By Anna Hazard
As much of the bulk of the kitchen area is taken up by counters, countertops, shelving, and cabinetry, these are very important room features that need to be taken into account when it comes to modifying a home for aging-in-place and accessibility. In addition, these areas are often involved in a high percentage of kitchen accidents, whether it's hand injuries while working at a improperly lit counter, bruises due to running into a prominent countertop or cabinet edge, or by falling or knocking over items while stretching for an out-of-reach shelf or drawer.
While a complete counter or cabinet overhaul can be expensive (to the tune of thousands to tens of thousands of dollars depending upon the exact style & features), there are also many lower cost options that can increase room safety and ease of use while not breaking the bank.
Counters & Countertops
As counters tend to take up a bulk of the kitchen area, modifying them for accessibility and aging in place is one of the higher priorities (along with lighting, flooring, and the kitchen cabinetry). In general, as with the floor and cabinets, you will want the counters to be comprised of light colored materials that will help brighten the room without having a shiny finish that make cause visual inhibiting light glares.
The material comprising the surface of the counters should be chosen with ease of use, safety, long lasting durability, and low maintenance in mind over other decorative aspects. Vinyl surfaces & laminates are particularly popular due to their higher water proofness and ease with which spills and messes can be cleaned up. Task lighting should also be installed directly over the countertops as these are an area of heavy use often requiring high visibility, deft motions, as well as often using more dangerous materials.
Otherwise, it's optimal that countertops be made multi-level so that they will allow people of various heights & health conditions to use them easily whether they are sitting or standing. This is especially necessary for those seniors who may later find themselves in wheelchairs or otherwise have health conditions that preclude them from standing for extended periods. Additional benefits to a multi-level countertop (as opposed to merely lowering all countertops to be easily used while seated) include the ability to use their higher portions without having to bend over or raise/lower from a sitting position.
When it comes to adjusting countertops so that they can accommodate those working from a seated position, the American Disabilities Act (ADA) recommends a minimum standard height of 36" with a required knee space underneath of at least 30" wide x 27" tall. In addition, it would be optimal to have a portion of the countertop at 30" high for those seated lower as well as having a higher section at 42" tall for ease of use while standing. All counters should have proper wall support (in case of someone leaning on them for balance) with removable base cabinets that can be converted into open knee space if needed.
For safety reasons all countertops (as well as tables & shelves in the general area) should have rounded edges to help avoid injuries in the case of falling or accidentally running into a counter edge. Optimally, countertops should also have accented different stripes of color around the edges for better visibility.
In addition, grab handles can be installed along the edges to help the user potentially catch themselves before completely falling over or to help someone who has already fallen to safely pull themselves up from the floor. These grab bars would help prevent the user from accidentally grabbing at something more dangerous while tripping, such as pulling down small appliances or a rack of utensils with them.
Otherwise, the kitchen area should have plenty of available counter space with regularly used items placed there or in nearby open cabinets. This would include proper room for small appliances, dishes, and other kitchen essentials without causing clutter that may increase the chance of accidents. In particular there should always be enough empty counter space adjacent to and opposite from all appliances so that a hot or heavy dish can be set down quickly if necessary.
Cabinets & Shelving
When it comes to kitchen cabinetry and shelving, the overall goal is to have everything within easy reach while limiting the need to bend or reach as much as possible. This can help be accomplished by reducing all upper wall cabinetry by 3" lower than conventional height. Otherwise upper cabinets & shelves should be converted to a pull down style to limit the need for stretching upwards. If necessary, additional lower storage shelving should be installed to help prevent accidents caused by falling while reaching for items high above (or having said items fall down on the user instead).
On the other hand, all lower cabinets, shelves, and drawers should be slide out, roll out, or pull out pantry style that will help make items stored deeper within the compartments easier to access without further straining the back or knees by being forced to reach inwards or downwards. Care should be taken that these sliding mechanisms are durable and easy to maintain so that they will remain operable for all drawers throughout the years.
It would be optimal for the base cabinet within the kitchen to contain roll out style trays as well as lazy susan turntables particularly within any deep shelves or in the corners of cabinets which would otherwise require stretching to reach. Frequently used items as well as heavier & bulkier objects such as large bowls should be stored in lower cabinets. Open shelving for easy access is also recommended for often used items with glass front cabinets suggested if closed doors are needed.
Otherwise, loop or d-shaped handles should be substituted in for normal knobs on all drawers and other cabinet doors as they are easier to grip and pull, particularly for those who may have arthritis or other hand strength & dexterity issues.
Similar to the kitchen countertops, the edges of cabinets and shelves should be lined with a contrasting bright color to help with visibility (both when manipulating objects on the shelves or when simply walking past the bulk of the cabinetry). Overall cabinet color should be light for improved visual contrast and brightness, but the surface should remain non-shiny to help prevent accident causing light glares.
View the Rest of the Series
Part 1 - Introduction
Part 2 - Exterior
Part 3 - Landscaping & Gardens
Part 4 - Patio, Porch, & Deck
Part 5 - Garage & Carports
Part 6 - Entrances, Exits, & Thresholds
Part 7 - Exterior Steps & Ramps
Part 8 - Threshold Lighting & Windows
Part 9 - Interior Doors & Halls
Part 10 - Interior Steps & Staircases
Part 11 - Interior Stairlifts
Part 12 - Interior Elevators
Part 13 - Interior Lighting
Part 14 - General Interior Flooring
Part 15 - Interior Flooring Comparisons
Part 16 - HVAC & Energy Efficiency
Part 17 - Power, Communications, & Other Interior Systems
Part 18 - Living Room
Part 19 - Kitchen Layout, HVAC, & Electrical Systems
Part 20 - Kitchen Lighting, Flooring, and Sink Faucets
Part 21 - Kitchen Countertops & Cabinets
Part 22 - Kitchen Refrigerators, Freezers, and Dishwashers
Part 23 - Kitchen Ovens, Ranges, Stovetops, and Cooktops
Part 24 - Kitchen Microwaves, Blenders, & Food Processors
Part 25 - Miscellaneous Kitchen Items
Part 26 - Dining Room Layout, Tables, & Other Furniture
Part 27 - Dining Room Flooring, Lighting, & Meal Serving Equipment
Part 28 - Bedroom Layout & Closets
Part 29 - Accessible Beds
Part 30 - Bedroom Furniture, Electronics, & Other Accessories
Part 31 - Bedroom Flooring
Part 32 - Bedroom Lighting
Part 32 - Bathroom
Part 33 - Laundry Room