Aging in place design is an important feature for all parts of your home. Not only does it include doorways, ramps, and other ways to ease access to the home, but also bathroom and kitchen design. We’ve discussed aging in place design for bathrooms earlier in the year, so let’s focus on kitchen design for aging in place now.
The average kitchen is not typically designed well for functionality, let alone designed for someone planning to stay in their home as long as possible. Designing a kitchen for aging in place makes functionality front and center (but that doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice beauty). One of the most important factors in making a kitchen more universally usable is clearance. Clearance means the distance between edges of countertops, walls, and appliances. As a general rule of thumb, clearance between these items should be a minimum of 36”; although ideally, a minimum of 42” (if space allows). For those in a wheelchair, there needs to be a little more clearance, or a minimum of 48”-52”. This allows for clear passage throughout the kitchen without getting caught on appliance or cabinet handles, and space to turn around in corners. Along these same lines, it’s also important to have counter-depth appliances to maximize clearance.
When it comes to cabinets in an accessible kitchen, focus should be on the lower cabinets. It’s best to have the lower cabinets as mostly, if not all, drawers. Instead of the typical doors with shelves behind, this allows for easier access and organization. If you do have deep cabinet space below countertop level and your budget doesn’t allow to change them all out to drawers, you can look into adding roll-out shelving to give you better access. This will give you the ability to organize larger items like pots and pans or dishes. Not only is it important to make lower cabinet space easier to access, but also to move everyday items like plates and bowls to a cabinet below countertop level. That way, you’re not constantly having to lift these items above shoulder level. For those in a wheelchair, a standard 36” countertop height may feel uncomfortable, as it is above the ideal 33-34” height per ADA requirements. If you are redesigning your kitchen completely, you could consider lowering the base and upper cabinets a couple of inches to a more comfortable height. If you need to work with the cabinetry that you have, look into having a carpenter convert the space just below counter level to pull-out trays, countertop, or cutting boards for some lower workspace.
Low maintenance surfaces are also an important feature of a kitchen designed for aging in place. Quartz countertops have beautiful colors and designs that give you a surface that is stain, heat, and chip-resistant and doesn’t require regular sealing like natural stone does. Cabinets with flush (flat) doors and drawer fronts or simple shaker designs, give you less grooves and crevices to have to keep clean. For floors, slip resistance is key. Textured tile or LVP give you a pretty look that stays slip-resistant when spills occur but also are easy to mop and keep clean. With tile, just go for larger sizes to keep the number of grout lines minimal to help with ease of cleaning.
There are other details to pay attention to when designing a kitchen for aging in place to help with ease of use and safety of your kitchen. Of course, it’s ideal to design your sink in close proximity to your stove or cooktop; but a pot filler is also an ideal feature to eliminate the times you would have to carry a water-filled pot to/from the stove. A pot filler is a faucet that’s designed to go in the wall behind a cooktop. When it comes to countertops, make sure the corners of any island or peninsula are rounded to avoid dangerous, sharp corners. Another feature to not neglect is cabinet hardware. Pulls or handles are more ideal than knobs because they are easier to grab. Go with about a 5” wide pull so it’s easy to get your hand in to open the cabinet.
Aging in place design is important for all areas of the home, but there are so many ways to make the kitchen more usable and safer for everyone. If you are hoping to stay in your home long-term, talk with a designer familiar with aging in place requirements to help make your home more comfortable and functional. And don’t forget, functional can still be beautiful, too!