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Active Home : Island Hopping

Where Guests Come To Gather

By Jane Lockhart

Photo, John Heineman/courtesy of Sorbara Group of Companies

In Europe, the kitchen island has become the true heart of the home. This, once-functional, piece anchored the kitchen, but it has now been elevated to a more social, and visual, status. It’s become the central focus of the room where everyone gathers to eat, drink and interact. In Canada, we’re not far behind.


Photography, Brandon Barre

On a recent visit to the biennial international EuroCuccina2018 show in Milan, Italy, I got a peak into the future. The show attracts innovative kitchen and bathroom manufacturers from around the world.

Revered for their cuisine, many European countries revolve around the social aspect of breaking bread together. What I noticed in Europe, is that the islands tended to dominate the room, while the kitchen faded into the background. Some were sleek, others custom-designed, but all of them elevated the kitchen to another level. Not only was the island a serviceable work zone, but it was a highly desirable entertainment centre.


Some trends were pure fun, like pop-up bars from the depths of the island counter. With the push of a button, a square section of the counter rose up, revealing a well-lit, multi-tiered bar – complete with bottles and glasses. What looked to be a large box with French doors, opened to reveal a modern, functional, u-shaped kitchen, complete with a wine fridge.

Photography, Gillian Jackson


Kitchens are becoming a seamless blend of neutrality. Built-in appliances were panelled to match unembellished cabinetry. Door handles, knobs and pulls were minimal. Nor was there upper cabinetry. Ergonomically speaking, tall, upper cabinetry is not convenient, especially when it comes to Universal Design – design for all abilities. Instead, open shelving with decorative displays were the norm, and plant walls were very fashionable. The kitchen, as we know it, was receding into the background, and the emphasis was now on a custom designed, finely crafted piece of furniture, that also coordinated with the main living area.

Photography, Gillian Jackson


In the popular T.V. Series, Downton Abbey, the upstairs/downstairs philosophy positioned the kitchen out of sight from the aristocratic residents. Modern culture brought the kitchen into open-concept floorplans, so that families could interact during meal preparation. However, it made it impossible to shut the door on an untidy kitchen.

While trends aren’t going back as far as the scullery days, steps were being taken to keep the messy work behind closed doors. Additional pantries, and expanded pantries, were being added for storage, prep and clean-up. Counters accommodated smaller, working appliances, and much of the food preparation was performed behind closed doors.


Islands still included sinks, but they were equipped with covers that hid the functional components – seamlessly. Island cooktops were still popular, but induction-based models were the norm, so that the heat didn’t transfer to other surfaces. Once, a very functional, and often decorative, feature, vent hoods were now being replaced with downdraft systems that disappeared when not in use.

Gone were the all-white kitchens. Grey and black, mixed with natural or dark wood tones, were popular choices, and the islands were often a complete contrast to the finish of the built-in walls. Beautifully-crafted drawers, of varying depths and sizes, as well as customized niches and task lighting, all added to the island charm.

Photography, Gillian Jackson

“The kitchen, as we know it, is receding into the background.”


Many kitchens featured a second island – one that was dedicated to functionality, and the other for entertaining. The second island also provided extra seating, and was used for displaying objects d’art, and served as a bar and buffet table when hosting social gatherings. Underneath the second island, extra storage housed serving ware, as well as bar fridges and warming drawers for hors d’oeuvres.

Photography, Gillian Jackson

In Canada, we still like our appliances and give them prominent space. Europeans have always been in awe of the size of our refrigerators and cookers. Much of this has to do with the way that we shop for, and prepare, our meals. We can always learn a thing, or two, from our neighbours across the pond – especially when adopting new traditions.

Jane Lockhart, B.A.A.I.D., is a multi-award winning designer, author and television personality. Jane Lockhart Interior Design


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