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Making Your Kitchen User Friendly for Everyone

The kitchen is truly the heart of the home. It is the “nerve center” for planning and producing meals and a gathering place for family and friends. It may take some planning to keep all family members and visitors included in the cooking action if one of them has mobility or function issues. With today’s technologies almost all of these challenges can be addressed with products designed for accessibility and some issues may just need some good old fashioned common sense.

Cabinets

Multi level base and wall cabinets can be designed in a new kitchen plan. They allow access for all family members, those with or without mobility challenges - children, adults or seniors - to participate in meal planning, prep and cooking. But if you’re not planning a major remodel you can add a small sturdy table (which is lower in height than the standard countertop) to the end of an island or line of cabinets to make it easier for someone who is in a wheelchair to help, too. Depending on how the table will be used, it may have to be secured to the floor, wall or adjoining cabinets to insure it’s stability. To help it blend in with it’s surroundings, it could be stained to match existing cabinetry or painted an accent color to complement the rooms color palette.

Base cabinets are the largest storage area in the kitchen. But it is often difficult to reach items stored in the back. There are many products available to not only organize your cabinets but make storage more accessible. For the do-it-yourselfer there are plastic lazy Susan’s that can hold small items that, with just a turn, can bring items up front. Drawers, pullouts (or rollouts) come in many sizes and configurations from coated wire frames (that just rest on the floor of the cabinet) to wood drawers that would be screwed permanently into the cabinet frame. These rollouts can be used to store pots and pans, bowls, small appliances or pantry items and can be found locally or online at various home improvement stores and websites.

Hard to reach upper wall cabinets can be outfitted with a pull-down shelf unit that actually brings the contents of the cabinet to countertop level. Original shelving would have to be removed from the cabinets and the project could be done by a homeowner that is used to doing moderate home repairs. Otherwise, a carpenter or local cabinet shop could easily do the installation.

Appliances

Thoughtful location of appliances can make a huge difference in the usability of a kitchen. Many of these ideas could be incorporated in a kitchen remodel or new construction design:

Under counter microwave ovens that are drawer style – provide easier access and are safer than reaching up for a hot or heavy pot. They open either with a drawer front handle or push button making it easy for people with hand coordination challenges to use. Since they’re drawer style (and below countertop level) it’s easy to stir ingredients without lifting the hot dish out of the oven.

Raising a dishwasher approximately 6 inches above the floor with a specially built wood frame makes it easy to load and unload dishes without hurting your back. This also brings the dishes to a level that makes it easier to reach the floor of the dishwasher in case something falls to the bottom and creates a higher countertop area that taller residents will really appreciate. Dishwasher drawers are being made by a variety of manufacturers now. They offer the opportunity to wash small loads (for singles or empty nesters) in one drawer or larger loads utilizing both drawers. Since drawers are easier for wheelchair occupants to access, these dishwashers afford an increased comfort level for a basic skill.

Adjusting the height of a wall oven, lowering the cooktop 6”, or adding a prep sink next to an island cooktop are all features that would have to be planned in advance when designing a new kitchen. Each is worth the effort because they make using those appliances a win-win situation for everyone involved in the cooking process. Who hasn’t had a large pot on the stove that was difficult to stir because you couldn’t reach over the pot’s edge? Or have you ever used an oven that was so low that it was hard to lift a heavy roast up and out? Or tried carrying a pot filled with water from the sink to the stove?

By lowering the cooktop the tops of the pots are within easy reach and by adjusting the height of the oven, not only is it easier to see into it, but heavy pans would be at a height that wouldn’t cause lifting from a low point. And, of course, gettingthe water closer to the range helps not only with carrying but also with adding water during the cooking process. (Also available are “pot-filler” faucets that can be installed by a plumber behind a range that is located against a wall rather than an island.)

Lighting

One of the easiest fixes, that’s extremely important in a kitchen is proper lighting. Task lighting, installed under wall cabinets, put lights where they’re really needed, in front of the user. Central and perimeter ceiling lights usually cast shadows on the countertop work surface because the cook is standing between the light and the surface. There are a variety of light fixtures that can be used for this purpose. Fluorescent tubes,

Xenon strips and puck style lights can all be found at neighborhood stores and installed with very little effort.

These are just a few of the items that can be addressed when creating a “user friendly” kitchen. If you’re planning a major remodel it would be wise to hire a professional CAPS (Certified Aging in Place) designer to help you get the most out of your kitchen space.

By: Carole Ponzio CAPS, CGA, Design Solutions! Port Charlotte, FL is a member of NAHB, FHBA, CDBIA & NKBA., Visit website

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"It may take some planning to keep all family members and visitors included in the cooking action if one of them has mobility or function issues."

User Friendly Kitchen Ideas that Increase Functionality

  • Multi-level wall and base cabinets
  • Convenient appliance placement
  • Build in rollouts & pull down shelves
  • Add task lighting
  • “CAPS” certified designers are the best resource (check local Yellow Page listing for a CAPS designer in your area)
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