One of the trends in kitchen design is a savvy combination of form and function called universal design. Born out of efforts to accommodate the disabled, universal design concepts are now applied to kitchens for all sorts of users- – and it involves far more than simply lowering all the counters to wheelchair height. It means looking for ways to adapt the kitchen so that everyone in the family can use it comfortably. This might include lowering one counter and raising another so that users with different needs can prepare dinner together.
Another advantage of the universal design is that you don’t have to sacrifice style for comfort. ln fact, it often gives a kitchen a custom-designed appearance. And in many cases, it doesn’t require custom-made cabinets, as semi – custom cabinets now come with many of the options described below. While you can add universal design elements to your kitchen at any time, significant changes, such as repositioning the cabinets or countertops, are best done during a full-scale remodelling project.
The key to creating a kitchen that fits everyone in the household is flexibility. For example, adding a knee space under a sink or cooktop not only makes that area accessible to a person in a wheelchair, it allows someone else to sit on a stool while cooking or washing up, thus avoiding fatigue and back strain. A knee space can also provide a spot for a serving cart, which offers a lowered work surface and a way to set or clear a table in one trip. Customising the height of countertops and work surfaces is critical to ensure that kitchen tasks can be done comfortably and efficiently.
One way to allow different people to work effectively together in a kitchen is to provide a customised counter height for each person. To determine the right height, get into a comfortable working position at a low surface, such as a table. Gradually increase the height of the surface by stacking up boards or strips of plywood until you can rest your palms on the surface with a slight break in your elbows. Clamp the wood in place and complete a range of typical tasks, such as chopping, mixing and stirring, to make sure the height is right.
Once you’ve found the most comfortable level, plan to include a working surface at that height in your kitchen. You can invest in new counters, or use one of these tricks: To create a lower work surface, secure a cutting board over an open drawer. To raise a work surface, place a thick piece of butcher block on the counter. Other solutions include roll-out carts or heavy-duty full-extension shelves.
Using the Reach Zone
The placement of storage areas is another important element of universal design. The most comfortable “reach zone” is between the waist and shoulders, and up to an arm’s length away. Unfortunately, many kitchens offer little or no storage in this zone, devoting the space instead to countertops. To add more reachable storage, consider adding pantry cabinets or a stand-alone pantry unit to your kitchen. Another option is to place shallow storage shelves at the back of the countertops.
Making It Easy on the Eyes
Poor lighting is one of the most common culprits in inefficient kitchens. Most kitchens have good ambient light, but not an enough task lighting, which leads to eye strain and fatigue. The solution is to install under-cabinet task lighting that brightens the major work areas. To make it easier to find your way around the kitchen in dim light (such as on a mid- night snack run), you can add a contrasting edge moulding around the countertop or a contrasting border on the flooring.
Even if the lighting in your kitchen is adequate, if there are intricate patterns on the countertops or the flooring it can be difficult to find dropped items. Subtle patterns and neutral colours are most practical.
To turn your kitchen into a workspace everyone in your household can move around in and use more comfortably begin by considering some of the ideas listed below:
Cabinets & Drawers
- Hang some of the wall cabinets low so the shelves will be easy to reach. Leave some cabinets at a standard height to keep them from looming over the counters.
- Install base cabinets with removable or slide-away doors to create a knee space; patch or extend the flooring to the back of the cabinet to provide an even surface for wheelchairs or stool legs.
- Add large drawers in the base cabinets to provide easy access to pots and other everyday items.
- Replace stationary shelves with pullout shelves.
- Use quality full-extension slides on drawers and pull- out shelves for safe, reliable operation.
- Put lazy Susans in all corner cabinets.
- Add open shelves under wall cabinets, or hang small pots and pans from hooks.
- Replace cabinet knobs with easy-to-grasp pulls.