It can sometimes be difficult to talk to your clients about designing for their lifetime not just their prime time.

Even though there is a lot of talk in the design world about aging-in-place, many consumers are hesitant to bring it up.

They often do not want to discuss growing old.

As a professional Kitchen Designer you can help out without making your clients feel uncomfortable.

There are ways to sneak in Universal Design to benefit your client through better functionality in their Kitchen for now and as they age!

I learned about Universal Design very early on in my Kitchen Design career.

The definition of Universal Design that resonated with me was:

A space planning and construction practice that promotes accessibility for all without sacrificing visual appeal, function and style.

From that point on I decided to embrace this design concept and incorporate it into my client’s Kitchen Designs whenever possible.

Here are some of my favorite ways to do that.

Include Multiple Counter Heights

Including more than one counter height in your designs will allow cooks with a variety of abilities to use the Kitchen.

Start with a standard 36″ high counter and include a lower counter and/or higher counter top in the design.

The standard 36″ will work with standard appliance sizes but it is a counter height that is really only ideal for 15% of the North American population.

A lower counter between 30″ and 34″ is ideal for baking tasks but also perfect for children, smaller adults or individuals using a wheelchair.

A taller counter height of between 37″ and 42″ will make cooking tasks easier for individuals 5’6″ tall or taller.

Incorporate a Sit Down Prep Area

Including a sit down area in the prep zone will allow the cook to be seated for repetitive tasks.

It can also accommodate a cook that may have a temporary injury such as a sprained ankle or broken leg.

Another advantage I have found when I include an area for a stool in the prep zone is that the cook can pull up a stool from the “working” side of the kitchen to interact with guests sitting at the dining bar.

Add a Rolling Cart

A rolling cart can introduce Universal Design in a Kitchen by allowing the cook to easily move food around the kitchen.

Food can flow through the kitchen from Food Storage Zone, to Prep Zone, to Cooking Zone, to Serving Zone and back to the Clean Up Zone using the cart.

For cooks with mobility or strength issues a light weight movable island could be the solution to allow them to prep a meal.

Bring Upper Cabinets Down to the Countertop

Bringing upper cabinets down to the countertop is both functional and aesthetically pleasing.

Most people will be able to access the contents of these longer upper cabinets without stretching or standing on their tip toes!

The look of upper cabinets to the counter can also introduce a hutch feel to the kitchen and break up long rows of upper cabinetry.

Specify an Appliance Garage

A modern appliance garage can offer great accessibility to heavy small appliances in a Kitchen Design.

Stainless steel options will coordinate with stainless steel appliances while flip up doors can blend in with surrounding millwork.

Customize the Drawers

Universal Design is all about convenience.

Deep drawers should be specified throughout the design for maximum convenience.

To make them even more functional consider including specialized storage solutions.

The examples above show a bread drawer complete with slotted cutting board, a dish storage system and custom Plexiglass bins for dry goods.

Rethink Appliance Placement

Exploring different ways of installing appliances in the Kitchen can provide Universal Design benefits.

Instead of a standard upright refrigerator, consider refrigerator drawers under counter. This set up ensures all items can be reached by everyone using the kitchen.

Any appliance that is available as a drawer is an excellent choice for a Universally designed kitchen.

In many cases the grates on a gas cooktop are 1″ to 2″ higher than a flat top cooktop. This extra height raises up the pot on the burner making it difficult for some cooks to see inside the pot.

By lowering the countertop for a gas cooktop more cooks would be comfortable working at this appliance.

Another appliance that I will often install in a non-standard location is the dishwasher.

Raising the dishwasher 6″ to 12″ above the floor puts it at a more convenient height for most users.

Bring in the Light

Lastly specifying windows down to the countertop is a great way to sneak Universal Design into your Kitchen layouts.

Not only does lower windows allow seated cooks to get a view to the outside, these windows flood the counter area with light.

As you can see there are multiple ways of introducing Universal Design into your Kitchen Designs and in most cases you will not have to “sneak” them in.

Consumers will appreciate you introducing them to Universal Design and making their Kitchen functional for their lifetime, not just their prime time!

I’d love to hear how you incorporate Universal Design into your projects. Please leave me a comment below.

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Jan Rutgers B.Sc. H.Ec.

Jan Rutgers has been designing kitchens and products for over 25 years and is a recipient of Kitchen & Bath Design News’ Top Innovators in 2020 for the Kitchen & Bath Industry. She has designed more than 1000 kitchens learning valuable skills with each one! Her experience in Kitchen Design, Millwork Manufacturing and Product Development has led her to create VESTABUL SCHOOL OF DESIGN where she educates and mentors people passionate about the Kitchen Design Industry.

2 Comments on “How to Sneak Universal Design into Your Kitchen Designs

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