Universal Design in the Kitchen

I have written a few articles about proper kitchen design principles in the past. Those kitchen design principles have stood the test of time and are as valid today as they were 30, 40, or even 50 years ago. Add Universal Design for kitchens. As I have previously written universal design is a concept that holds within it any product, space, planning, or design that makes life easier or functions more efficiently. If you need examples please refer to my other articles on universal design. Please remember universal design is not just for disabled people. If you are designing for a disabled person and/or a wheel chair bound person please refer to the ADA guidelines for kitchen design.

The kitchen is arguably the most used and therefore the busiest room in the entire home. It has become a room that not only meals are prepared in, but homework is completed there, bills are paid, lunches packed and pets are fed. The kitchen also seems to attract everyone during any type of social gathering. So it is natural that we turn to universal design in the kitchen and make our life easier.

Counter Tops should be smooth and easy to clean. I never understood the grouted tile counter-tops, a real nuisance to keep clean, not to mention rolling out a pie crust, lest I digress.  If you use contrasting colors between the counter-tops and other items it will help visually impaired persons see where one stops and another starts.

Flooring should be easy to clean and slip resistant. If you spend a lot of time standing you will prefer to use a softer material, rather than stone or ceramic tile.

Cabinets should be designed so the heaviest items are stored in the upper lower cabinets or the lower upper cabinets. The average woman is tall enough to comfortably reach into the bottom shelf of the upper cabinets. All the shelves should be adjustable and fit snugly. Door and drawer hardware should be large enough so everyone can slip 2 or 3 fingers behind it to operate.

Microwaves and Ovens should be installed so you can easily remove hot items safely. If you do any heavy cooking in a microwave, an over the stove installation is not the way to go. The same can be said for stack ovens, they should be installed side by side, with the bottom at about 30” from the finished floor.

Faucets like the type in doctors’ offices are the best and can be turned on and off without using your fingers, they can be pushed or pulled with the side of or a cupped hand. I am not a fan or the push button or touch faucets, too expensive to purchase and repair.

Lighting should be task orientated. If you have an island hang lights directly over it. If you will be working on the wall counter then install under cabinet lighting. All lighting in the kitchen should be installed with dimmers, so everyone can use the brightness that is the most comfortable for them.

Appliances are a tough one. Standard sizes have been around forever and are not going to change anytime soon. The dishwasher is an appliance that needs to be raised about 12” off the floor. Obviously doing this would require a taller base cabinet and change in counter height, but what if you installed the microwave over the dishwasher in a pantry style cabinet?

As you can see incorporating some universal design features into you existing kitchen can be easily completed. Others require extensive and will have to wait. Whatever features you choose to incorporate will undoubtedly make your life easier.

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