying to verbally waltz you through fifty-six pages of a publication you have read for 15 years. Because, that's her product. Ad space. She wonders why you're aloof and abrupt. Because, she never gets down to business. Yours. The savvy marketer takes the emotional temperature of a gesture, expression and the immediate environment. Use all your senses to learn about your prospect and you'll turn him into a client. Practice analyzing your prospect as you would an attractive stranger across the room. Assume that your prospect is unique and make it your mission to find out what makes him unique. His work, his challenges, his interests and life experience. Not a day's task...but a worthy long-term goal. Luck abounds. Sometimes you're selling a product or service that is so well positioned through personal contacts, advertising, publicity and brand identity that your prospect calls YOU. It's still your job to make him feel secure about his decision to work with you, buy your product or engage your service. In fact, if you're wise you'll stay close to your new client throughout the entire process. That's what earns repeat clients - attention and accountability. Think about your best relationships and what it took to develop them and maintain them. Should you be doing anything less for your prospective clients? Alyce Kirk is the Regional Business Development Director with BL Companies, an engineering firm offering civil, environmental sciences and land survey services located in Linthicum, MD. You can reach Alyce at [email protected] or 410-859-9100.


here was a time when you felt enthralled with a dinner conversation because your partner was so curious about you. By the time you left the table, you felt that your date was the most interesting woman/man on earth although you hardly knew anything about them. That is because for several emotionally generous minutes their entire focus was on you.

It's how a first sales call should be. Call it marketing or business development -relationships are what it's all about. They are built on rapport, trust and the perceived value of what you



May/June 2004





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