Universal Design: Designing for people of all sizes, ages and physical abilities

By Sue LeVee, Kitchen Designer

Kitchens are such an important space for all family members to comfortably use; these guidelines are important for every designer to have in mind!

“Utilize the principles of universal design to ensure your home meets the needs of all people. The worldwide movement applies to everyone, so it's sometimes called "aging in place" or "design for all." No matter the name, the theory remains the same: Your home should be welcoming and accessible to a wide variety of people, regardless of their age, size, or ability.”  -www.bhg.com

So here are some things to keep in mind...

Ideal aisle clearances are 42” to 48”. This allows maximum mobility for all, including wheelchairs or walkers. Plan for an area where the wheelchair or power chair can be turned, rather than backing up.

Appliance access
Side-by-side refrigerators allow easy access to both refrigerator and freezer.
Wall ovens can be installed at any height, making them a great, flexible option.
Some manufacturers even offer side opening ovens.
Ranges with controls at the front are easy to use.
Dishwashers can be elevated on a platform, or installed into a cabinet, giving easier access.
Drawer style dishwashers are great too.
Microwaves can also be installed at any level; countertop height or below is a great option.

Vary the height of countertops so that everyone has a comfortable level to work at. Table height is a great option, and if room allows leave an opening below for best access. If possible, an open space under a sink or cooktop also will allow full reach to the area for people who use a wheelchair or other mobility device.
Open shelving makes it easy to see items. Pull-out storage and drawers bring items forward to easily locate and grab what you need.


Lower cabinets are prime locations and should include storage for plates, bowls, and cups, as well as the usual cookware.

Pull-down wall storage units also help higher cabinets to be better accessed.



Make sure the whole area is well lit, especially in all work zones. Lighting under cabinets, inside cabinets, under countertops, and at the floor in the toe space can help people who are visually impaired.

Now a few final thoughts… All surfaces should be easy to clean and care for – from the floor to the cabinets to the countertops. A single-lever faucet is easiest to use, as well as "touchless" faucets. For cabinet hardware, choose large, easy to grasp handles; D shape pulls are best. Installing a pot-filler faucet by the cooktop eliminates the need to carry heavy pots from the sink. A wheeled cart can offer extra storage and food prep space, as well as an easy way to transport food and utensils.

So be creative! With some thought, you can plan for years of ease and function, without sacrificing style.

Posted by Sue LeVee – www.Cabinets4Uonline.com

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