The kitchen is the heart of the home. Whether preparing elaborate holiday meals, huddling over homework, reading the morning paper or chatting with friends, people usually make the kitchen the busiest room in the house.
Kitchens for everyone are universal
Historically, kitchens were designed for average-sized adults who performed tasks while standing. Universal design — the all-ages, all-abilities approach to space planning — was conceived in the mid-1970s. Kitchen designers and the cooking industry have begun to realize that universal design isn't just for those with physical limitations.
|AD-AS offers the Approach to the Sink, which not only allows leg room for wheelchair users but can lower the sink to a 28-inch height.|
"From small children to grandparents, the kitchen should be safe and comfortable for all the members of a household. Products should fit the needs of people throughout their lives," said Sally Haile, director of Outreach at the Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. "Universal design is creative thinking outside the box. It is appealing to everyone. Universal design is simply good design."
Kitchen designers, builders and manufacturers have begun to appreciate that "one size does not fit all," and they're embracing universal design.
"Every kitchen can be beautifully designed and functional. Universal design creates a space that is unique to you," according to Mary Jo Peterson, a certified kitchen designer and author of Universal Kitchen and Bathroom Planning.
"If you use the kitchen from a seated position and your husband is a 6-foot-6-inch-tall basketball player, a good design will be flexible and meet all of your needs."
Whether you're building a new home or remodeling a kitchen, Peterson recommends hiring a certified kitchen designer. "A designer's greatest skill is listening. If they don't listen, get rid of them," Peterson said. To locate a certified kitchen designer contact the National Kitchen & Bath Association (see "Kitchen and Cooking Resources").
Universal design is growing in popularity because Americans are aging. The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) Remodelors' Council conducted its first CAPS (Certified Aging-in-Place Specialists) training in May 2002. The new professional certification is the direct result of their response to the American Association of Retired Persons' landmark study "Fixing to Stay," which found that Americans prefer to remain in their homes as they mature and they want a reliable means of identifying professionals they can trust.
Baby boomers are becoming aware that their homes won't fit all of their needs as they age. "More manufacturers are realizing there is a market for products people can use for a lifetime," said Charlotte Wade, senior research analyst with NAHB.
"Universal design's goal is to work for everyone, but it isn't perfect," Peterson said. For example, an oven with the controls located on the front is ideal for someone with limited reach, but it isn't the best choice for a household that includes children.
Designing a kitchen that meets all of a family's needs takes research, patience and the advice of experts. Here are some tips and resources to help you create a kitchen with universal appeal:
|AD-AS's Approach system uses switches to raise and lower cooktops and even cabinets.|
by Barbara Twardowski
I don't like to cook, but my family likes to eat. Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease has atrophied my hands, which are weak, and I use a wheelchair.
Cooking is a real chore for me. But we can't eat out every night, so I rely on simple recipes and customized kitchen tools.
A break-resistant mirror mounted over the stovetop lets me see into the pots. Wearing an apron with pockets allows carrying several items at once. When removing hot dishes from the oven, wearing oven mitts gives me greater protection from burns than do pot holders.
Small appliances can replace traditional cooking methods and are easier to use, especially if your kitchen isn't wheelchair-friendly. The slow cooker, commonly known as the crockpot, is my appliance of choice. By placing the crockpot on a table instead of a counter, I can see the contents.
An electric skillet also can be used on a tabletop. A traditional food processor is too heavy for me to lift, but a mini-food processor is lightweight and works well for small chopping jobs.
Kitchen gadgets are fun and readily available. I use a 6-inch strainer to scoop boiling pasta from the pan into the colander that sits in my sink. Another option is to place a cooking basket inside a standard pan, which avoids my having to lift the pan.
Poultry shears aren't just for chicken. I use mine to cut the tips off green beans and open frozen vegetable packages. One-handed cutting can be achieved with a rocker knife.
Fine motor tasks such as peeling and crushing garlic are easily accomplished with my Pampered Chef garlic press. (Attending a Pampered Chef party is a great way to try out products before you buy.)
Peeling potatoes is easier since I discovered Good Grips' ergonomically designed swivel peeler. The same company makes a wine cork pull that requires minimal hand strength and dexterity.
Kitchen products are available from local retailers, senior publications and medical distributors. If you take the time to browse the catalog or the Internet, you may find products that you hadn't imagined.
For example, the Uni Grip is a device that can be used to turn small knobs and faucets; it's available from Dynamic Living.
While it's fun to watch Emeril on the Food Network, I look for "real world" recipes. See "Kitchen and Cooking Resources," below, for some of my favorite sources of recipes and easy-to-use gadgets.
|The Accessible Home: Updating Your Home for Changing Physical Needs, Creative Publishers International, 2003
(It's out of print, but used copies can be found online.)
|Good Grips product catalogue
Mary Jo Peterson Inc.
National Association of Home Builders Research Center
National Kitchen & Bath Association
Southern Living magazine