Certainly people change in what they are looking for in a home - although kitchens and baths are always popular. The outlooks on life that people express, and what they require from their homes changes over time also. People who get their first home as a young single or as a couple just beginning their life together have certain needs in a home. Those families with young children have definite requirements in a home and what it provides in terms of space and features.
As their children grow older and demand more personal space of their own (and as they have friends over more), the housing needs change again. Then, as people complete their child-rearing time (if having and raising children was part of their lives), their needs in a home - the same one a different one - change again. As people reach their retirement years, their needs are different still. Thus, there is a constant change in both the demands and the expectations that people place on their home or apartments over the years and how they utilize their living space.
Some people are fortunate enough to find a home that they like well enough to remain in at a very early stage of life and live in that same home their entire lives. It might just be that staying in this home is just simpler and easier than moving, or maybe they found the ideal home for themselves right away. Most people, however, even if they stay in the same area, live in two, three, or four homes over their adulthood. The trend is away from living in so many homes in a lifetime, however, as the average amount of time a person stays in the same home has reached a new high - with over half of homeowners staying in their current home for more than ten years.
So, with the focus being the kitchen and the bath areas, people look for features (such as the presence of an island or the lack of one) that appeal to them. They spend a lot of their at-home hours in those rooms, and while those rooms have evolved in appearance and function over time, cooking is still cooking and bathing is still bathing.
Specifically in the kitchen, appliances have been invented, streamlined, eliminated, enhanced, and become more powerful and more efficient. Today, we have tools for food storage and cooking that likely weren’t even thought of a few years ago, and countertops and cabinetry have changed to be more durable and useful.
While kitchen islands aren’t new, many of them are far too prominent for the space in which they are located. While they provide additional countertop, serving, and food preparation space - especially for kitchens with limited perimeter countertop space otherwise – they often do so by comprising the general access, traffic flow, and appearance of the kitchen.
The National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA) recommends 48” as the minimum distance on all sides of an island between it and other cabinets. If there is not sufficient space to have an island large enough to be functional while at the same time providing adequate maneuverability around it by others in the kitchen, the island needs to be downsized or even removed.
Nothing says there has to be an island. They look nice if they are appropriately sized for the space and often contain additional sinks and cooktops. Nevertheless, they are an accessory and not a requirement. A roomy kitchen with plenty of counterspace, cabinet storage and appliance access may look great and live quite comfortably.
Steve Hoffacker, CAPS, CEAC, SHSS, is a licensed Certified Aging-In-Place Specialist-Master Instructor and best-selling author of universal design books. To learn about this and other programs for aging-in-place or universal design, visit stevehoffacker.com or call 561-685-5555. Also, check out the "Aging & Accessibility" groups on Facebook and LinkedIn.