The kitchen is the heart of the home and a renovation priority. Whether you love to cook, entertain guests or use the space as a family hub, kitchen design has evolved in useful and exciting ways. A well-designed kitchen accommodates all family members, from infants to seniors, and their ever-changing abilities and skills. While your focus is on design and functionality, also consider the longevity of the design for safety and comfort. The successful design of a universally accessible kitchen starts with identifying potential users and anticipating their needs. Here’s some advice on how to design a universally accessible kitchen.

Advice on How to Design a Universally Accessible Kitchen

Universally Accessible Kitchen Cabinets and Counters

Well thought-out cabinets and counters is key to achieving a comfortable and safe kitchen for all family members. Firstly, ensure that strollers, walkers and wheelchairs can easily navigate the prep areas of the kitchen. This is achieved by allotting 42- to 48-in. clearance between the cabinets on a minimum of two sides. Secondly, consider creating a lowered workspace by adding a 28-in. table height extension to an island or peninsula. This accommodates differently abled helpers (young or older) in the kitchen.

Designing for minimal effort is an important principle of universal kitchen design. On trend, but also in line with accessible design, is the installation of pullout pantries rather than upper cabinetry. Pantries provide additional storage space and much greater usability and accessibility. Additionally, adding LED lighting will provide greater illumination to help you see what’s hiding on the back shelf. However, if horizontal uppers are part of your current kitchen design, add a motorized servo driver. This motion technology assists in the opening and closing of cabinetry doors with a single touch.

Thoughtful Placement of Fixtures and Appliances

An efficient kitchen that maximizes independence and convenience is the cornerstone of good design. Traditionally, kitchen designers have focused on a compact work triangle formed by the sink, stove and refrigerator. Though, when planning a universally designed kitchen we expand the triangle to include all work areas. For example, we also include the separate cooktop and wall oven, garbage disposal and dishwasher. Therefore, when designing a work triangle to meet all of your needs, imagine the items and appliances you reach for during meal prep and clean-up. The thoughtful placement of your fixtures and appliances make them both accessible and safe by avoiding trip hazards.

If you’re looking to maximize your kitchen footprint while lowering your environmental one, a double-drawer dishwasher is the answer. While traditional dishwasher doors open out, often a challenge for both space and accessibility, a dishwasher drawer solves both issues. Additionally, using just one drawer saves water and time, but also eliminates a tripping hazard when loading and unloading.

Your sink is one of the most used elements in the kitchen. Here, we suggest a mix of technology and design for ease of use. Consider installing a sink with a depth of only 9-in. This helps mitigate back pain by eliminating the need to hunch over your sink. Top off the sink redesign with a touchless or voice-controlled faucet. Easy to use technology for hands of any size and ability.

Consider Lighting and Sound in Your Universally Accessible Kitchen

A universal approach to lighting design addresses the needs of people as they age. Look for a mix of ambient, task and accent lighting that works in harmony with the users of the space. For example, install a motion detector to gradually activate the lights. Lighting which slowly brightens is less overwhelming. This is helpful for middle of the night kitchen visits. Also, where possible, take advantage of opportunities to maximize natural lighting.

In any kitchen design or renovation, homeowners should also consider their finishes for both design and functionality. We don’t often think about it until it’s bothersome, but highly reflective surfaces can be problematic for those who are vision challenged. Instead, choose matte finishes. Similarly, opt to include elements which absorb sound. For instance, wood minimizes noise coming from adjoining rooms and eliminates kitchen echoes.

Smartphones + Smart Appliances = Convenience

With the pervasiveness of smartphones, smart appliances are increasingly commonplace in kitchens. Being able to control appliances via an app is not only novel, but convenient. Being able to turn on kitchen lights with one tap can make a world of difference to someone less body-able.

Essentially, a kitchen renovation should be welcoming to family and guests of any age or ability. Firstly, consult with a trusted design partner while considering the above advice. Moreover, make the most out of your universally accessible kitchen and enjoy the space for many years to come.

By Yasmine Goodwin, Certified Aging in Place Specialist and owner of My Design Studio | Produced by RENO & DECOR

Launched in 1990, RENO & DECOR is Canada’s Home Idea Book, inspiring readers with the latest in tips and trends for their decorating and renovating.

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