Q: More Americans are entertaining at home, and they're craving open kitchens that make cooking both a communal experience and a spectator sport. Islands are an anchor in this equation. What are some options, in terms of their shape, size, and configuration? Are there certain design rules that should remain constant, no matter what?

A: Today's islands truly serve as the hub and heart of the modern kitchen. The shape, orientation, and features of an island will depend on its intended use, as well as the peripheral layout of the wall cabinetry that surrounds it.

Keep in mind that a fixed island shorter than 48 inches will appear too small, and its function will be limited. If the kitchen dimensions are constrictive (for example, a U-shaped layout creating a galley that is 13 feet wide), consider an alternative, such as a portable, roll-away workstation.

In a small kitchen, the most effective way to incorporate an island is to stick with an L-shaped floor plan that opens to an adjacent room. This typically requires the least amount of square footage, yet appears larger than an enclosed kitchen.

Guest Architect: DAVE KOSCO Bassenian Lagoni Architects, Newport Beach, Calif. 949-553-9100

DOUBLE DUTY: A well-designed island with chairs or bar stools along one side can replace  an informal breakfast nook. Bi-level configurations are advantageous in that  they create opportunities for joints and breaks in granite or other natural  slab surfaces.
DOUBLE DUTY: A well-designed island with chairs or bar stools along one side can replace an informal breakfast nook. Bi-level configurations are advantageous in that they create opportunities for joints and breaks in granite or other natural slab surfaces.
LEVEL PLAYING FIELD: The major advantage of a flush plane island is uninterrupted counter surface. Some  homeowners find this configuration preferable for buffet entertaining  or tandem culinary ventures involving multiple chefs. It's all a matter  of personal taste.
LEVEL PLAYING FIELD: The major advantage of a flush plane island is uninterrupted counter surface. Some homeowners find this configuration preferable for buffet entertaining or tandem culinary ventures involving multiple chefs. It's all a matter of personal taste.