Erica Sorrentino-Sutton’s passion for cooking is reflected in the kitchen island she renovated earlier this year in her Chadds Ford home. Though it looks like a beautiful piece of furniture, it’s carefully crafted with drawers to house her appliances and ingredients, and large enough for friends and family to gather around as she cooks.

“Cooking is 100% the focus of my attention,” said Sorrentino-Sutton, a prep cook at Malvern Buttery, a bakery and coffee shop. “I wake up thinking, What am I going to make today? I like to be doing my work and have people here with me, so it’s comfortable for all of us.”

Her 14-by-5-foot island is painted a soft black with blue undertones, featuring an elegant 2½-inch-thick white quartz counter top with gray graining. A prep sink and microwave speed oven are built in. Deep drawers and pullout cabinets are designed specifically to fit her mixer, food processor, cutting boards, baking ingredients and other items.

There is also plenty of space for stools. “It wraps around the corner so you can face each other,” she said.

Erica Sorrentino-Sutton’s island is painted a soft black with blue undertones and has a 2 1/2-inch quartz countertop.
Courtesy of Erica Sorrentino-Sutton
Erica Sorrentino-Sutton’s island is painted a soft black with blue undertones and has a 2 1/2-inch quartz countertop.

Large islands are more popular than ever, according to the Houzz 2020 Kitchen Trends Study. “Nearly two-thirds of renovated kitchens feature an island, and the majority are more than six feet long and often have cabinets and counter tops that contrast with the rest of the kitchen, so they really stand out,” said Marine Sargsyan, senior economist for Houzz, a home design website.

In addition to their substantial physical presence, islands are a hub of activity for dining, entertaining and socializing, the report said. White continues to reign in kitchen cabinetry color, but kitchen islands give homeowners an opportunity to mix things up with bolder tones, Sargsyan said. Two in five homeowners who are adding or upgrading their kitchen island choose a contrasting color for the island cabinets, led by gray, blue and black.

Islands have long been a replacement for the kitchen table, said Peter C. Archer, principal of Archer & Buchanan Architecture in West Chester. Today, they often serve as a work surface to prepare meals, a storage area, and a gathering spot. Many times, islands are used to define the space between the working area of the kitchen and the eating and sitting areas.

The home kitchen of Steve Poses includes a marble island with a pass through to separate the noted Philadelphia chef from visiting diners.
JESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer
The home kitchen of Steve Poses includes a marble island with a pass through to separate the noted Philadelphia chef from visiting diners.

“But bigger is not necessarily better,” he said. The size should be determined by the available space and what the homeowner wants to use it for. In smaller homes, for example, the island may be the kitchen’s most important feature. Costs vary based on size, materials and the extent of the cabinetry and appliances included. Popular additions within islands include microwaves and refrigerator drawers.

Archer is seeing a mix of materials being used for counter tops. “You might have granite in one area and butcher block along a preparation area,” he said. “Especially in larger islands, it breaks up the surface visually and functionally. There are a plethora of ways to use butcher block with different types of wood creating patterns and colors.”

Stainless steel, copper and other metals are being used in more contemporary kitchens with a commercial aesthetic. Stones remain popular, with granite as the go-to, Archer said. Marble is riskier as it can easily stain. Homeowners also are having fun with seating, using stools to complement the counter top or add a colorful pop.

Chris Greenawalt, owner of interior design firm Bunker Workshop in the Northern Liberties section of Philadelphia, installed two small cooktops, rather than one large one, to conserve space.
Sam Oberter
Chris Greenawalt, owner of interior design firm Bunker Workshop in the Northern Liberties section of Philadelphia, installed two small cooktops, rather than one large one, to conserve space.

When Chris Greenawalt renovated his Northern Liberties kitchen, his island became the focal point.

“Most of my work is quite modern, minimalist, but I wanted a rustic furniture piece,” recalled Greenawalt, owner of interior design firm Bunker Workshop in Northern Liberties.

A friend gave him an old carpenter bench that he stripped and refinished. He added built-in swing stools to the island for both the look and ability to save space, and installed a cook top in the wooden counter top.

“Cooktops can take up a lot of real estate on an island, and with a gas cook top, you don’t want your kids too close to the flame,” he said. So he arranged two smaller cook tops side by side to allow more space, and safer space, to eat.

Now that his family is sheltering in place, Greenawalt’s island feels truly like an island in the storm.

The Greenawalt kitchen is a family gathering and work space, especially now under the stay-at-home orders.
Sam Oberter
The Greenawalt kitchen is a family gathering and work space, especially now under the stay-at-home orders.

“We’re all stuck in this place together and find ourselves gathering around it quite a bit more,” he said, of son Dashiell, 6, and daughter Chloe, 10. “My son is doing his schoolwork, and the kids are eating their breakfast at the island.”

The Houzz study found that half of upgraded faucets in kitchen renovations are high tech, boasting water efficiency, no-fingerprint coating or touch-free activation.

Sargsyan said: “It will be interesting to see whether interest in technology features, like touch-free activation, will increase in popularity following this pandemic, considering the heightened awareness of hand-washing hygiene."