Ask Athena: kitchen island design ideas

Athena Calderone is here to answer your questions, and has some kitchen island design ideas to help one reader let the light in

kitchen island design ideas
Athena's kitchen island in her Brooklyn home
(Image credit: Matthew Williams)

Hi Athena, 

I love your style! I’m really obsessed with your kitchen and love the way that the island is on legs— it makes it feel way less blocky and dominating and kind of lets the light in I guess? I’m planning a kitchen remodel soon and looking for kitchen island ideas so wondered if you have any other tricks for making this functional space seem a bit more airy? Paula.

Thank you, Paula! I’m always searching for unique ways to trick the eye with design. By raising the kitchen island with legs, it suddenly feels more like a piece of furniture as opposed to a heavy monolithic block. Adding the decorative knobs on the drawers also drives home that “furniture” concept by making it feel like a dresser. 

When I look at a space, there are several thought patterns and design conversations running through my head. I try to look at it from various angles too—how does something connect to the floor; how does color allow certain elements to recede and others to pop; and where do I want to engage verticality with a dominant focal point? As designers, it’s our job to guide the eye to land upon certain moments as someone experiences our space. 

For example, imagine you have a vertical statement wall in your kitchen which also houses all of the functional  “guts” of the space—your pantry, storage, upper cabinetry, refrigerator, and perhaps even a double-wall oven. Now imagine if this section of your kitchen was also clad in a different, richer color to make the design decision feel intentional? I just did this in my Brooklyn home—a floor-to-ceiling wall of cabinetry on just one side of the kitchen in a deep navy hue. Doing this frees up precious space to allow for a more decorative moment. 

athena calderone

Athena's kitchen cabinets

(Image credit: Matthew Williams)

Also, think about how you want to experience your kitchen—what times of the day do you find yourself there? What is the light like at each of those moments? Perhaps it deserves a desk for you to sit and respond to emails at dusk or maybe you reposition the focal point once you discover where you, and your family, tend to gather most. Or maybe you opt for open shelving to display artwork and collected pieces over time, and light walls to hang statement sconces. You can play with the layout and proportions to give you the desired “airy” look you yearn for. Knowing how you “live” in the space can be such an amazing guidepost.

I know, for example, that I collect clutter. So, I have two shallow (and invisible) shelves at the side of my kitchen island and storage baskets that are filled to the brim with all my junk. This drives my husband crazy but it works and stops that stack from piling up on the beautiful marble island. I truly believe that a kitchen deserves the same attention we’d offer any other space in our home. So, have an area to display your beloved pieces and make it a space that is highly personal and representative of you.

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Athena Calderone

Athena Calderone is an award winning author, interiors writer, stylist, designer and curator. She has had her home featured on the cover of Livingetc twice.