I was in a showroom last week talking with kitchen designers about kitchen layouts that are popular in our area.

Where I live, the market is dominated by new construction and we all agreed the one-wall with island layout or galley kitchen is seen over and over again.

The L-shaped with island used to be the most popular, but there seems to have been a shift as of late.

There are a few reasons why I believe the one-wall with island layout is so popular in new construction.

In this post I’ll go over the reasons why builder’s pick that layout so often, and then using a case study will show you how you, as the kitchen designer, can add some excitement to this layout.

The one-wall kitchen with island layout is one that is seen in many spec homes these days.

One of the reasons is that it fits into multiple house plan layouts.

Greatroom Layout #1

Greatroom with one-wall kitchen and island

This rectangular greatroom layout is a very popular one.

It positions the kitchen at one end, the dining area in the middle, and the living space at the other end.

It is a home plan that fits on a narrow lot and it provides the open concept that consumers want.

Greatroom Layout #2

greatroom kitchen

This greatroom layout is L-shaped with the kitchen and living space opposite each other and the dining space off to the side of the kitchen.

This layout tends to need less square footage than the long rectangular room.

It is pretty popular in basic home plans.

Greatroom Layout #3

greatroom with kitchen in middle

We are back to the rectangular room again but this time the kitchen is positioned in the center of the space.

Often this layout is dictated by how the outside areas are accessed.

You will noticed that all the kitchens in these three plans are exactly the same.

They include a standard fridge, range, dishwasher and sink.

And in most cases the microwave is combined with the hood. (But I just couldn’t draw that unit into the plan because I feel this is the worst place for the microwave!)

Why is this layout so Popular?

In a nut shell it is because it is probably the most inexpensive layout to build.

Everything is straight lines and there are no corners to deal with.

Builder spec kitchen

This image above is typically what you get.

The kitchen is opened ended so things don’t have to fit perfectly.

Depending on how long the space is, it can provide lots of counter space.

Typically the island is a big rectangle with the prerequisite dining bar hanging off the backside of the island cabinets.

While it does offer the homeowner the “flavor of the month” kitchen that includes white shaker cabinets, stainless steel appliances, black granite counters, a dining bar and three pendants,

It is boring!

It is so neutral that it becomes unmemorable.

Having worked on many spec homes in my career, I learned early on that in a buyers market, you need to make the kitchen spaces memorable.

Let me show you a one-wall with island kitchen I designed a few years ago in a spec home that was memorable, and brought a record breaking sale price for the developer.

Spec Home Greatroom with Personality

This project was a major renovation in an older home.

The architect rearranged the floorplan for modern living with the decision to have the formal areas at the front of the home and the informal areas at the back.

This layout would allow the homeowner to entertain formally with traditional rooms in the front or informally with a great connection to the back yard from the greatroom in the back.

Looking at the area dedicated to the greatroom, we decided the best place for the kitchen was in the middle of the space.

Modern Kitchen

The layout that would fit this center location was a one-wall with island design.

But, as the architect and developer told me,

It can’t be boring!

Luckily I had just returned from a design trip to EuroCucina at Salone del Mobile in Milan, Italy and had lots of ideas.

There I saw how European designers were mixing more than one finish for cabinets and countertops.

I knew this would be a great way to go in this home.

The finished for the cabinetry was specified as a combination of stained sapele wood veneer and high gloss white acrylic.

The main countertops were white glossy quartz to echo the white doors and a moody grey quartz for the dining bar detail for the “not boring” factor.

With the finishes locked down, I look at the composition of the kitchen, deciding to go symmetrical on the back wall and asymmetrical on the island.

Galley kitchen

For the back wall, a stack of ovens including a microwave, wall oven and warming drawer on one end were balanced by an integrated paneled refrigerator on the other.

A gas cooktop was then centered between them.

The hood we landed on was one that stayed flush with the wall cabinets but would telescope out when in use.

Full walls were specified on each end of this backwall to define the kitchen and avoid seeing the sides of cabinets from the formal part of the home.

galley kitchen with view to outside

The dishwasher specified was an integrated dish drawer model to allow no breaks in the cabinetry on the working side of the island.

As you probably have noticed, all the cabinet doors, drawers and panels have been installed with the grain running horizontally.

This was very intentional, because I had decided to use “horizontal line” as a design element throughout this home.

I worked closely with the cabinet maker to ensure the grain lined up as close as possible from one cabinet element to the next.

Even though the horizontal grain of the sapele wood cabinetry was unique, I still wanted to add in some additional details.

A small detail was the hardware choice.

The inset rectangular handles on all the base cabinets and touch latches on the wall and white cabinets, were very on trend and helped produce the clean lines I was after.

The standout element though was the dining bar.

I designed a floating element made from grey quartz that sat asymmetrically off the back of the island and wrapped part way around one of the ends.

It ended up being the sculptural element that elevated this basic layout to a kitchen that was memorable.

Storage is always top of mind for me, so working with the architect we carved off some space for a walk in pantry between the formal dining room and the breakfast room.

One wall with island, or galley kitchens, can be short on storage, so a walk in pantry is always a great addition.

Horizontal line was then picked up in the floating shelves at the entrance to the breakfast room.

A great unexpected detail that made the entrance to the breakfast room more interesting.

The architect has just begun including accordion doors in some of his projects and this home received a set.

These doors provided the perfect way to expand the informal spaces at the back of the home to include the outside deck.

It also did wonders to expand this galley kitchen visually.

When working in a greatroom, I don’t want to ignore any opportunity to add additional millwork details.

The finishing touch in this space was the fireplace design that included low storage drawers as a hearth and a mantel design that echoed the dining bar “sculpture”.

When completed and staged, this home was extremely memorable.

The informal spaces with the kitchen being the focal point sold the home.

While budget for this home was higher than a normal builder’s spec home, I hope you see some details you could incorporate into your one-wall with island layouts.

I would love to see what your ideas for this layout look like.

Please leave me a comment below or reach out through my contact page.

Founder Vestabul School of Design, Jan Rutgers

Jan Rutgers has been designing for over 25 years. Developing functional layouts for every area of the home is her passion. She has designed more than 1000 kitchens in her career, learning valuable skills with each one!

Her experience in Kitchen Design, Millwork Manufacturing and Product Development has led her to create VESTABUL SCHOOL OF DESIGN where she educates and mentors people passionate about the Kitchen Design Industry.

3 Comments on “Adding Interest to the One-Wall with Island Kitchen

    • Thanks Doug!
      I am lucky to have developers that will let me do stuff like this in a spec home.

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