Making Your Kitchen Both Accessible and Stylish
Courtesy of Center for Real Life Kitchen Design at Virginia Tech
Hear from designers across the country about how to use universal design to make your kitchen both accessible and stylish:
"We designed a kitchen for a couple where the husband is in a wheelchair but the wife is not. We put the wall cabinets at 15 inches off the counter instead of 18 so he could retrieve items off the first shelf.
"We lowered the second sink and the cooktop but kept the main sink and dishwasher at standard height. We used double ovens with doors that swing out and placed them a little lower so that the lower oven is within his reach. Rather than building the microwave into the cabinetry, we placed it on the countertop. The refrigerator/freezer was a top-bottom model with the freezer on the bottom.
"It's really on the island where all his special needs are met. There's a 30-inch-high cooktop and a 30-inch-high prep sink with an open space underneath. A raised 42-inch-high bar seating area at the island made a convenient splash area for the cooktop." -Vicki Edwards, CKD, ASID, Owner, Designer, Kitchen & Bath Images, Brentwood, TN
"A desk for one person can serve as a food preparation area for a shorter person. One client had poor vision as a result of complications from diabetes and lighting was a high priority. We used can lights, undercabinet lights for task lighting, and dimmers.
"If a client is in a wheelchair or has a short stature, the surfaces need to be lower. In general, a lower surface is better for prep work and for rolling dough because you can get better leverage. Some materials work better for everyone, such as a smoother countertop surface instead of tile. A smoother surface makes it easier to move items across the counter and clean up.
"People are aware of what's not working for them. They're looking to be able to easily access things with the least amount of movement using such accessories as rollout shelves and lazy Susans in the corners. All those goodies that we use in universal design can benefit kids, those in wheelchairs, the elderly, those with balance problems-everyone."-Marge Ling, CKD, CBD, Designer, Custom Kitchen Bath Center, Fremont, CA
"If the client is 7-feet-tall and has trouble bending over, then we can increase the height of the base cabinets. If a client is in a wheelchair, we can heighten the toe spaces or do wall-mounted cabinets and leave areas open under sinks and cooktops. It becomes more of a challenge to incorporate an Old World style into a kitchen for wheelchair access because the Old World style has decorative toekick areas, while an open toekick might lend itself to something more modern.
"There are faucets approved by the ADA that have larger controls and that don't have to be manipulated by fingers, but can be pushed and pulled with a closed fist. On cabinets, larger pulls and knobs similarly make for easier operation. An elevated dishwasher eases loading and unloading.
"To help with vision impairment, you could do more contrasting light and dark colors: light cabinets with darker pulls and white cabinet interiors to make items stand out.
"The cost can be higher for custom universal design solutions, or you can simply incorporate standard cabinets in creative ways at desk height and vanity height."-Scott Perry, Designer, The KitchenWright, Carmel, IN
"You can adjust the toe kick height and open areas under cabinets and sinks so that there is room for wheelchairs. You can also bring wall cabinets lower to the ground and set base cabinets at desk height. Many cabinet companies can do custom universal design. You'll have a lot more options for door styles with a custom cabinet manufacturer.
"The design should cater to the needs of whoever will be using the kitchen. If the chef has a bad back then he'll need more at higher levels, rollout shelves to get to the back of base cabinets, and decreased wall cabinet heights so he doesn't have to use stools."-Grace Bradley, Designer, The KitchenWright, Carmel, IN
The Key Tenets of a Complex Discipline
Everything-people, places, and things-is alive with Ch'i. That means it's important to evaluate your material possessions. Is the high-backed chair in your living room stylish but uncomfortable? Does your grandmother's jewelry box bring back positive memories?
Ch'i connects everything. The memories and associations of people, places and things affect you in positive and negative ways, as in the chair and the jewelry box.
Ch'i is always changing. A simple adjustment, like adding a pillow to the uncomfortable chair, or a more major change, like replacing it altogether, can instantly change the Ch'i of your home.
Changing one's Ch'i can directly influence the connection between your home and happiness, health and prosperity. Enhancing your home's Ch'i can lead to stronger relationships, better career opportunities or a financial boost.
You cannot divide your life into isolated components. The quality of each aspect of your life impacts the others.
Ch'i is stimulated by change. Feng shui must be accompanied by a willingness to change, ridding yourself of situations, possessions and arrangements that create negative energy. Similarly, there is no "end result" to feng shui. Your kitchen's positive Ch'i could turn stagnant down the road, signaling the need for another change.
Safety and comfort trump style. Feng shui is not about Asian-influenced furnishings or an abundance of wind chimes and waterfalls. Finding harmony in your life means creating an environment that you feel welcome and safe in.
These feng shui principles provide a simplified, Westernized take on a very complex discipline. They dive just deep enough to shed a little why and how on the intriguing world of feng shui:
Source: The Western Guide to Feng Shui: Room By Room, by Terah Kathryn Collins
Key Principles for Universal Design
Courtesy of Center for Real Life Kitchen Design at Virginia Tech
Universal design accommodates a range of abilities and minimizes physical effort.
The Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University offers the following seven principles as guidelines for making design decisions.
Equitable Use: The design is useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities.
Flexibility in Use: The design accommodates a wide range of individual preferences and abilities.
Simple and Intuitive Use: Use of the design is easy to understand, regardless of the user's experience, knowledge, language skills, or current concentration level.
Perceptible Information: The design communicates necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of walking ability or the user's sight and hearing abilities.
Tolerance for Error: The design minimizes hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions.
Low Physical Effort: The design can be used efficiently and comfortably and with a minimum of fatigue.
Size and Space for Approach and Use: Appropriate size and space is provided for approach, reach, manipulation, and use regardless of the user's body size, posture, or mobility.
Some Key Recommendations for Universal Design
Universal design can make the kitchen accessible for kids as well as the elderly or physically challenged.
To make the kitchen more accessible, safe and comfortable for chefs of any age and ability, the Center for Inclusive Design & Environmental Access at the State University of New York at Buffalo has a number of recommendations.
If you have bad eyesight, the center suggests installing undercabinet lighting and using contrasting colors in your design scheme. For example, light-colored plates and silverware will show up better on a dark-colored countertop, and canned goods will stand out more in cabinets with white interiors.
To keep the kitchen safe for running kids and unsteady walkers, pass up throw rugs and slippery floor surfaces such as polished marble or glazed ceramic tile for vinyl, laminate or hardwood flooring coated with a nonslip finish. Add a sturdy metal or wood decorative rail along countertop edges for additional support. Reinforce the hardware inside lower cabinet doors and drawers in case they are leaned on for support.
Avoid bending and stooping and reduce the risk of throwing out your back by raising the dishwasher 8 inches and using cabinet accessories like rollout shelves and lazy Susans that make items easier to reach.
Bring relief to arthritis with a single-lever faucet installed on the side of the sink instead of behind it, or with a hands-free electronic faucet. Mount a potfiller faucet over the cooktop so there's no need to lug hot pots back and forth from the sink. Select cabinet and drawer pulls large enough to grip with your entire hand or opt for magnetic touch-and-release doors.
To provide wheelchair accessibility and make room for people who prefer to work sitting down, raise the toekick spaces and leave open space for knee clearance underneath the sink, the cooktop and a countertop area. Also, allow enough room in a central area for a wheelchair to be turned around.
Other design tips include:
Use halogen cooktops. The burners glow red even if not on the highest settings.
Use audible and visual warnings to increase the chances that you won't miss a signal from the microwave, refrigerator, or other appliance.
Use a rolling server cart that coordinates with the cabinets to bring food to the table, dirty dishes to the sink, or groceries to the refrigerator.
Include countertop work surfaces ranging in height or adjustable in height from 28 inches to 42 inches to accommodate all tasks and statures, from children to seated individuals to those over 6 feet tall.
Store items close to the work area where they will be used.
Buy a side-by-side refrigerator/freezer to prevent stooping to reach into a top-bottom model.
Make preparing meals easier by placing refrigerator drawer units right where the food will be used.
Avoid small dials that require fine motor control or twisting of the wrist. Instead choose sliding controls, push plates, or push buttons.
Choose easy to clean surfaces, such as glass cooktops and smooth countertops.
Include a decorative, raised countertop edge to prevent spills from dripping down the sides of cabinets and onto the floor and to stop dishes and utensils from falling.
Add backsplash accessories, such as open shelves and hanging racks, to provide handy storage for everyday items from spices to spatulas.
Formal, Elegant and Classic
Designed by Cheryl D & Company, LaGrange, IL.
The medium-toned oak floors help balance this traditional kitchen's vivid, light- and dark-colored features.
Traditional kitchens have a formal, elegant look characteristic of American and European homes of the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries. Expect to see:
Crown and rope molding, fluting, corbels and other ornamentation and trim
Cabinets in cherry, walnut and mahogany
Raised panel cabinet door styles
Antique fixtures and appliances
Wood, stone or other natural materials
Victorian: Elegance is the catchword when it comes to Victorian kitchens. Cathedral arch doors and raised panels come into play, accented by ornate molding and trim. Dark and heavy woods are best when it comes to the cabinets.
Italianate: Much like the Victorian style, an Italianate kitchen relies on elegant cabinetry details, especially those of molding and trim. Generally painted cream with intricate raised paneling, these cabinets boast onlays, rope molding, and custom carved reliefs.
Georgian: Formal is the catchword when designing a Georgian kitchen. Look to woods like cherry, walnut and mahogany for your cabinets. Square panel raised doors are typical, as are heavy crown molding and stacked cabinetry that reaches the ceiling. Black accents (such as a painted black island) are not uncommon.
Other traditional styles: Edwardian, Colonial, Farmhouse, Plantation, Regency, Cottage, Cape Cod, Estate, Bungalow, Federal, Queen Anne, Neoclassical, Early American, Manor, Shaker
An Overview of Kitchen Styles
Like clothing or furniture, kitchens come in many styles. Since a new kitchen costs the most and last the longest, choosing a kitchen style requires serious thought.
Speaking broadly, it helps to know if you prefer a more classic or more modern look. Making that decision will help you start to narrow down choices on everything from wall color to cabinet doors. Picking a very specific design theme, such as French Colonial or Art Deco, gives you even more of a design road map. Mixing and matching styles typically is called eclectic, while a look that blends traditional and contemporary elements is considered transitional.
Click any of the bold links below for an example of each style.
Common Kitchen Styles:
Design Tips for Small Kitchens
Courtesy Plain & Fancy Custom Cabinetry
White cabinets keep a small kitchen light and fresh.
A small kitchen doesn't have to mean bumping into other family members while you cook dinner or cramming utensils into overstuffed drawers. With careful space planning and a creative approach to storage, you can transform that small and cluttered kitchen into a model of efficiency, organization and even style.
The National Kitchen and Bath Association defines a small kitchen as one that's 150 square feet or less. Of course, even a kitchen with greater square footage can feel small if piles of snacks, dishes, and recipes have taken over the countertops or if the design and décor contribute to a closed-in look rather than an open, airy one. To create a more spacious space — at least the illusion of one — the NKBA recommends using unique storage solutions, mixing natural and ambient lighting, choosing appliances wisely, and adding personalized touches.
Storage and Organization
Take advantage of all the new storage options now available. Go all the way to the ceiling with your upper cabinets to gain valuable space for seldom used items and make lower cabinets more accessible with rollout shelves, lazy susans, and tilt-out bins. Add depth to your drawer storage and your cabinet layout with pullout wicker baskets. If you aren't replacing cabinets, get more from your existing ones accessories such as tray dividers; lazy susan partitions and storage containers; and chrome-plated backsplash systems with cookbook holders, spice racks and wire baskets.
Lighting & Light Colors
Good task lighting becomes even more crucial in a small space. Place lights under the cabinets to illuminate the countertops. Bring in more natural light by taking down window treatments, adding skylights in the ceiling, and installing a greenhouse window over the sink.
From a design perspective, lighter colored cabinets, wall paints, countertops, and flooring will have an opening and brightening effect. Expand the sense of space with open shelves, pot racks, and glass-front doors.
Appliance Selection & Location
Thoughtful placement and selection of your appliances can greatly improve traffic flow in a small kitchen. Save counter space by building the microwave into the cabinetry and by installing a range or placing a separate cooktop over an oven. An appliance garage or pantry can keep toasters, can openers, and other small appliances hidden and out of the way when not in use. Choose sleekly styled appliance models to reduce visual distractions and contribute to a streamlined look.
Don't assume that you have to sacrifice the power and design statement of a professional-style range. Viking and Bertazzoni offer 24-inch-wide gas ranges specifically for smaller kitchens, apartments, condos, and vacation homes. Another great new space-saving idea is KitchenAid's Briva, a double sink with one side convertible to a dishwasher. Remove the rack, and you've got a second fully functional sink.
Take Down a Wall
If you're willing to explore changing the floor plan, the best way to expland a small kitchen is to literally open it up to an adjoining room, typically a family or dining room. Consult a professional to see if there is a non-load-bearing wall or two that can be removed, creating the space to add an island or peninsula. Or you could cut a rectangular hole in an adjoining wall, creating extra counter space for convenient serving and conversation.
For more ideas and inspiration, check out these books:
Making the Most of Kitchens by Gilly Love
Terence Conran Small Spaces: Inspiring Ideas and Creative Solutions by Terence Conran
Small House, Big Style by Paula Marshall
Compact Living by Jane Graining
Creating the Not So Big House: Insights and Ideas for the New American Home by Sarah Susanka
Mixing Traditional With Contemporary
Designed By Keystone Kitchen & Bath, Asheville, N.C.
Clear alder cabinets and hand-scraped walnut flooring contrasts with cream-colored horizontal planks.
Transitional kitchens include elements of both traditional and contemporary design. Eclectic in nature, they mix natural and man-made materials as well as finishes and textures.
For example, an Arts & Crafts or Shaker kitchen can be made transitional rather than traditional by lightening the color palette, adding bamboo flooring, and showcasing appliances rather than hiding them behind wooden panels.
Molding and fixtures aren't elaborate but do have some ornamentation.
Cheery, Welcoming, With Many Variations
Designed by Euro Design Build Remodel, Richardson, Texas.
Simple cream-colored cabinets with beadboard-style doors are used in most of this kitchen, but the dark woodwork on the island is rich and ornate.
Country kitchens are cheery and welcoming, with light and/or bright colors, painted and glazed cabinets, woven baskets, floral motifs, and decorative shelving and molding.
Expect to see:
Floral, checked, striped, gingham and plaid patterns
Window and wall treatments in fabrics such as chintz and calico
Beadboard wainscoting and paneling
Painted, glazed and distressed cabinet finishes
Chicken wire or metal cabinet inserts
Handmade, hand-forged, homespun look
Antiques and flea-market finds
French Country: Framed cabinets in either raised or recessed panels outfit a room with French country flair. Cherry and oak cabinetry-glazed, distressed or pickled for an authentic finish-reign supreme, though pastel painted cabinetry is also a wise choice. Decorative shelving, the use of beadboard, a butler's wall or pantry and plate racks will add to the genuine French Country feel.
English Country: Slightly more proper than French country, English country style relies on a square cabinet design accented by curves. To maintain a handcrafted look, light or natural cabinets in pine or oak are prevalent. A sizable wooden mantle range hood, wood cutouts in valances, and intricate crown and rope molding add authenticity.
Farmhouse: The words "wood" and "heirloom" should guide your decorative decisions when creating a farmhouse kitchen. Stained wood, both light and dark, fit in well, though excessive glazing and finishing can create a look that's a little too complicated.
Cottage: Consider driftwood-like finishes for a seaside cottage feel. If you're leaning more toward a lake look, a slightly darker (but still natural and wooden) cabinet is your best bet.
Other Country Styles: Tuscan Country, Swedish Country, Garden
"As the owner of several businesses including a high-end Italian restaurant, the kitchen was an important feature for this client's new home. This family is an extremely active one with three growing children, several dogs and cats, and a mother-in-law suite in the lower level of the house. A generously spaced room was certainly called for.
"Sturdy appliances, with pots and pans handy and accessible, were an important goal. Large expanses of countertop, two sinks, large refrigeration, several trash and recycling areas, three types of seating options in the room were far from luxuries-they were very necessary for all concerned to enjoy and use the space at once. A cozy two-way fireplace with club chairs is part of the kitchen, and a useful desk/TV/message/computer area all in one allow many activities to be carried on in the space at once. Several people can be cooking and/or eating in the kitchen at one time with lots of elbow room for all."
Designer: Cindy Snyder
Care Crafted, Ltd.