Kitchen islands have become continents

Almost exactly four years ago, I asked if the kitchen island was finally going away. At the time, I noticed that the kitchen islands had grown so large that they were now continents and there were archipelagos of several islands. More recently, when discussing design lessons from the pandemic, I suggested that maybe everyone doing their job and cooking food on the kitchen island wasn’t such a good thing. idea and that a separate kitchen made sense in a place where you want to be able to clean surfaces easily and ventilate properly.

However, again, I’m clearly out of step with the design trends of the day, at least according to V2com Newswire’s submissions. The kitchen island pictured above in the Cube House in Brooklyn by Palette Architecture doesn’t even fit in the photo. With pictures of so many gorgeous open plan kitchens with giant islands available, it has again raised the question: where did this trend come from and why do we keep doing it?


Frank Lloyd Wright’s Usonian Cooperative House in Detroit, Michigan.

Frank Lloyd Wright


Efficiency and sufficiency are two key aspects of sustainability. Do these kitchens offer either?

Many North American kitchen historians credit – or blame, as the case may be – American architect Frank Lloyd Wright, who began designing open kitchens in the 1930s. In his 1954 book “The Natural House”, he writes :

“I believe it is important to have a kitchen as a working space in the Usonian home and to become part of the living room – a welcome feature. In the days of the farm there was only one large living room, a stove inside, and Ma was there cooking – taking care of the children and talking to Pa – dogs, gas and tobacco smoke too – everything was gemütlich if everything was ordered, but it was rarely the case, and the children were having fun, it created a certain atmosphere of a domestic nature which had charm, and which I think is not a good thing to lose altogether. Therefore, in this Usonian plan, the kitchen was called “workspace” and largely identified with the living room.”

“Light, Air and Opening”


Seriously, he thinks that’s what people want? That’s why in Europe, Austrian architect Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky was designing small, efficient, separate kitchens so you don’t have Pa, the hose and the newspaper all over the kitchen table. That’s what people were trying to get away from.


Julia Child behind her kitchen island on the set of her show.

Papers by Julia Child, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University


Others say that American cook and TV personality Julia Child has a lot to do with the popularity of the island, which is really needed in cooking shows so the cook can watch the audience and the helpers can to hide behind. Marlen Komar wrote for The Kitchn: “Watching Julia add her sticks of butter as she stood on her island on TV changed people’s perception of counter space to a place where you can hone your cooking skills. , have fun experimenting with new recipes and amaze your guests with refined appetizers.”


Maison Louis-Hémon by Issadesign in Montreal, Canada.

David Boyer


In all the great pro photos, the kitchens are immaculate. We do not see the pots and the children doing their homework in the Maison Louis-Hémon by Issadesign. You don’t see people cooking and there are no sticks of butter.


La Résidence La Papillon by Luc Plante Architecture +Design in St-Hilaire, Quebec, Canada.

Raphael Thibodeau


As seen in La Résidence Papillon by Luc Plante architecture + design, there is usually a dining room right next to the island which seems to accommodate fewer people. When everything is out in the open, you wonder where people are actually eating. Seems like unnecessary duplication and lots of chairs.


How an office family spends their afternoons: In the kitchen and in front of the TV.

J. Arnold


So where do people actually eat when they have both spaces? This famous drawing from a study, “Home Life in the 21st Century,” tracked a family’s use of their home and found that everyone was hanging out in the kitchen. He also found that it didn’t make the occupants particularly happy:

“Parents’ comments on these spaces reflect a tension between culturally situated notions of the tidy home and the demands of everyday life… Empty sinks are rare, as are spotless, perfectly organized kitchens. All of that, of course. sure, is a source of anxiety. Images of the tidy house are intertwined with notions of middle-class achievement as well as family happiness, and unwashed dishes in and around the sink do not correspond to these images.


The kitchen of the Cube House.

Palette Architecture


Wright did not make islands. And the kitchen with all the red dots is a large, wide open U-shaped kitchen. What’s most interesting about all of these modern islands is that they act as dividers, keeping the plan and views open, but the people who don’t cook away. The kitchens themselves are not that big and are efficient kitchen designs, which were pretty much invented by Schütte-Lihotzky with his Frankfurt kitchen.


Frankfurt kitchen plan.

Vienna University of Applied Arts


So, for years on Treehugger, I complained that we should learn from Schütte-Lihotzky and build separate kitchens so people could cook dinner uninterrupted, and not have Pa and the kids all over the table. In a way, that’s what these long, wide islands do: keep everyone out of the kitchen. They let the designers lay out the kitchen in whatever way has proven to be most effective; it’s what you see in everything from restaurants to submarines.

These are Frankfurt kitchens with a long, wide counter instead of a wall. Maybe I criticized them too much.