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August 26, 2019

Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen?

In what is arguably the most important room in the house, a beautiful kitchen island is on the top of every home buyer’s wish-list, regardless of price level. We dream of our kitchens being our escape, a place where we can make our own pasta from scratch with our kids while enjoying a glass of Chianti Classico (not for the kids). The reality of working families is often coming home after a long day in the office and battling traffic. Resisting the urge to order in pizza (we’re trying to raise healthy eaters, after all…), we scramble to whip up anything that the kids will eat.

In today’s market, not only is it common to see an island in the kitchen, it’s expected. However, it only takes a night or two in a house to realize that not all islands are created equal. A new home should improve our lives, not add to the stress! So what makes a kitchen work better for us? Thinking of how we use them, we definitely need kitchens that can handle the multiple cooks simultaneously without stepping on each other. Forget talk about a perfect “work triangle” in the kitchen. That worked when June Cleaver from Leave it Beaver was the only cook in the household. We all know that the modern kitchen is so much more than a one-person work factory!

So here is a basic “cheat code” to getting the kitchen island right.

Basic Dimensions

The multi-zone kitchen should have two access points so no one gets trapped in or blocked out of the kitchen. A large kitchen island is a fantastic solution for this, with space to flow through the room without awkward dead ends. The size of the kitchen should be taken into consideration when incorporating an island. Far too often, I see kitchens that are so concerned with having a large island that they forget about spacing between the island and peripheral counters.

Let’s ensure that we have 48” to 54” between the counter top and island so you can open the refrigerator without knocking out a kid or the dishwasher without tripping your husband. (I’ve certainly never done that… Whoops!)

The Kitchen Sink

With so many activities revolving around the sink, I like placing it in the island. It can be accessed from the right, left, or even over the top. The view from the sink is also very important. An older kitchen threw the sink on an outside wall so June had a view to the outside world while washing the dishes – by hand. A modern kitchen features the sink where we can overlook the action going on in the family room or casual dining area, where the kids are (hopefully) doing their homework, or we can catch our TV show.

Island Height

Today, I think most of us can agree that the single level island at 36” reigns supreme. This affords the greatest flexibility and the largest working surface. By now, I think we’ve all figured out that the two level island doesn’t hide the kitchen sink. Take the mess to the Messy Kitchen if you want to keep it out of sight while the party is still going.


Placement of the dishwasher is so critical and often misunderstood. Tradition tells us that it needs to be to the right of the kitchen sink for right-handers. Never mind that! Loading a dishwasher is not a fine motor skill like writing – trust me, my kids were loading the dishwasher since before they had fine motor skills. Instead, think about how you load and unload the dishes. Loading dishes from the sink works from either side but when it comes time to unload the dishes, you want to be closest to the drawers and cabinets where the dishes go with the fewest steps. Lastly, make sure the dishwasher and sink are in line; not 90 or 45 degrees from each. Think about the floor space the dishwasher door occupies when it’s open. Do you have room to stand and access the adjacent cabinets?

The next time you find yourself walking through a house or watching your guilty pleasure HGTV show, pay attention to the kitchen layout. Can it handle more than one cook? Today, if a kitchen can’t handle two or more cooks, it is not realistic for families. Let’s make our kitchen function for as many cooks and little helpers as needed!

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This post was written by Housing Design Matters