Jodi Wallace

Monarch Solid Surface Designs

“super islands” are not just kitchen showpieces, but in many cases are so large they eliminate the need for upper cabinetsAlthough kitchen islands have been around for quite a few years, we have noticed a definite shift in both size and design. In past years, islands were usually simple rectangular shapes; nothing too complicated, and not much you could do to mess them up.

But the times, they are a-changin’! These “super islands” are not just kitchen showpieces, but in many cases are so large they eliminate the need for upper cabinets. New designs have become more exotic with custom radius overhangs, waterfall legs, (both single and double,) multi-tiered, multi-manufacturers, multi-colored, multi-edged.

For fabricators, these complicated “works of art” offer many challenges, including how on Earth to move a 700+ pound behemoth. It can be a logistical nightmare trying to move an entire jumbo slab up a winding, sloped driveway, or up stairs, in between tight turns and maneuvering around corners. Many times my guys have literally had to stand an island top up vertically to get around a tight spot. We have had as many as six or seven guys struggle to move a single massive slab of rock.

But when they are installed, they can be absolutely stunning. Sometimes, the issue is the complexity of taking a two dimensional paper design (where anything is possible), and turning it into actual, three-dimensional reality.  

Other times, the issues are problems with customers, or their designers, and meeting their expectations.

I have several painful memories of having to replace island tops due to customer or designer “issues.” We once had a designer pull out a tape measure and inform me our top was “almost 1/4-inch short” of what she wanted, and she wouldn’t accept it. I waited for the customer, who only 10 minutes earlier had told me how much she loved the new top, to speak up and tell the designer it was fine. To my amazement, she just stood there while the designer rudely informed me I would fix it or not be paid (like it was money out of her pocket)!

Another time, we templated an island top, with only the husband present, because the wife decided to go out of town during the remodel. When we returned to install, the wife was upset because the overhang did not match the size she wanted. When she called to complain,  I explained her husband had approved everything, since she wasn’t there. She, of course, didn’t care. Only because they were a referral from a previous customer did I bite the bullet and replace it. Sigh – another “free” job. These island replacements were costing us money, and I was done playing around. Something needed to change. 

I realized that as the island designs and expectations became more complex, and customers and their designers more demanding, I needed to find a way to better protect the shop. What I needed was a specific document to address the requirements for the island top only, totally separate from the rest of the kitchen. We needed something to be signed off so there was absolutely no misunderstanding on what we were fabricating and installing. I got to work. 

The first thing I did was create a label for the front of the folder to remind my guys at template time that a sign-off was needed.  I made it big and bold: “ISLAND SIGN OFF by customer REQUIRED.” Even without glasses it can’t get missed!

Next, I created our “Customer Island Buy-Off” form. I wanted it simple, but with enough information to protect us. It contains basic information:

Customer name

Manufacturer (slab)


It then requires a “yes” or “no” to indicate if we are supplying steel supports. If yes, how many.

If a customer is using corbels instead of steel supports, there is a line they must initial acknowledging either they or their representative are responsible for installing the corbels.

Now here’s the most important part of the form: there is a space where my template guy must do a drawing of the island reflecting the final dimensions – this is done once the template is completed. In this space, he must draw the actual shape of the top and indicate all dimensions, radius corners, etc.. The customer must then review both the form and the template. If the customer agrees everything meets their requirements, they must then sign off on the physical template. 

Because so many customers leave the “details” up to the contractor or designer, I include a clause stating that if a representative (contractor or designer) signs off on their customers’ behalf, their signature will be accepted as binding and representing their customer’s final approval. This has come in handy several times when a customer has waved me off with a “so and so can sign on my behalf,” or “I’m too busy to be there.” I confirm with them that this is fine, but, since we require a signed form before we start  fabrication, ANY modification or remake (financial issues) that come up will be their (the customer’s) responsibility, and not Monarch Designs’ as their signature removes us from any liability. This is usually enough of a wake-up call to ensure they are there for the template process!

The form states that any changes to the design or measurements requiring a new template will have a return charge applied.      

Lastly, there is a place at the bottom for the customer’s (or their representative’s) signature that states their signature acknowledges that  they have reviewed our template and agree the template matches their required design and dimensions.

 It occasionally is a struggle getting a customer to be on site at the time of templates and I do what I can to help, offering to template the island first so they can leave as soon as things are signed off, but we will not move an island into production without our sign off. 

A recent customer waited to notify me two days before we were scheduled to template that they were leaving for vacation the day before templating and their neighbor would let us in.  

I emailed and also left a voice mail informing the customer that the perimeter countertops would go into fabrication, but the island top was on hold until they returned from their two-week vacation, and signed off on the paperwork. They were not happy, but this step is not something I’m willing to negotiate!

Adding this additional step has not been without pain. More than once, I have pulled an unsigned form out of a customer folder, but my guys have gotten better about filling it out, as they have seen that more than once, that little piece of paper has saved us from several potential customer accusations since its creation and use, last year.

No system is infallible and I know this one form will not fix all our problems. But my hope is that by making customers do a final sign off I am raising their awareness of their responsibility. Our goal is to help make their dreams a reality, but they must do their part as well. 

Jodi Wallace is the owner of Monarch Solid Surface Design in San Jose, California.