You have probably heard the phrase “universal design,” which includes the principles used to make homes accessible, functional, and safe. You may think it only applies to the physically challenged but, as the word “universal” implies, it is actually helpful for everyone. Due to an increased desire to make their homes more user-friendly, homeowners – especially those of the boomer-senior generation – often seek the addition of universal design elements.
There are three key elements to universal design: maneuverability, ease of operation, and range of reach. Below, we touch on a few ways we incorporate these elements into our clients’ homes.
Wheelchair users need a wider path between cabinets, especially where appliances like the refrigerator and oven are located, as well as the work areas. What we try to do, if space permits, is to have at least one area in the kitchen where there’s a five-foot diameter end run or center run so wheelchair users can easily maneuver their chairs. This isn’t always possible, however. On a previous job for a wheelchair user, we added four-foot-wide lanes between cabinets, which enabled her to turn around.
- Distance between primary work areas. There should be an equal distance between the sink, cooking surface, and refrigerator, with the sink preferably between the range and the fridge with no obstacles in between. The maximum for a kitchen triangle is 26 feet. Optimally, none of these lanes should be less than four feet or more than nine feet.
- Open space under the sink. It’s necessary to have open space under the sink to allow room for wheelchair users or to accommodate the knees of those individuals who need to sit often. The most desirable amount of open space is about 29 inches. Installing a double-bowl sink with the garbage disposal on the smaller bowl will allow for the doors to be open underneath the base cabinet.
- Multiple work/food prep areas. Having multiple areas for working and prepping food is a good principle in any kitchen. This will help accommodate multiple cooks or multiple projects going on at once. Base cabinets in at least one of these areas should be removed to allow for more comfortable seating.
- Varied lighting options. Consider various lighting options, including recessed lights, under-cabinet lights, pendants over the island, ambient lighting above cabinetry and even in-cabinet lights for glass door cabinets.
- Non-slip flooring. Floors should be of a non-slip material, with cork as an alternative, as it’s resilient, comfortable, and easy to wheel around on. It also reduces breakage.
Ease of Operation
In universal design, it’s important that kitchen appliances and storage are designed to provide adaptability for a wide range of preferences and abilities. Even the most physically fit person can benefit from ergonomics. Here are a few things to consider:
- Dishwashers and other appliances. Most dishwashers are not ergonomically designed, meaning bending and stooping is required to load and unload it. The bottom-hinged drawer also gets in the way of people moving around the kitchen and makes it much harder for mobility-impaired homeowners to load and unload the dishwasher. While a raised dishwasher makes it easier for users to reach in and out, dish drawers make more sense. Drawers are also available for freezers, refrigerators, dish storage, microwaves, and almost any other kitchen appliance or function. Traditional refrigerators are best, with French-style doors and a bottom freezer that allow for good ease of operation.
- Faucets. Pull-out single lever faucets are easiest to use for those with reduced hand strength. Avoid faucets with controls that take a lot of finger strength or dexterity to operate.
- Cabinet hardware. Replace cabinet knobs with easier-to-use pulls that have enough room for fingers to grip. Some cabinet lines can be ordered with motion-activated hardware. For example, you touch the door and the trash can rolls out, then you touch it again and it automatically rolls back in.
Range of Reach
Being able to reach things easily means keeping them within three or four feet of the floor. Consider these features:
- Cabinets. Wall cabinets formerly were about 18 inches above the counter. In an accessible kitchen, however, 15 inches is the standard distance. Pull-down shelves also make it easier to access items that are stored higher. Some cabinetry lines feature a push button for lowering shelves.
- When choosing shelving, consider ones that slide out of lower cabinets or use full extension drawers that pull out farther than standard drawers. Cabinets can also be equipped with roll-out shelves, lazy Susans, or corner swing-out shelves.
- Counters are traditionally 36 inches high, but a countertop 34 inches tall is more convenient for those needing to sit while prepping food. Conversely, if there’s a very tall person in the household, a higher counter can help prevent stooping and back pain. Adaptability can also be achieved by installing counters that are electrically adjustable, which are available from a number of manufacturers. Additionally, under-cabinet toe space of more than four inches will enable a person who uses a mobility device to approach more closely to the counter.
- When choosing a stove, make sure the controls are placed on the front or side for safety and so they can be reached more easily. Other household controls, such as thermostats, outlets, light switches, and window hardware, should also be placed in a reasonable range of reach. Rocker switches or switches that can be pushed on and off are a good alternative to toggle switches.
- Many people take advantage of pull-out steps in the kickplate. You simply kick with your foot and a platform comes out that’s sturdy enough to stand on to reach those higher cabinets. This is also great for children who need to reach the faucet.
Call Callen for Leading Kitchen Remodeling Expertise
While there are many suggestions for creating a universally sound environment, it’s all about personalization and the needs of the household. To learn what it would take to incorporate universal design into your kitchen remodeling project, contact Callen Construction, one of the top remodeling companies in the area. You can reach us by calling 414-765-2585 or completing our online form.