Island Queen


I don’t think I can stand an attack on kitchen islands. My island is my workhorse, particularly on Thanksgiving when I host about 30 relatives. Here’s the aftermath of the dessert “table.” It’s not pretty, but it’s accurate.

Honesty is on my mind a lot lately.

I told one of my sisters that one of the things I enjoy about marriage is you can say what you want to your spouse, and know it’s OK. She seemed a little taken aback, saying she doesn’t enjoy the same freedom with her husband.

Oh. I thought saying what’s on your mind was written into the marriage manual. Doesn’t everyone tell her husband that he has sauce in the corner of his mouth, or that he can’t have thirds because you’re saving half the roast for the following day?

No? Well, I guess I’m lucky. The Curmudgeon and I are honest with each other, and so far it’s worked. Well, most of the time. He tells me when I’m overspending, or putting on a little weight (“that is so not like you!”). I tell him when he’s being inconsiderate planning a guy’s trip on our daughter’s birthday weekend, or driving me insane with his eating noises.

It’s rare to have such an honest relationship. Most people ask your opinion, but really don’t want it. They want you to validate their opinion. If you give them your opinion, you risk alienating them, or worse, making them really mad.

I’m pretty lucky my friends tolerate me despite my penchant for being opinionated. I can’t help it. I was born in late August, falling under the sign of Virgo. notes that Virgos are often the butt of jokes for being so picky and critical, “but their attention to detail is for a reason: to help others.”

Yes, I think I’ve caught people sniggering behind my back at my perfectionism and intensity. The only thing I’ll say is I’m up front about it.

Let me assure you, my standards and expectations for myself are just as high as they are for you. I wouldn’t be driving you so crazy if I wasn’t driving myself crazy too. Are Virgos holier than thou? Yes. Do we think everyone needs and values our opinion? Hell yes.

Virgos don’t give our opinion to annoy people, but because we want the best for them. Why we think we know what’s best is another question, but we do.  (By the way,’s description of Virgos is dead-on, even right down to our penchant for being hypochondriacs, over-thinkers and perfectionists.)

My honesty has become a bit of a sticking point between me and my pal Barbara over her upcoming kitchen remodel. She asked for my input, and well, I was brutally honest. I told her I’d lengthen the island. I think I may have even gone as far as calling her current island “stubby.”

This may be akin to inferring someone’s child is a little on the short side. I don’t think she was too happy with me.

Barbara told me that she likes her island, and it’s staying the same size. She told the same thing to my sister Patty, who’s helping her with the design, and suggested expanding the island too. I thought the issue was moot until Barbara fired a salvo, texting me and Patty a Wall Street Journal article entitled “Why Kitchen Islands Are Ruining Kitchens.”

In her new WSJ column, writer Michelle Slatalla delineates her reasons for passing on an island in her recent kitchen remodel. Likening islands to sports bars in the vast oasis that is early 21st century kitchens, she says she prefers the homespun feel of a kitchen table. She said it brings back fond memories of her grandmother sitting in the kitchen chopping onions.

I get it, and I hope Ms. Slatalla loves her kitchen. For the record, I do all my prep work standing, and I’ve never seen my mother, professional chefs or anyone else sit while chopping onions. You need a certain amount of leverage to cleave and mince onions. You can sit hulling strawberries, cutting the ends off green beans or maybe peeling potatoes, but chopping onions? I’m pretty sure standing is the preferred position.

I asked my friend Michele, a gourmet cook, to weigh in. Michele, aka “Cook Chic,” said she loves her island, which anchors her large kitchen, provides informal seating and gives her vast space to prepare meals. Without her island, which she expanded during a kitchen makeover, the center of her kitchen resembled a dance floor, she said.

I feel the same way about my kitchen, which is long and has been unkindly compared by some to a bowling alley. When we moved in, it had a small center island just large enough to seat my two little kids. They colored and later did their homework at the island while I cooked macaroni and cheese, chicken nuggets and grilled cheeses (as my daughter called them). Seated on their Ikea wooden stools, they were a captive audience, and I tried to impart some wisdom during mealtime.

But the island was small and impractical, housing a few drawers, a small cabinet and my cooktop. I considered moving the cooktop to the perimeter during our remodel, but realized I like cooking at the island. I’ve got tons of counter space, and no one infringes on my space. One side of the island is essentially mine, all mine.

Though I agree some islands look like monoliths, Patty designed my island with a slight curve on one side and table legs so it looks like a gigantic table. I spend 95 percent of my time at my kitchen island, which houses my microwave, cooktop, pots and pans, spices and a rarely used beverage refrigerator. (Seriously, not needed. Nor is my gigantic Lazy Susan, but that’s another post.)

Best of all, the island’s deeper than my countertops, giving me space to spread out when I cook or bake. Anyone who’s ever seen me in the kitchen knows I need all the space I can get. Doesn’t everyone?

Everyone is entitled to their opinion on kitchen design, and what’s important to some are extravagances to others. I recently joined Barbara for a trip to the Clarke Kitchen & Appliance Showroom in South Norwalk, CT., to check out the latest in Wolf and Sub-Zero appliances.

Upon entering, we were offered coffee, expresso or cappuccino, and were quickly greeted by our consultant, who spent an hour going over the finer points of really expensive appliances. When I mentioned that I had gone with another brand on the advice of my kitchen contractor, the consultant  seemed even less interested in me than he had before.

As we toured the showroom filled with $10,000 refrigerators and $8,500 ovens, an on-site chef emerged with a thimble of cream of asparagus soup for each of us. It was delicious, and a very nice touch. You don’t get that kind of treatment in Sears or PC Richard & Son, where I bought my inferior appliances.

What did I learn at the showroom? There are people who spend $100,000 for 6-inch thick stone countertops. That the ideal installation for your kitchen wall oven is “sitting proudly.” That means instead of being flush with your cabinets, the oven protrudes about a quarter to half an inch outside the cabinets. (My wall oven is only slightly proud.) That there are actually people who care whether their appliances sit proudly.

In her piece, Slatalla notes that her husband wanted – and got – a separate area for his cappuccino machine and coffee grinder in her remodeled kitchen. I don’t give a hoot about a cappuccino maker, though some people plunk down $2,500 for built-in models.

I would never do that. I have a $40 Mr. Coffee Expresso maker that suits me just fine. I am not a coffee snob, nor am I particularly knowledgeable in the area of wine, caviar, cheese or many of the finer things in life. But I know what I like, and one of those things is my kitchen island.

Please don’t put islands in the politically correct arena with everything else. I don’t think I can stand it.


7 thoughts on “Island Queen

  1. We must have been talking about different things. Honesty, of course, is important and I think it is compassionate to tell a spouse (nicely) that his fly is down, her roots are showing and the like. I do think it is important to moderate one’s words and not always say anything that comes to mind. In this regard, the words of Marilynne Robinson in Gilead describe my view: “A little too much anger, too often or at the wrong time, can destroy more than you would ever imagine. Above all, mind what you say.” I actually loved Michelle Slatella’s piece. Islands are nice, but I am glad to see someone thinking independently. The island trend is not right for every kitchen.


  2. I’ve always had a problem with opinions vs. simply being frank. I suppose there’s a tremendous amount of gray area involved in both, but I probably missed the gene that was handed out about discretion. I can be silent, but even silence speaks volumes. I’m thinking your sister and her husband say quite a bit to one another even if it’s silence. Love this post… – Marty


  3. I’m fine with her opinion, as I stated in my piece. She stated her opinion, and I’ll state mine. Why is hers any more valid because she writes for the Wall Street Journal and I write for myself? She made some pretty broad generalizations, as did many people who wrote in in response to her piece. I really don’t care what anyone does with their own kitchen, but don’t go ranking on people who like islands. That was pretty much the point of my piece. And I never would have even commented if it hadn’t been forwarded to me.


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