Kitchens are an important part of the home. For as far back as we can imagine, kitchens have been the central part of the home. In colonial and frontier days, the kitchen was the main room in the home. Because the kitchen had the central heat for the home, cooking, eating, gathering, homework, family discussions, entertainment, reading, sewing, and most everything else done in the home while awake was conducted in the kitchen in many homes. Even in larger homes with more rooms in them, the kitchen still enjoyed a prominent role.
With this significant history, kitchens are still quite important today. We have living rooms, family rooms, dining rooms, dens, media rooms, basements, bedrooms, bathrooms, and other rooms to use also, but the kitchen often is where the day begins and ends for the occupants of the home – and those who drop in to visit.
For many years, the kitchen was the gathering spot for visitors that were part of our insider network. When the next-door neighbors or close friends dropped over to chat, they didn’t come to the front door and wait to be greeted. They came to the side door or back door, opened it, and entered. They may have knocked or shouted out a “hello” as they were walking in, but they didn’t wait to be recognized or formally greeted. In doing so, they came into the kitchen. The kitchen was the reception hub of the home. There they could help themselves to a cup of coffee and begin engaging the owner of the home.
Because the kitchen is still such a vital and important aspect of our homes, it receives considerable focus and consideration. Home shoppers (new homes or existing ones) are interested in kitchens – often as their top priority or main feature in a home. People who want to renovate their homes for function, styling, or potential resale often begin with the kitchen because they know how important this is to the character of the home and to those who might want it after them.
The makeover shows on TV generally include the kitchen as part of the process – sometimes the only focus and other times as part of the overall process. Again, this the kitchen plays a such a central part in our existence that it only seems right that it be a major consideration. After all, we gather, snack, prepare food, cook, eat, and fellowship after meals in the kitchen. We meet for drinks, coffee, dessert, snacks, or just conversation. Many a card game or board game has been played at the kitchen table. Insurance contracts and other sales in the home have happened at the kitchen table.
We have two options when it comes to evaluating the kitchens of our clients and then making recommendations on how to provide effective aging in place solutions for them. One focuses on fun – a look which is pleasing but still accommodating the essential needs of the client and their guest when they are present. The second is functional – looking at and addressing the specific needs (mobility, sensory, cognitive, or a combination) of our clients in a way that increases the safety and use of the kitchen for them, specifically.
In the first objective – fun – we might employ visitability or universal design strategies to enhance access to cabinets, drawers, appliances, workstations, and passageways in the kitchen. Stronger lighting (brightness and availability of it), elimination of glare, and flooring likely would factor into this as well. This type of aging in place emphasis is geared toward all users of the space – occupants, neighbors, visitors, and guests – and will include more visitable and universal design elements than specific ones for an individual.
For the second case, we want to match our client’s specific needs with function. We first do an assessment of what is working and what needs to improve in terms of how they are able to access and use their living space, including any challenges that are present. We analyze the physical parameters of the structure and its characteristics that would need to be taken into account, resolved, or otherwise modified to accommodate our clients. Then we define what we would like to do to offer our clients specific aging in place solutions for their ability or to soften the resistance that their living space is presenting in terms of them using the space easily.
Kitchens are important to everyone regardless of how large they are or how many people they serve. Our role is to make them more accessible, usable, and enjoyable, whatever the application.