“Let’s Help People See The Need For Safety In Kitchen Design”

Thinking of remodeling a kitchen is a popular pastime that many people engage in, whether they are serious about the improvement or just casually considering it. There are books, online advice, videos, and home improvement TV programs on this subject. There is no end of ideas on how to proceed, and many come with a sizable budget. 

While many of these ideas are attractive and would make a great looking kitchen, they may not do what we would like to happen in a kitchen makeover. We are concerned with safety and accessibility as much as appearance. In fact, given aesthetics or function, we would lean toward the purposeful side.

Some expressed desires that people have in redoing their kitchen is to replace older and less efficient appliances with newer energy efficient appliances (especially ones that they didn’t already have such as a dishwasher, a microwave, or garbage disposal), to create more cabinet space, and add more countertop space for food preparation. Many people like the idea of an eat-in kitchen or desire to have an island in their kitchen.

What fails to make the top items on people’s lists are important safety considerations such as flooring, lighting, hardware, and cabinet and appliance access. They want storage and efficiency, but they seem less concerned with function.

What we need to share with people as they plan their kitchen makeover, particularly those without any urgent medical needs, is that their kitchens aren’t just for them. There are many other people for whom those kitchens need to function well. It might be visiting family members or young adult children home from college or their out-of-town residence. It could be neighbors that stop in for a visit. It could be elderly parents who live with them part of the year or full-time. It could be people that come to a party or event. It could even be a caregiver at a later time.

With that number of people in the kitchen – at various times or mostly all at once – accessibility is a huge consideration. This factors into whether an island is advisable to recommend or consider for our clients. While islands aesthetically pleasing, they may not belong because the floor space of the kitchen is too small to allow them to fit in comfortably and still allow for use of the island, people and opposite cabinets and work areas at the same time, and provide for safe passage in the aisle between the island and perimeter cabinets.

Lighting factors in also, as people need plenty of lighting – and in the right locations and intensity – to perform the various tasks in the kitchen, from having general lighting, area lighting, task lighting, ambient lighting (toe-kick or soffit), and specialty lighting. Lighting in the kitchen is so much more than a central ceiling fixture that can be turned on or off or high-hats (cans, recessed, or pots) that may not illuminate work surfaces or cause people to cast a shadow on their work because of the location of the overhead lighting. Time of day has a lot to do with effective lighting also. During daytime hours the kitchen may have sufficient lighting but at night it becomes less well-lit. Glare is another factor that needs to be addressed when considering lighting and daylight.

Other areas of concern are flooring (resilient yet solid is a good choice), cabinet and drawer hardware that can be grasped easily regardless of arthritis or other hand limitations that someone may have, and appliance location so that controls can be accessed easily from a seated as well as a standing position and that digital displays are at eye-level or below.

Designing or redesigning a kitchen – for specific needs or just for general aging in place – takes many factors into account and is much more than the obvious of creating more space or usable area. Helping people to remain safe in their kitchens by creating accessibility and ease of use are key areas of emphasis.

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