So the kitchen island has finally been knocked off its perch as a domestic status symbol. I’m utterly thrilled — I’ve always loathed them. Why? Because they’re the epitome of style over substance, routinely inefficient and potentially dangerous.
Oversized oases stranded in the middle of a kitchen, often surrounded by a couple of bottom-crunching, back-crippling bar stools — aka adult highchairs — with the obligatory integrated bookshelf or wine rack, and housing a sink or a hob.
They are a sort of too-high kitchen prep table that you can’t stretch your legs out beneath. Often costing tens of thousands of pounds, they became considered the height of kitchen sophistication somewhere at the beginning of the Noughties.
Their popularity came in tandem with the dissolution of the dining room. As open-plan living became the dream, walls tumbled down all over the home, and anyone who could afford to do so converted Victorian side returns into oversized kitchen-cum-dining-cum-family rooms, often leaving front rooms completely abandoned in the process.
Units customarily ran around the edges of these bright new super-spaces and the ubiquitous showpiece island was marooned in the centre.
It was all part and parcel of the ‘new’ relaxed way to live. No more barriers between rooms! No cook wilfully abandoned to servitude, or hidden away from view!
The kitchen island has finally been knocked off its perch as a domestic status symbol (File image)
It was about ‘facing’ the room as you chopped because kitchens were becoming trendy. Gimmicks and gadgets such as steam ovens, breadmakers and spiralisers were placed proudly on display.
And an enormous kitchen island to house it all — or even two for those truly set on one-upmanship — was therefore the ultimate finishing touch.
Until now. Recent trend reports suggest looser, country-style kitchens replete with ornamentation and comfy corners are taking over, leaving over-regimented units with matching kitchen islands in their wake.
This is good. For if my career in creative interiors has taught me anything, it’s that the most efficient way to cook is with fridge, prep area, stove and sink in a line, allowing you to move seamlessly, and safely, from one zone to the other.
With an island, you are perpetually lifting hot or heavy pans, boiling water or wet veg across an aisle. Dangerous if you have small children or pets who have an uncanny knack of appearing when and where least expected.
And the increasingly inclusive nature of our kitchens means that, unless you are supremely disciplined, such islands become magnets for admin, toys, dirty stuff and more, all of which has no place in a hygienic food prep area.
Worst of all, they have become very much about conspicuous display. Look at my marble frontage, my book-matched stone, my immaculate (not for long) stainless steel surfaces.
I’ve even seen an entirely mirror-clad kitchen island — worse than stainless steel to keep clean! And another shaped like a sort of futuristic sci-fi sculpture.
The size and extravagance of the island bears little relation to how often the owner actually cooks. For while we all adore Bake Off, the truth is, most recipes go untested, and many of us are raptly watching Stanley Tucci tour the gastronomic hotspots of Italy while tucking into microwaved dinners balanced on our laps. It is all so desperately unnecessary. Not to forget, expensive.
And yet there are entire magazines devoted to the pursuit of the latest kitchen trends as if their readers update theirs every season.
Home-cooking is an intensely worthwhile pursuit — never more so than when prices are escalating — but a lot of this was translating into the purchase of unnecessary gadgets, alongside the elevation of the kitchen to domestic trophy.
And so, we find ourselves at a crossroads. And yet, the purpose of the kitchen itself is, and always has been, really very simple.
A kitchen needs to house the means to store, prepare and cook food, and to clear everything away afterwards. It might also accommodate laundry, but anything more is superfluous and mere whimsy. It’s time we returned to a more pragmatic focus on function.
Certainly, our kitchens should feel fully integrated within our homes as a whole. I say yes to some shelving or display space to accommodate knick-knacks or artwork.
Yes to colour, wallpaper, patterned tiles, cushions and comfort. Yes to twice as much storage and double the sockets you ever think you’ll need. Yes to built-in herb containers, hobs and extractor hoods.
But no, just no, to the island.
If you’re planning a kitchen from scratch, it helps to start by telling the truth.
A kitchen needs to house the means to store, prepare and cook food, and to clear everything away afterwards. It might also accommodate laundry, but anything more is superfluous and mere whimsy (File image)
How much do you actually cook? Do you regularly make meals from scratch or tend to order in take-aways or dine out? Do you work with a vast array of ingredients or stick to just a few favourites? Do you love to host dinner parties, or is this just a dream?
Before having children, I would regularly spend all day on meal prep for a dinner party for ten, but these days I’m more likely to be making routine suppers for the kids or sharing a pot of tea and cake with a friend.
There’s no judgment on any of the above — only the acceptance of reality, so you get a kitchen that actually fits your life now.
If you want a large, multi-purpose work surface to gather around in your kitchen, might I suggest a table?
An L-shaped or galley layout will always be the most efficient, which is what I have at home. And with the galley, have storage on one side and the sink, prep space and hob on the other.
There’s a wealth of amazing worktop surfaces available these days, from easy clean and lightweight ceramics that look like solid stone, to wood and even copper, which is naturally antimicrobial.
For the cupboard fronts, anything goes (apart from mirror or stainless if you value your sanity).
Don’t fear colour, either — my heart dreams of a glossy pale yellow kitchen, so that might be where I’m headed soon.
Updating your cupboard doors is one of the easiest ways to give any kitchen a fast new look. Switch in new handles and your update might well be complete. No island required.
And if you want a large, multi-purpose work surface to gather around in your kitchen, might I suggest a table?