Universal Design is a great concept. It means that essentially anyone – whether seated or standing erect, with full range of motion or a more limited one – can function well within a home and utilize the appliances, furnishings, controls, and other items placed or installed there for general comfort and convenience.
Possibly no more apparent than in the kitchen, universal design comes into play. There are tall people and there are shorter ones. There are children and the elderly. There are people who wheelchairs all or part of the time. There are ones who use walkers or other devices for balance and support.
So, what can be done to help the most people – with the widest range of abilities – function well in the kitchen? Actually, there are several areas where this is accomplished.
Lighting – with the improvements to LED lightings and the drop in the price at which most bulbs are available, lighting in the kitchen has become more plentiful and better distributed. No longer limited to a ceiling fixture or two of incandescent or fluorescent, or a few recessed lights (also can cans or pots) with floodlights or halogen bulbs – all of which created shadows, hot spots, and areas where no lighting was available in the room – LED fixtures could now bring the lighting to where it is needed.
LED bulbs could now be used in cans and at a color temperature and intensity that was desired for the space, the work being done, and the preference of the occupants. Bulbs could be found inside cabinets and in drawers, in toe-kick areas (although fluorescent and xenon bulbs were used here also), on top of upper cabinets, and under the upper cabinets. They are part of range hoods, appliance controls, and indicator switches.
Thus, there is no reason that four or more separate types of lighting can’t be found in today’s kitchens, whether new construction or renovation.
Faucets – two handled or dual faucets have been the norm forever. Single lever faucets started to be become popular over the past few decades. Is one better than another? For the widest application and usability, the single lever is the way to go. It can be accessed more easily, not requiring both hands of moving between handles with one hand. Once the desired temperature is reached, and the single lever faucet needs to be turned off, the temperature will return to its last use when turned back on – no need to try to get it adjusted again.
With the single lever faucet, it can be turned on with the fingers, a closed fist, the back of the hand, the wrist, the side of the hand, or many times with something being held in the hand. This versatility is a big safety and convenience factor also.
Appliances – the typical stoves, refrigerator-freezers, and microwaves have shown great range in recent years. Stoves often have been replaced by cooktops – with the latest being the induction cooktop that is safer to use from a flame and contact standpoint – with separate wall ovens, sometimes paired with a microwave. Earlier installations had the wall units installed fairly high from the floor with the controls at the top so that they were difficult, if not impossible, for someone short or seated to see them and operate them. Now they are located much lower generally.
Refrigerators come in side-by-side with water and ice dispensed through the door, french door and armoire-style designs with drawers, and multiple door designs. There are drawer and under counter designs also.
There are many more areas where the kitchen is more accommodating to a variety of users than ever before. We’ll look at more of them another time.