(Accessibility expert Deborah Pierce, AIA, CAPS, discusses changes you can makes with kitchen design to accommodate changing physical capabilities.)
If you follow kitchen design trends you may think that patio grilling or white cabinets are as good as it gets, or wonder if your new kitchen will be outdated when the next trend hits. The truth is that accessible kitchens are gaining traction, as appliance and cabinet manufacturers seek to serve an aging population with the time, energy, and cash for home improvement projects. Remember that design is as much about how something works as how it looks, and you’re on the way to making sound decisions.
Today’s seniors are different from past generations. We have more multi-generational households, sandwiched between elderly parents and not-yet-launched adult children. Having come of age with “the pill,” we also have fewer children, and will need kitchens that foster self-reliance. Today’s kitchens need to work for multiple cooks, and for changing needs as we age.
When it comes to kitchen planning, versatility is key. After all, our kitchens need to perform so many functions – from stowing groceries, to baking and cooking, to snacking and eating, clean-up, and recycling. Vary the counter heights to serve multiple cooks and also small appliances. Add a workspace for seated meal prep. Extend flooring under the base cabinets and make sure you have a 30” W cabinet, which can be removed later for wheelchair seating. Control lighting for bright work surfaces as well as subtle mood ambiance.
For appliances, “new” doesn’t equal greater access, so it pays to shop around. Old-school rotary dials can be easier to see and use than today’s sleek touch-pad controls. Here are some personal favorites:
- Side-by-side fridge-freezer models – doors are less unweildy
- Shallow-drawer freezers below the fridge – easier to reach buried items
- Single-drawer dishwashers – less bending required
- Single-pole sink faucets
- Induction cooktops – heats the pot, not your hands!
- Cooktop controls at front or side, not rear edge – no reaching across bubbling pots!
- Wall oven with side-hinge doors – easy viewing, easy reach
- Built-in microwaves
Countertops are a “wow” factor, but cabinets make a good kitchen great. For every 10 SF of counter, the average kitchen has 45 SF of storage, so careful planning can have a big payoff. Max-out low storage with drawers, and corner space with lazy-susans. Choose full-height pantries to put storage within easy reach. Incorporate user-friendly hardware like soft-close drawers, pull-down shelves and push-up doors, fold-away tables and pull-out cutting boards. For decorative hardware use looped cabinet pulls – they’re easier to use than knobs, whether with hands full or limited dexterity.
The best kitchens are efficient, safe, and comfortable - as well as beautiful Fortunately, there are many ways to make them affordable too. Modular and ready-to-assemble cabinets are less costly than custom. Gently-used cabinets are an internet-click away. Overstock tile makes an inexpensive backsplash. Flooring and countertops come in a wide array of materials. Get the basic right, and an occasional splurge is justified. Remember that an accessible kitchen is smarter, not bigger.