When working with a client to design their dream kitchen, you need to consider the longevity of space. The kitchen is not a room that is redone often so as the kitchen designer you should consider presenting a solution that works for your client’s lifetime. 

There are statistics that can be presented to your client to nudge them to think beyond the aesthetics of their space and to include solutions that will work for them and their households for as long as they occupy the space. 

Specifically:

  • Historical Kitchen planning guidelines were developed for a 5’4” able-bodied, non-elderly female. (Today only 15% of the North American population falls into this camp!)
  • Men, women, and especially children are now sharing in kitchen activities. (Maybe we should be designing kitchens to meet the needs of the whole family!)
  • Within the next 10 years, 20% of our population will be over the age of 65. (An aging population requires safer more functional kitchen design)
  • The number of people with disabilities is growing in North America with 25% of the population currently having some type of disability. (Accommodating everyone in the kitchen should be a priority for the kitchen designer!) 

When you look at these stats, it starts to become clear that we should be designing our client’s kitchens for their lifetime not just their prime time. This does not mean we ignore the aesthetics. A great kitchen designer can combine both the art and the science of design for a wining design.

I believe that Universal Design is the answer. The definition of Universal Design is “to design so that most people can use the space regardless of their level of ability or their size.” Many people will think that this concept only applies to the elderly or persons using a wheelchair, but this definition would apply to a 6’ 4” male with a bad back, a 5’6” female 8 months pregnant, or a 10 year old making their own breakfast. 

Universal Design allows people to safely use the space and comfortably age-in-place, by making the most important room in the home adaptable to different and changing needs.

Here are my Top 6 Universal Design Concepts to get you started

  1. Concentrate the work triangle

In large kitchens this will limit needless steps between the sink, range, and refrigerator, making the work area more ergonomic. Plan the main work triangle in your designs to be between 12’ and 18’. Multiple work triangles or zones can also be designed into a single kitchen design to allow a variety of people to use the space at the same time.

  1. Plan Long Expanses of Connected Countertop

This strategy allows items to be “dragged” rather than carried between centers, conserving energy for those with stamina issues or people that just need to get dinner on the table fast! Not having to carry items across the room can make a big difference in usability of the kitchen if your client is on crutches from a sports injury or use a walker due to aging.

  1. Provide a Variety of Countertop Heights

Not every kitchen task for every different user can efficiently occur at a single counter height. It is easier to roll out pie crusts or mix cookie dough at a lower counter, while chopping tends to be more efficient at a standard counter height. Including a higher counter in your designs also allows tall cooks to work more comfortably in the kitchen.

  1. Include Flexible, Layered Lighting

Always include natural, general, task and decorative lighting in your kitchen designs. Including dimmers whenever possible allows the flexibility to meet every cook’s illumination needs. Also, as people age, they need brighter and brighter light in their work areas so layered lighting is the ideal solution. By not skimping on the lighting plan you will be providing sufficient lighting for your clients for many years.

  1. Plan Kitchen Color Schemes in Lighter Finishes

Proposing color schemes with lighter finishes is easier on client’s eyes as they grow older. Dark colors absorb light and can be fatiguing when working in the space. Light colors reflect light and help with overall illumination. Lighter does not necessarily mean all white. Combining white with warm tones or choosing white counters on medium toned cabinets will give your designs the light reflecting qualities needed for a universally designed space. 

  1. Include Accessible Storage 

Easy accessibility of supplies is a must for any Kitchen. In a Universally Designed kitchen all base cabinets should include full extension drawers or rollout shelves. For upper cabinetry include a few cabinets down to the counter to ensure that everyone using the space has access to the supplies. There are multiple options in cabinet accessories that can be include in your designs to make the room as functional as possible. Becoming familiar with the options is a must for the kitchen designer.

Integrating Universal Design into your kitchen designs need not make your designs look or feel clinical. As a creative kitchen designer, you can incorporate these concepts and still make the space attractive. By including features outlined here you will make your kitchen designs more enjoyable to work in and you will be designing spaces that your clients will enjoy for many years.

To learn more about the concept watch for my upcoming course UNIVERSAL DESIGN FOR KITCHEN DESIGNERS. It will be packed with solutions you will want to start implementing immediately. 

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