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How Baby Boomers are Influencing Design

Part 2: Keeping Kitchens Fully Functional At Any Age

5/30/2014 4:00:00 PM
Article by Holly Berecz

This accessible kitchen by Square Deal Remodeling Co. includes recessed fronts at the cooktop and sink cabinets, along with a shallow basin sink, helping to keep everything within easy reach.

Part 2: Keeping Kitchens Fully Functional At Any Age

A kitchen has a lot of moving parts. So, when users’ mobility is hindered, or they just can’t quite bend and stretch as easily as they once did, it can be a real challenge to keep the kitchen fully functional. This is exceptionally important for our industry to understand since, according to the most recent U.S. Census, the senior age group is now, for the first time ever, the largest in terms of size and percent of the U.S. population. As we mentioned last month, Baby Boomers, the 77 million people born between 1946 and 1964, began turning 65 three years ago. And this segment of the population is ready and willing to spend their hard-earned income on their homes so that they might “age in place” and enjoy their retirement years.

The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) predicts that the aging in place remodeling market will account for $20- to $25-billion dollars this year. That’s about 10-percent of the $214 billion home improvement industry. Besides the bathroom, which we explored last month, the kitchen is the other room in the home that Boomers are modifying for better access as they age. From easier to use appliances to reachable cabinets and countertops, here are a few things to keep in mind as you help your clients create a kitchen they’ll live with for years to come.

Cabinets provide the outline of any functional kitchen, so it’s important that the cabinetry is designed to house the necessary appliances and accessories that make it easier to cook and clean in the kitchen. Even if your client possesses full mobility when beginning a remodel, it’s important to ask them if they’re planning to age in place. If they are, why not make the necessary cabinet adjustments now? After all “accessible” means easier for everyone to use, not just the one with limited movement or a disability. Laying out a kitchen that requires less bending, stooping, reaching, and stretching now could even help to save their knees and joints in the long run.

When remodeling a kitchen for a Baby Boomer, Here are some key things to consider:

  • Open shelving makes frequently used items both easier to see and to reach.
  • Install lazy Susans or drawers in lower cabinets and pull-down shelving in upper cabinets whenever you can.
  • Opt for lever or “D” shaped handles instead of knobs. They’re easier to open and close.
  • Drop upper cabinets down at least three inches lower than standard height for easier access.

The most important countertop detail for those aging in place is ease of reaching the work area. Multi-level countertops are key for a truly accessible kitchen. Consider designing both a level where one can sit and work as well as a standard 36-inch level where visitors could comfortably stand to help out. You may also wish to consider including a taller height countertop, maybe measuring about 42-inches. This is ideal for those who still prefer to stand, but don’t want to bend as far. Other important countertop tips include:

  • Pick a surface that will be easy to maintain and doesn’t require special cleaning or sealing. Quartz surfacing is often a good choice since it comes in an array of colors and patterns.
  • Skip the square edges. Install countertops with rounded edges and corners to reduce the potential for injuries.
  • Design a countertop that leaves plenty of space for storage and small appliances. This will help to reduce clutter, thereby reducing accidents.
  • Kick the under-counter lighting up a notch. Having plenty of light in work areas will reduce eyestrain.

This wheelchair accessible kitchen by San Luis Kitchen Co. includes custom-height counters, high toe kicks, and recessed knee areas, plus easy-reach pullouts and lazy Susans.

An easily accessible sink is important since most of our time in the kitchen is spent hovering over this important water source. One example of a sink that’s easy to use and durable is the Prevoir Stainless Steel Top Mount Kitchen Sink from American Standard. It features a bowl just 6-inches deep. The shallow depth makes daily tasks like washing dishes easier and more comfortable, especially for someone with limited mobility in their arms, shoulders or back. Plus, if an item is dropped in the sink, it’s easier to retrieve. More advice to consider when designing a sink area includes:

  • Use a hands-free or lever-handled faucet for ease of use.
  • Leave the space under the sink open so that someone in a wheelchair could use it comfortably.
  • Incorporate anti-scald devices to prevent burns.
  • Adjust the height to suit the homeowner, or consider one of the motorized, adjustable-height sinks on the market.

With appliances, it’s all about safety. For someone with limited mobility, there’s a drastic increase of burn risk. So, proper placement of items like microwaves and cooktops can make all the difference.

  • Dishwasher drawers may be a good option since they are easier to open and require less bending and reaching.
  • If a standard dishwasher is selected, consider raising the height for easier access.
  • Choose a cooktop over a range. They cool much faster and have smooth tops for easy transition from stove to countertop.
  • Go with a cooktop with color indicators to let the user know when the burners are still hot as well as front-mounted controls to prevent burns when reaching over burners.
  • Opt for a microwave that offers one-touch cooking, visual indicators (rather than just a beep), and simple, easy to read controls.
  • A microwave drawer is a good choice, as is one installed under the counter rather than above.

For more advice on creating a safe kitchen that your clients can easily navigate as they age, check out “Aging in Your Own Space” from the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) and “Aging in Place.” 

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