Willow Lane Project: A Double Island Kitchen
How A Double Island Kitchen Solved this Home’s Dilemma
I’ve always felt that rooms “talk” to us. They tell us what they want to be. When we listen to that, good design follows. When we don’t listen to that, and we try to make a square peg fit into a round hole, we sell ourselves short. This is particularly true when laying out a kitchen or working on any kind of project where space planning is involved. Now, I’m not saying that the right layout is necessarily the obvious one! I just mean that there is sometimes a conflict between what we set out envisioning for our kitchen versus working with the kitchen’s true characteristics (which includes its hidden potential). When you do the latter, all sorts of interesting solutions to problems will emerge as you work through the process. When you’re working against the grain, you feel continuously frustrated by the room’s parameters and quirks. The project reveal that I’m sharing with you today is an excellent example of this. The home had an open floor plan that combined the family room, breakfast room, and kitchen, but an unusual angled shape gave the room an awkward layout. As it turned out, creating a double island kitchen solved not only the kitchen layout problem, but it also helped make better sense of the entire space.
Before we get into the layout challenges this kitchen presented, let me set this story up for you and give you some fun “before” pictures…
IN THE BEGINNING…THERE WAS DARKNESS
My clients, Lisa and Joe, had purchased this home as a resale and were gradually working through the various parts of the house that didn’t feel well-suited to them. Many of the home’s interior details leaned towards eclectic and modern, while the exterior had Mediterranean influences. Even though the house wasn’t exactly in step with their design preferences (a common problem when buying a resale), the property captivated them as it had a generous layout and spectacular views of the lowland marshes just steps outside the back door.
While the previous homeowner had installed a new kitchen before the resale, it just wasn’t in keeping with Lisa and Joe’s taste. When I walked into this project at our first design meeting, I was immediately struck by how dark it felt. The adjacent family room and breakfast nook had lots of windows from which to admire the breathtaking view. However, since the kitchen was sited away from the windows, it didn’t have enough natural light to make the dark, espresso-stained cabinetry work.
As a kitchen and bath designer, I am frequently brought in to correct issues with the livability of a room. Often an unusual room shape can cause problems with the flow and functionality, but it can also impair the aesthetics of the room. The solutions are frequently a marriage of three things…1) altering the architecture of the home, 2) using cabinetry in clever ways, 3) re-working furniture placement and other soft furnishings. The surface challenge of this project was to address the aesthetics of the space. With two school-aged children, Lisa and Joe wanted a kitchen/family room/breakfast room that felt brighter, but still warm and inviting for family gatherings. Most importantly, though, Lisa desired a kitchen that didn’t make her feel as if she had been sent to the corner for a “time-out.” Dark and confined, the existing kitchen was not an enjoyable place to be.
In addition to wanting to change the way the kitchen looked, there were also some significant problems with the room’s layout. Not only did the kitchen feel somewhat cut-off from the rest of the room, but it was literally cut-off from the main flow of the home. If you look at the “before” pictures above, you’ll notice that the only convenient door to enter/exit the kitchen was through the butler’s pantry. The only other opening led to the back hallway, (which was adjacent to the garage) making for a lengthy walk-around to any other destination in the home.
The biggest challenge of this design, however, was the odd shape of the overall family room/breakfast area/kitchen. A few angled walls created an awkward void in the room regarding furniture placement (see floor plan below).
After several initial variations on this kitchen layout, I found myself getting really frustrated with the room’s dimensions. No matter what I did, I was left with some weird, empty area in the floor plan for which we couldn’t find a purpose. Another small sitting area? Not quite big enough for that. A desk? Too much space for just that. A “T” or “L” shaped island that projected into that void? Too cumbersome to navigate around, although I played around with that idea for a long time. I tried multiple layouts reorienting the range wall and islands to face a different direction, but all of them felt like I was working too hard against the shape of the room.
THE SOLUTION…A DOUBLE ISLAND KITCHEN
So finally, I realized I was fighting against the bones of this room. I wasn’t listening to it. Then I tossed out the layout (or rather, multiple layouts) and began from scratch. Once I did that, the design came together rather quickly. The room needed a second, detached island in this area. While it wouldn’t be a solution for every kitchen to lay out an accessory island in the manner that I did, it worked perfectly for this home…and that’s my point. You have to work with the room that you have.
Once you start working with your space instead of against it, amazing little opportunities arise to use the quirks of the space to add form and function. The addition of the second island drove the creative solution of making it into a coffee bar and breakfast center. With one of the refrigerators close by, it made the ideal place from which to set out the morning’s accouterments. A built-in Miele coffee maker makes a practical and visual statement in this hutch, but so does the sweet little plate rack above it. With room to store a pretty coffee or tea set, plus some small plates, this family now had everything they needed for their morning ritual. A convenient Miele speed oven right below pulls double duty as an oven and a microwave.
As an added bonus, this second island makes a great place from which to set out drinks or appetizers for guests. Particularly when serving buffet-style. Bar stools at the main island are often a problem when people want to lay out a buffet, but with this scenario, the family now has the best of both worlds. So in working with the room, we were able to create a double island kitchen that provided unique opportunities that might have been otherwise overlooked.
The final design considerably opened up this kitchen. Now, there is a spectacular entrance to the kitchen right across from the stairwell foyer. The entrance is flanked by dramatic glass doors and glass top boxes above. The wood counter then draws your eye lengthwise down the expanse of the island and out towards the bank of windows by the breakfast room. This makes the whole room feel longer and more open. As a double island kitchen, the room now has great flow and feels larger because the second island visually extends the kitchen in the other direction.
ALL THE PRETTY DETAILS
Once I knew that we would be working with relatively simple lines with the cabinetry, I started looking for ways to introduce character, texture, and luxury products into the kitchen. The “Architectural” range of cabinetry, by Clive Christian, always ticks the “luxury” box nicely. We chose a hand-painted creamy finish in “Muslin” by Benjamin Moore. The curves were a nice solution too as they helped to soften the angular shape of the overall space, as well as all of the hard lines typically created by cabinetry.
The first thing you see when you enter the room is the curved base unit on the island topped with the most spectacular piece of Calacatta Borghini (a.k.a. Calacatta Gold) marble. Then you look to the left and see the crown jewel of this kitchen, a La Cornue Chateau 150. Lisa and Joe were drawn to the Cocoa color with copper trim right away. While blue, black, and stainless are by far the most popular options, La Cornue offers many other choices, so it was fun to work with a more unique color on this project. Once we had that decision in place, the other finishes came together fairly quickly.
Wide-planked walnut floors replaced the original tile. Brushed Nickel finishes were selected for the faucets. Iroko, an exotic wood species that stands up great to water, visually ties together the two different islands. The wood counters are natural and lacking any sort of added stain in order to show off the beauty of the wood species. For maintenance, they only need a thin coat of oil applied a few times per year.
I’m particularly fond of combining creams and whites together. I think creamy colors convey a luxe feeling while whites translate as crisp and clean. So when we found this marble backsplash tile that incorporated the two colors together, we knew we had a winner. By designing all of the upper cabinetry in the kitchen to rest on the counters, there was no need for backsplash tile anywhere else other than behind the range. This provided a singular opportunity to make a real statement with the range wall.
While I’m always trying to think of new inspiring range hood ideas, I am particularly pleased with this one. I love how the simple lines of it complimented the European vibe we were going for, without over-complicating anything. The broad nature of the extended arch created gentle corners that mimicked the curves I created elsewhere with the cabinetry. Also, notice that even the molding above the range has an intentional curve - or “pulvinated” shape to it.
The light fixtures above the island were a cool find. Lisa and I found them in a showroom in a stainless steel finish, which gave them a very contemporary look. However, we were both drawn to the shape and flow of the fixture and felt like it reflected the pattern of the backsplash tile. As it turned out, we were able to special order them in a complimentary finish which was much better suited to this kitchen. Don’t you just love it when a plan comes together like that?
If you’d like to discover great brands and resources that I specify for most of my projects, be sure to subscribe below for instant access to my Luxury Resource Guide. Also, there are a few extra images of this project here in my portfolio.