The Case Of The Kitchen Island – Can We Use A Salvaged Piece Without Regret?

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The Case Of The Kitchen Island - Can We Use A Salvaged Piece Without Regret?


It’s my current and firm belief that the kitchen island is the most popular place to hang in the home – both as a parent and as a guest (at least in ours). And if you use the “popularity = importance” teenage formula, that means that it might be the most important design and functional decision you are going to make. And after two months of debate, we are in a total island conundrum and feel stumped, lost, and dare I say stranded.

In a deliberate attempt to A. use as much vintage/used as possible in this home and B. add age and soul to what might feel like an almost too-new renovation, I want to bring in salvaged pieces where we can in architectural moments (not just furniture/decor). At the same time, I don’t want to make a practical mistake and end up replacing it anyway if it doesn’t really work. An awesome looking island that isn’t functional isn’t exactly the solution to wanting to be sustainable. Need to know what I’m talking about? Here you go:

The right piece could totally make the space and then the rest of the cabinetry can be simpler, but it has to be RIGHT. Almost immediately after we got the first round of floorplans (where the island was in the middle of the now-debunked new great room) I found this salvaged apothecary store piece. Here she is:

So Anne threw the piece into the renderings and scale-wise it fit – it was actually the length that would work for that layout. We would’ve faced the drawers out towards the living room so you could see them. We liked it in the renderings but there were some issues:

1. We would need an overhang for stools so we worried that we wouldn’t be able to see the beautiful drawers enough (or maybe it would be more subtle and pretty?)

2. If we still wanted functional cabinetry on the back half of it (cabinetry, drawers, and pull-out trash), it would need to be very deep – 4 1/2 feet at least. A 10′ by 4′ 1/2″ is VERY BIG (please tell me if I’m wrong and if it’s actually a great size).

3. If we did back it with cabinetry, how we were going to design that transition from the side? Anne and I were quickly confident that we could make it look intentionally designed, but after weeks of thinking about it I was concerned it would look weird and even worse – “try-hard”.

4. The piece was located in Texas and around $8,200 before shipping, so around $10k. That is a lot of dough if it doesn’t work – aesthetically OR functionally. I was very slow to pull the trigger. I really wanted to find something in Portland and was working with Aurora Mills to see if they had anything (thank you Britney for your patience). I don’t want to ship something (ideally) and I want to support Oregon small businesses, but every time I kept coming back to that piece.

5. I had a secret worry that it was TOO aged, and I was so scared that at one point it had been fauxed and shabby chic’d, despite knowing that it was a real antique (the antique dealer assured me that they didn’t faux it). But what if we get it shipped here and it looks like someone fauxed it?????? Not seeing in person is kinda terrifying. But then…

Change Of Kitchen Location = New Island Anyway… ??

Welp. Then we moved to the kitchen altogether (thanks to you all) so everything had to be rethought. Could that same piece fit back here? Did it even make sense anymore having it so big if it wasn’t in the great room? Moving the kitchen forced us to revisit a lot of engineering and move an existing load-bearing post that would have made a large island impossible (which is why we didn’t do it in the first place). But once the engineer signed off on “no post needed”, technically we COULD fit this huge island (we have to put in more headers and footings to hold up the second floor FYI). But again a 10′ x 4 1/2′ island seems VERY big to us and we don’t want a big ostentatious McMansion – we want a big island with a clean but charming farm vibe. Ours here at the mountain house is 7′ 1/2″ x 44″ and while it could be another foot longer and 4″ deeper to accommodate 4 big comfy stools and more prep space, adding 2 1/2 feet felt REALLY BIG, greedy even. Nine feet felt big enough (especially without a sink or cooktop) for Brian and I to both be prepping and 4 people hanging.

So Brian and I went on a long eBay, 1st Dibs, Craigslist, Chairish, and Etsy dive on Saturday morning to find ANY salvaged piece that could work that was a little bit smaller. We realized we had few options:

1. Find a piece deep enough that you don’t need a cabinet bank on the back half of it – just add a slab on top and give it a 16″ overhang. This would mean that we would face the “front” of the salvaged piece towards the kitchen door/window and it would be seen when you walk through the backdoor but not from the living room. This sounded much prettier to me. HOWEVER, it means that whatever piece it is likely won’t have some of the functional needs that we want (we keep coming back to pull out trash as we would be doing most of our chopping there). But would it be worth it? To have something really beautiful and special, but lose some practical storage and function?

some other options to give you the look we want

The pros of this are finding a 30″ piece with a 14 – 16″ stone overhang was easier (so total depth would be 44 – 46″ which is nice, but possibly too narrow for the space?). No need to try to overdesign the side. And yes we have thought about waterfalling the stone to cover the transition, but that is a pretty contemporary move. However, with the right natural stone, it could work but then you’d only see the front, and does it feel even worth it at that point? The cons are that we’d have to use whatever function the salvage piece had to offer or try to retrofit it which may or may not look good. For example, we love this piece:

But the back of it is cubbies that are slanted. Now we COULD add straight shelves on the top row making it more functional and then just put pots/pans or other things that could work on the bottom shelf. The top of that piece is AMAZING and to cover it with stone would be a shame, so then we thought about doing wood + stone (mixed material island) and maybe do soapstone so it wasn’t such a harsh contrast, but ugh that is starting to feel really “too hard basket” (a colloquial term my friends and I use when there are too many “hard” elements of doing a task – we just put them all in the “too hard basket” and leave it – i.e. taking 9 kids to a dinner across town with terrible parking and likely the young ones would meltdown as we hit their bedtime – sometimes it’s just too much effort, too many hard things to overcome to have it make sense anymore – “too hard basket”).

Then we found THIS piece, which is getting even closer:

So this one would face the kitchen (and remember we have 5′ between the island and the sink cabinet bank, so it would actually get GREAT visibility. It’s deep enough that we could just put a slab on top, posts to hold up the overhang (maybe deepen the overhang to 18″ if it doesn’t look weird), and add a couple of posts. This piece provides decent drawer storage for mixing bowls, uh tea towels, some pots and pans, but are these drawers as functional as newly constructed kitchen drawers would be? NO. We would miss the trash drawer and the ability to really design each inch of the kitchen to house what we need to. Now we DO have a lot of storage on the other side and the range side (even though we have no uppers). So maybe we’ll be fine?? I also love that piece but I’m not FREAKING out about it. It’s really good, but is the oak wrong? I want to mix woods in this house, more than we did here (to add more vintage feel) but is an oak filing cabinet the salvaged island of my dreams? Not really. The first one was…

2. Choose a piece narrow enough to add a bank of cabinets to the back (like originally planned) but face it towards the living room and figure out a transition. Pros of this would be we could keep all the function in the kitchen, cons are we have to deal with the transition and perhaps it would look backwards (for whatever reason I think when it was in the middle of the living room it didn’t feel wrong that it was faced towards the living room but now it does???

UGH. This is definitely a form versus function thing. I want the look/feel/soul of a reclaimed piece, but I want super intentional function. I don’t want it too big, but big enough that it really grounds the kitchen and makes it an even better hangout spot than ours is here. In LA it’s where EVERYONE hung out and we loved it. Same with here when we had friends up. We cook, guests hang, our kids draw, everyone has drinks and it just feels like the warm home that I want.

I know that Brian has been predominantly reading all the floorplan post comments (and he has read every single comment – he just doesn’t respond to them) but this is seriously more of an advice question where I could use some guidance. My two questions are:

  1. How big is too big of an island? My gut answer is it’s a personal preference based on lifestyle. But we’ve never had older kids, we don’t know how much action can take place on an island? And no we don’t plan on eating dinner at the island (I hate all facing one direction).
  2. Has anyone had a vintage or salvaged island piece and either A. enjoyed the look over the function or B. wished they had the function of custom cabinetry instead of a quirky piece?

Thank you in advance and hopefully this will help us FINALLY decide one way or the other. xx

Opening Image Credits (from top left clockwise): Photos by Sara Ligorria-Tramp | Emily’s LA Kitchen | Emily’s Mountain House Kitchen | Portland Project Kitchen



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