If the kitchen is the heart of the home, then the island is the heart of the kitchen.
And the latest designs have a lot of heart, aiming to offer not just a place to cook, but also a place to express the cook's personality. Some types of cooks and what may suit them:
The social chef
Throwing dinner parties is great fun, but too often the host gets stuck slaving over an elaborate meal, with little time to visit with guests.
A kitchen island with custom appliances can help solve this problem. Islands with prep sinks, warming drawers and especially countertop steamers allow the host to serve hors d'oeuvres from the island, continuing to prepare the meal while chatting with guests who've gathered there.
'If you can serve hot dip or fondue to guests right in the kitchen, it allows you more social time,' said Jennifer Tredeau, a showroom consultant at a Clarke appliance showroom in Massachusetts.
The artistic chef
Serving as more than a simple workspace, kitchen islands should agree with the chef's aesthetic sense, too.
Many homeowners are opting to install islands with a different cabinet color or surface material from the perimeter cabinets to break up the kitchen's overall look.
Some are experimenting with funky shapes for their islands or even designing the islands to look like another piece of furniture - pull up a chair and an island's desk-like end piece might actually be an improvement over the dingy den.
The parent chef
Multi-level islands are back. The islands with portions at varying heights fell out of style in recent years but have become fashionable again, which is great for parents who want to feed their kids a quick snack without clearing all the homework off the dining room table.
'The two- or even three-level island is highly functional,' said Kimberly Sweet, editor-in-chief at kitchens.com. 'Generally the tallest level is the dining bar, great for feeding the kids or entertaining guests while you cook. Another advantage: It hides the mess on the lower levels from the rest of the room.'
The claustrophobic chef
Kitchen counters are great for laying out ingredients as chefs tackle new recipes, but can be confining once cooks are ready to start chopping.
'Cooking surfaces in islands are still very popular so you don't have to stare at a wall while cooking,' said Beth Connelly of the Fretz Corp., a luxury appliance distributor. Chefs without much upper cabinet space can put a microwave in an island, and islands often allow for larger cabinets for storing platters and trays that can cramp the rest of the kitchen.
Ventilation can be challenging with professional-style units, Connelly said, so homeowners should be sure to incorporate proper ventilation in the design process.
The spaced-out chef
In spacious kitchens, chefs can indulge their every whim, and may want two islands to do so.
In addition to improving flow, two islands can be built for two different purposes. One might have a marble top for rolling dough and another with a wood top for chopping, for example.
Or they could customize the islands to the heights of two different chefs, for team cooking.
The trend is still to put one section of countertop at custom height, Sweet said, especially when resale is a concern.