The island is the contemporary version of the old family kitchen table, the center of the room where the whole family gets together for meals, snacks or just a pleasant chat.

This yearning for a kitchen gathering place probably explains the popularity of the kitchen island. But unlike the table of yesterday, today's island can meet a whole bundle of different needs.

Islands can provide storage space for frequently used equipment, for example. If the top can be equipped with a convenience outlet, the island can not only store a food processor and its many accessories, it can also serve as the food-preparation area.

Islands can be the home of the kitchen sink and dishwasher, too. Depending on the shape and size of the kitchen, a double sink and dishwasher could be housed in the island, freeing the peripheral wall space for counters and high and low storage.

The airspace above the island also provide endless possibilities. A chrome pot rack, hung above the counter top, is large enough to hold most of the cookware needed for kitchen use.

Storage cabinets, recessed from the front edge of the counter top so you're not constantly bumping your forehead, can be a dust-free, convenient place to store pots, pans and baking dishes. Even open shelving can be suspended from the ceiling over the island to hold a variety of kitchen objets d'art, from decorative and useful ceramics to plants, spices or sculptures.

In a small kitchen I designed recently, I had plenty of room for an ample island. Rather than a conventional kitchen with counters and cabinets above on three sides, I left one unused wall -- the one facing directly into the neighbor's kitchen windows -- and sheathed it with plywood in a diagonal pattern of oak planks. The sink, at right angles to this wall and the window, is sandwiched neatly between upper and lower counters and has a sill deep enough to grow herbs, aided by the sunny exposure. The third wall contains more counter space between a double wall oven and the refrigerator-freezer.

The island itself turned out to be a double-header storage center and cook-top -- four burners and a convenience outlet. A food processor and blender can be plugged in when the island top is used for meal preparation.

Storage is provided in open shelves under the drop-down dining ledge. Different-sized drawers and shelves on the two other sides house utensils and cutlery.

Because the kitchen was an addition to the existing house, we were able to build in a skylight. It's equipped with a border of flurescent lights, making it functional both day and night.

But if you can't poke a hole in your kitchen ceiling, cheer up! There are many "skylight" lighting fixtures that will give you a similar effect.

The natural oak paneling of the room contrasts happily with the white plastic laminate facing of the upper and lower cabinets, and deep brown quarry tile floor. And the skylight, complete with hanging plants, provides cheerful filtered light to this island kitchen in the sun.