The Kitchen that Could
Designers are developing kitchens that work for users of all ages and abilities
Lefties, Righties. Grandparents. Kids. Chances are you are
sharing your kitchen with one or more of these folks. And there may be a disabled person in your household as well. To accommodate this diverse group, designers are cooking up more innovative ways to make kitchens useable by as many types and sizes of people as possible.
A raised dishwasher cabinet and roll-under sink base.
What began as an outgrowth of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s is now a design discipline made necessary by the
advancing age of baby boomers and the growing number of elderly and disabled people who, thanks to medical advances,
are now living longer. What designers and homeowners alike have discovered is that changes made to accommodate the
disabled or elderly actually benefit everyone. And where does everyone usually congregate? In the kitchen, of course.
With so much going on, this busy room can easily turn into an obstacle course. That is why it is important for kitchens
to be designed for a family's day-to-day needs as well as for future mobility. Universal designers have taken the concept
once known as "barrier-free" design and geared it towards a wider range of people to empower each individual with control
over his or her environment. In practical terms, this means taking the standard design of a kitchen and turning it on its
head -- or, at least its side.
One for all and all for one
A pullout cabinet from KraftMaid's Passport series.
Designing user-friendlier kitchens involves new ideas as well as new appliances. "The kitchen is one room where universal design is incorporated through concepts as much as products," says Mary Jo Peterson, a certified kitchen and bath designer. "It's a matter of looking at things in non-traditional ways, with equal emphasis on the aesthetic and function of the space."
Remember the traditional work triangle? When laying out a more accessible plan, designers reduce the distance between any two points (sink, stove and refrigerator), to minimize the lifting and reaching as much as possible. For example, placing a dishwasher or sink closer to the stove results in less lifting of containers and cookware. In addition, raising the oven and dishwasher six inches off the floor can make it easier to transfer food or dishes to the countertop and cuts down on bending. And keep in mind, a path five feet wide is the minimum turning radius needed for most wheelchairs and walkers.
Universal designers adjust proportions to accommodate a child or those in wheelchairs by incorporating foldaway steps under the sink or by lowering cabinets. Sinks can also be built into adjustable countertops and raised or lowered mechanically with the push of a button. Staggering the heights of islands, countertops and cabinets is another way to create a comfortable work area, regardless of the user's size.
The knees be
This drop-in range features up-front controls and added knee space.
Peterson also suggests adding knee space
underneath workstations -- the counter, island, sink and cooktop. Items such as rollout trays
and pull-down cabinets also make storage more accessible for many. Another good idea is to place
an angled mirror over the range to allow someone in a sitting position to watch the contents of
the pots on the back burner. "Universal design is no longer a unique and separate design category,"
says New York designer John Buscarello. "Simple changes such as installing light-to-the-touch cabinet
doors or hardware that can be opened with a fist, contribute to the user-friendliness of a kitchen."
An accessible kitchen designed by John Buscarello.
Designers employ open shelving or clear glass doors to display items for the visually impaired.
Non-glare, matte-finish countertops with contrasting color edging can help people with diminishing
eyesight distinguish where the counter ends. Fortunately, such innovations are becoming easier to find.
"When shopping for new appliances, look for ease of care and operation," says Buscarello. "Universal
design has become standard operating procedure for many manufacturers. Before buying appliances,
check to see if the manufacturer offers such universal design features as large type and easy-grip knobs."
For more information on universal design, visit the Web site of the Center for Universal Design
-- Barbara Winfield
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