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Often the heart of the space and where people tend to gather, islands have become a focal point of most kitchen designs. Islands not only serve as a functional element, but also as a chance to add style with unique pendant lights, bold color choices, or sleek countertop finishes.

Industry studies, including the 2020 Houzz Kitchen Trends Study and the 2019 NKBA Kitchen Design Trends Report, identify how today’s homeowners are utilizing islands and how builders and designers are using the fixed piece to make a statement and set the tone of a home’s overall design.

USE: Homeowners enjoy the extra counter space for dining (58%), entertaining (49%), and socializing (45%), according to the Houzz study. Plus, the cabinetry underneath provides more storage for kitchen-related items, with doors (79%) or drawers (70%) being added most often.

SIZE & SHAPE: Kitchen islands continue to increase in size with 1 in 3 islands (32%) from the Houzz study exceeding 7 feet in length. Thirty-nine percent measure 6 to 7 feet, and 29% are less than 6 feet. The NKBA study boasted similar results with 88% of islands in either the medium (12-23 sq. ft.) or large (24-35 sq. ft.) range. Rectangular or square islands are most common with 84%, according to Houzz, while L-shaped or U-shaped only make up 11%. Designers also note that today’s islands are mostly single level, as opposed to two varying heights.

APPEARANCE: Two-tone islands are on the rise, with 39% of surveyed Houzz homeowners choosing a contrasting color for island cabinets. Gray (26%) and blue (19%) are the top colors for contrasting cabinetry, followed by black (11%) and medium wood (11%), says Houzz. Waterfall edging, or a seamless countertop edge that continues down the side of the cabinetry to the floor, is another hot feature. The NKBA report says waterfall edges have been common in transitional, contemporary, industrial, and mid-century design styles.

COUNTERTOPS: Engineered quartz continued its rise in 2020 with 51% of renovating homeowners using the material on kitchen counters. Granite follows behind with 29%. Also, 1 in 4 island upgrades (26%) feature a contrasting countertop material, with butcher block preferred over quartz with 41% and 28%, respectively.

APPLIANCES: Over half (52%) of added or upgraded islands feature new appliances in the unit, says Houzz. Nearly one-third include a microwave (32%) and dishwasher (31%), and many have garbage disposals (24%), cooktops (21%), and beverage refrigerators (9%).

LIGHTING: According to Houzz, 92% of homeowners who update their island opt to install new light fixtures above it. Pendant lights are the most common (66%), followed by recessed ceiling fixtures (32%).