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Kitchens are getting bigger. So are kitchen islands. Even as family sizes decrease, the popularity of beautiful kitchens, designer cabinets, and custom appliances is on the rise.

Many homeowners are installing larger and larger kitchens with functional islands that not only look beautiful but add storage space and sizeable countertop areas.

Look for islands that are longer and wider than ever before. Flat surface islands (rather than multi-level) add a degree of simplicity and can help avoid a choppy look to a kitchen. Bump-outs, corner posts, inset areas, and open shelving are details that add personality and style. A number of useful and decorative innovations have been applied to this new "necessity" of the kitchen. An island can be as plain as a tabletop with legs.

On the other end of the spectrum an island can be as complex as fine cabinetry that incorporates a sink, hob, display space, storage, refrigerator drawers, warming ovens, dishwashers, wine chillers, and more.

A single surface island is the simplest and most common. However, many homeowners opt for multi-level islands to accommodate both prep and eating areas, wine racks, cookbook shelves, bar sinks, deep fryers, and other amenities. Additional levels can add interest and functionality.

Multiple islands are another possibility in large spaces. A prep island might be placed near the work triangle with a second serving or eating island positioned on the edge of the kitchen space.

When planning a kitchen island in your home, keep the following measurements in mind. Allow a minimum of 36" to 42" as a walkway between existing cabinets and the island. An island can be located closer to plain walls (36"), but needs to be further away (42" or more) from appliances such as stoves, refrigerators, and dishwasher so you'll have room to manoeuvre and open appliance doors easily.

An island's counter height can be the same as other countertops in the kitchen, or it can include lower levels for desks and eating areas. Some islands also include a higher level for tall bar seating or display space, or as a barrier to shield prep areas from living spaces.

Before you put in an island, consider how you might use it, whether you'll need seating, electricity, prep centres, recycling bins, roll out shelves, cookbook storage, refrigerator drawers, and the like.

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Another consideration is the work "triangle" that is already in your kitchen. This area of movement between the sink, stove, and refrigerator. An efficient work triangle shouldn't be interrupted without careful thought as to the impact of the island on work habits.

Portable islands are another possibility. These can be freestanding or rolling worktables made of wood or stainless steel, and generally have a steel, tile, or wood countertop. A rolling cart or mobile kitchen island may also be placed in the centre of a kitchen or next to a blank wall for additional versatility within the space.

To see if an island would fit in your kitchen, try stacking up empty moving boxes in the size and shape of the island you'd like. Live with it for a week or so to see how the size works in relation to your appliances and layout.

Reduce or increase the size if necessary. Try a longer, narrow version, or one with cut-off or rounded corners. Also, consider options for multi-level islands, for storage and display space, and for design details and finishes.

As for style, there's something for every taste - traditional, contemporary, or country. An island can match existing cabinetry or it can contrast in cabinets, finish, or countertop material. It can be freestanding or installed, on casters or table-style with legs. The choice is yours.

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