Universal Design for Multi-generational Kitchens

We all know that baby boomers are aging and that Americans are living longer, more independent lives in their own homes. Even if you are decades away from old age, remodeling with the future in mind can prove financially wise. By implementing a well thought out floorplan now, any future remodeling may only need be cosmetic, thus saving large amounts of money with simpler cosmetic updating.

Not only are people staying in their homes longer, there is also a rise in multi-generational households. With that in mind, it is smart to consider every family member’s needs when designing that new kitchen. Universal design is enhances functionality and speaks to a growing need as the homeowning population ages. It is a definite selling point for second time home buyers of a certain age.

Universal Design Sketch-up by Linda Knapp

10 Remodeling Tips for a Multi-generational Kitchen:

1)     Countertops—Vary heights so that family members of different ages can have easy access to work surfaces. Keep in mind that countertops mounted at a maximum height of 34” must have room free of cabinets underneath to accommodate someone seated in a wheelchair. Even if you are not anticipating the use of a wheelchair, design an area for seated counter work by including either bar seating or pull out cutting boards. Avoid polished surfaces that will create glare.

2)     Lighting—A variety of lighting, including overhead and task lighting, will increase visibility and reduce accidents in the kitchen. Also, it is a good idea to vary the type of bulbs used throughout the kitchen since the light quality will differ. You may want use softer, traditional bulbs for overhead lighting and brighter fluorescent or halogen bulbs for under-cabinet task lighting.

3)     Switches & Outlets—Position these at a level no higher than 44” and no lower than 15” off the floor to make them wheelchair accessible. These guidelines follow the Americans with Disabilities Act.

4)     Flooring—Many people are traditionalist and believe tile is the only way to go in the kitchen. If using tile, opt for a textured matte tile to avoid slips. Consider softer flooring choices such as wood, bamboo, cork or linoleum. These materials can be less slippery and are also easier on the knees.

5)     Base Cabinets—Think about switching from doors to drawers. Drawers allow you to pull out the contents of a cabinet, literally putting everything at your fingertips. Cabinets with doors will require you to squat down and search around, putting stress on your hips, knees and back.

6)     Appliances—Refrigerators with bottom freezers are great options for children and adults in wheelchairs. Avoid over the range microwaves, locating this frequently used appliance under a counter to make it accessible to everyone. Induction cooktops eliminate the worry of family members burning themselves on a hot stove. And elevated or drawer dishwashers take the stress off the back, making loading and unloading easier.

7)     Hardware—Cabinet hardware is often overlooked when designing a multi-generational kitchen but this small detail is quite important. Knobs and latches require the use of fine motor skills not yet developed in the young and sometimes compromised in older folks due to arthritis. To encourage independence at all ages, cabinet pulls prove the easiest hardware to grasp. Note that this refers to traditional pulls, not bin or cup pulls.

8)     Walkways—Ample room to get around is important in any kitchen. Walkways and doorways should be a minimum of 36” in width. This will accommodate wheelchairs if needed. However, if you have 42” to spare, the added space will make a huge difference for both ambulatory and wheelchair assisted family members.

9)     Faucets—Single lever faucets are easiest to adjust and facilitate a wide range of motor abilities.

10)  Hire a specialist—There are ample resources available for free online, but some people may feel they need additional help. Certified Aging In Place Specialists are available nationwide for consultations to assist you in designing a kitchen with longevity.

Check out Horton Brasses selection of cabinet pulls for reproduction period hardware that will age just as well as you!

2 thoughts on “Universal Design for Multi-generational Kitchens

  1. Crown Point Cabinetry says:

    Great tips for universal design! We’ve seen an increase in demand for these features in our cabinetry. People are making excellent use of roll-out storage in base cabinetry, hands-free/toe-touch trash bins, pull down shelving and much more.


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