If your kitchen doesn’t work for you or your family, it casts a shadow over your entire home. Although your family’s needs change over time, as do concepts of what’s desirable and fashionable in kitchen design, timeless kitchens embrace concepts of “universal design.” This means your kitchen can be easily enjoyed by a wide variety of users: children, older adults, and people of different physical abilities.
This article belongs to the Construction Process Series
What kind of things are "universal design" elements?
Working in a kitchen with universal design elements is more convenient and comfortable for everyone. When you’re planning your own custom kitchen from scratch, you can incorporate home design choices that will make it work for you and your family for decades to come. Universal design elements include everything from the layout of your kitchen to the finishing touches.
Layout and planning
- Open layouts are popular right now, but they also are a great example of universal design principles. In an open kitchen, there are frequently wide access points and walkways, allowing people with mobility issues to safely and effectively utilize the space. Counters and islands should have at least 42-58 inches of adjacent space for maximum mobility for all.
- Prep surfaces of varying heights can allow children or seated adults to easily participate in food preparation.
- An open layout with lots of windows not only feels more modern, it helps ensure you have a well-lit workspace. Make sure there’s enough lighting and that it’s both convenient and useful. Under-cabinet lighting and task lighting over other work surfaces helps ensure you have a safe area for cutting and preparing foods.
- Storage can go far beyond traditional, hard-to-access hanging and floor cabinets. Glass-fronted cabinets or open shelving can make it easy to locate items at a glance. Pull-out shelves and drawers make it easier to use all the space in low cabinets without having to stoop and crawl. High cabinets can be outfitted with drop-down racks to turn unusably high space into convenient storage that doesn’t require a ladder or stool. Using low drawers in non-traditional ways, such as for plates, can make it easy for kids to help set the table and improve access to heavy items.
Finishes and Floors
- Choose surfaces that are easy to use and keep clean but are also durable and high quality. Examples include poured concrete or granite counters and tile or glass backsplashes. Inferior products like laminates can contain chemicals that can be hazardous to your family’s health, especially in high-heat situations.
- Your floors should also be durable and high quality because cheap flooring material can contain toxic substances and harmful chemicals. They should be comfortable, slip-resistant, and easy to clean. Innovative, environmentally friendly materials like bamboo and cork can be economical and ecologically great choices.
Fixtures and Appliances
- Many new fixtures are not only convenient but also helpful to people of differing abilities. “Touchless” faucets, which activate by sensor, can make it easier for kids and those with limited mobility to wash their hands as well as improve food safety by keeping the handles free of germs. A pot filler tap directly over the stovetop may not otherwise be convenient but can allow older kitchen users, who may not be able to carry a heavy pot, to remain independent and self-sufficient.
- Install appliances, like ovens or microwaves, low enough to be easily accessed by a wheelchair user. A dishwasher can be installed a little higher than floor level, which will not only enhance its wheelchair accessibility but will also minimize bending to load and unload, making it more comfortable for everyone to use. A side-by-side refrigerator model is easiest for users of all heights and abilities to access both the fridge and freezer.
Following universal design principals when designing a kitchen in your new home can help ensure that your home can adapt to your family’s changing needs through years of kids, retirement, and grandkids. A timeless kitchen is the centerpiece of a home that stays functional and comfortable for years to come.
Whether you’re building your first custom home or your forever home, Homes by Brill home builders in Des Moines, Iowa, will help you every step of the way. Check out our gallery of beautiful custom homes for inspiration, then contact us to talk about how we can build the perfect home for you and your family.
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