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Universal Design in the Kitchen

Whether you’re cooking up a kitchen for a family member with special needs or just want to design a space that will work both now and in the future, universal design principles are the ideal place to start.

Photo: Roger Wade; Home by Riverbend Timber Framing / See more here
The purpose of universal design is to make a house welcoming and accessible to a wide variety of people, regardless of age, mobility or even size. As the heart of the home, the kitchen is an essential space to put this concept into practice with grace. Here’s how:

1. Insert an Island.

An island is a great addition to any kitchen. To ensure yours can be enjoyed to its fullest, make sure it has at least 42 to 58 inches of clearance from perimeter walls or cabinets for maximum mobility. Also, consider installing a drawer-style microwave, so people of all ages and abilities can use it with ease.

2. Faucet fixes.

A single-lever faucet is easy for everyone to operate, including those with arthritis or other grip issues. Or, consider a touchless faucet. These high tech wonders dispense water with the pass of a hand, which also reduces the transference of bacteria or viruses. Plus, a pot-filler faucet perched above the cooktop not only looks high-end, it prevents you from having to tote a heavy and potentially hazardous pot of water from sink to stove.

3. Refrigerator remedies. 

A side-by-side refrigerator with handles that extend the length of the doors affords anyone — tall or small — access to the items inside. A wide-open space in front of the fridge also improves accessibility and mobility for those in a wheelchair (and helps keep everyone from bumping into each other as they sneak in for a snack).

4. Contrast is key.

A dark-colored countertop on white cabinetry or, conversely, dark cabinets and light counters, will help those with poorer eyesight discern boundaries and workstations. An abundance and variety of light, from recessed can-lights to pendants above the island to under-cabinet illumination, increases visibility for everyone.

5. Comfort underfoot.

Choose comfortable, slip-resistant flooring to make the kitchen safe for all, especially kids and the elderly.

6. Storage solutions.

Open shelving makes locating and accessing items a snap (just don’t make them so high you need a step stool to reach them). Installing pull-out drawers in lieu of shelves in enclosed cabinets will prevent you from straining your back to reach recessed items. Keep heavier items, like dishware and pots in lower pull-out drawers so they are easier to remove.

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