A big part of my private design practice revolves around Living in Place Design, also referred to as Universal Design.

Early in my career I discovered a statistic that stated:

The historical user of the Kitchen was a 5′ 4″ tall, able-bodied, non-elderly female.

When you look at “standard” Kitchen design criteria, much of it still revolves around accommodating this user, even though she is only about 15% of the North American population.

Making our Kitchen designs functional for all users should be a priority of every professional Kitchen Designer.

Read on to learn some of my tips for choosing and placing appliances in your living in place Kitchen designs that accommodate all users!

You may also want to check out these past VESTA Blogs that feature Living in Place and Universal Design.

Living in Place Kitchen Design

To begin with, I would like to introduce you to a common U-shaped Kitchen layout that features some Living in Place Kitchen Design features.

The design of this space incorporates many features that would accommodate multiple potential users of this Kitchen.

This is a space that would work for tall people, children or those using a mobility device.

The aesthetics of the space are on trend, and it would be a Kitchen that would work in many different homes.

Just because it will accommodate multiple users through the use of Universal Design, it does not look clinical.

As shown in these elevations, all of the food flow zones are represented in this space, along with a bake center.

The cook can easily move from the food storage zone, to the prep zone, the cooking zone, the serving zone and finally the clean-up zone.

This would be a very functional Kitchen to work in.

Let’s look at the appliances specified on each elevation.

First, a 30″ wide column was chosen for the refrigerator.

It allows items to placed at the “universal” storage height of between 18″ and 48″ from the floor.

The dishwasher is a double drawer model that works well for users of different heights.

Appliances as drawers are very ergonomic and are a great addition to a Living in Place Kitchen design.

The cooking zone is centered on the back wall and features an induction cooktop set into floating cabinets.

Induction is one of the safest cooktops available on the market and is highly recommended for a Living in Place Kitchen.

Since the heat source heats the contents of the pot and the the cooktop surface there is much less likely hood of someone burning themselves on a hot cooktop service.

Including the cooktop in a floating cabinet is a great design feature because it makes the room look larger.

It would also accommodate a person who uses a wheelchair or a walker, allowing them to easily access this cooktop.

In this elevation the wall oven has been placed 30″ above the floor beside the lower bake counter.

This placement avoids an oven placed too low for a tall cook, and still offers a seated person access.

Choosing a side swing door would make this oven even more accessible.

The freezer column, just like the refrigerator column allows frequently needed items to be stored at the universal height of 18″ to 48″ above the floor.

These deliberate decisions on appliances would make this Kitchen very user friendly.

Let’s now look at some additional appliances, and appliance placements for a Living in Place Kitchen.

The Cooktop

One of my favorite Universal Design tips for gas cooktops is to install them in a lower counter top.

If you look closely at a gas cooktop, the grates will often raise the service of the cooktop up 2″ or more.

For a shorter cook, this means they need to stand on tip toes to see into their pots.

Lowering the cooktop counter will alleviate this and make stirring a pot a much less tiring process.

Allowing space under the cooktop to accomodate the wheels on a walker or a wheelchair is also good Universal Design.

The first example above has a cool industrial vibe, while lowering the cooktop and providing a high open kick space below the cabinet.

The controls at the front of this unit also allows the user to turn on a burner without having to reach over a hot flame.

The next example makes the cooktop and oven area a focal point while still providing great access to the units.

The third example has a clean and simple modern look incorporating a suspended counter for the cooktop.

Not only is this cooktop wheelchair accessible, it makes this small apartment appear larger with the see through site lines.

When specifying a cooktop for a Living in Place Kitchen design, make sure the controls are intuitive.

Looking at this 5 burner cooktop, you can easily identify which control turns on which burner.

The touch screen controls also allow people with arthritis or low grip strength to turn on and set the temperature of an element with a light fingertip touch.


A great way to add Universal Design to a Kitchen ventilation hood is to specify a remote control for the appliance.

In some cases the standard hood is too high for a user to reach the controls and a hood remote can solve that problem.

Another option is to specify a downdraft ventilation system for you client with counter height controls.

Many of these units rise much higher and are more efficient than those of the past, making them a good choice for todays Living in Place Kitchen.


The placement and type of a wall oven in a Living in Place Kitchen can take on many different forms.

Above are a few examples.

Placing a compact oven under a counter and tucking it tight to the countertop can provide access for a seated user.

That extra few inches gained but tucking it up directly under the countertop will also make accessibility better for a standing cook.

Placing the wall oven at counter level puts the controls at eye level for most standing cooks and the counter directly beside it provides good drop off space.

While most ovens hinge down, look for models that side swing for better access in a Living in Place Kitchen.

This was the style of oven I specified for a Living in Place Kitchen where I won first price in the Western Canada Design Excellence Awards 2021.


The placement of the microwave in a Living in Place Kitchen is very important since it is used by many people including children.

Specifying it a standard counter height positions it so that it is not too high or too low for most users.

You could also elevate it slightly and place a drawer below it to still make it accessible for most people.

The microwave drawer is the best appliance to specify for Universal Design if your plan to place the microwave under the counter.

The pullout appliance drawer easily lets the cook see what is inside, avoiding bending down to access hot items.


When specifying a dishwasher for a Living in Place Kitchen, dishwasher drawers are a great choice.

Since they pullout at two different heights, they can accommodate users with different abilities.

Another option is to raise the standard dishwasher off the floor.

Depending on the heights and abilities of your client you could raise the dishwasher 6″ to 18″ above the floor for better access for them.


Refrigeration comes in many different forms.

The best approach is to choose one that allows storage to be at the Universal storage height of 18″ to 48″ above the floor.

Here are some examples of refrigeration that meets that criteria.

  1. Column refrigeration
  2. Bottom freezer mount refrigerator
  3. Side by side refrigerator
  4. Refrigerator drawers
  5. Under counter refrigeration

Also keep in mind that you can raise an under counter refrigerator up within cabinetry to make it a more accessible placement for your client.

Living in Place and Universally Designed Kitchens are becoming more popular, and Kitchen Designers are embracing this.

Above is a great example of an accessible Kitchen developed by the cabinet manufacturer Snaidero.

A great take away from this prototype Kitchen is its stylish modern look, proving a Living in Place Kitchen design can be a desirable one.

I would love to hear your thoughts on specifying appliances for a Living in Place Kitchen.

Please leave me a comment below.

This fall I will be launching a FREE Workshop on appliances.

You can register for the workshop here to receive updates on launch dates.

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Founder Vestabul School of Design, Jan Rutgers

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.

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