Kitchens designed with accessibility in mind enable everyone, regardless of physical ability, to cook and entertain comfortably. Universal design in the kitchen incorporates easy-to-use features that make home chefs of all abilities feel confident and independent.
When remodeling or building a new kitchen, consider installing cabinetry and appliances tailored to universal design principles. Smart storage solutions, easy-to-reach work areas, and functional cabinet hardware help ensure the kitchen remains both beautiful and accessible.
We’ll explore nine essential universal design features to incorporate into kitchen cabinetry and storage. Implementing just a few of these adaptable elements creates a space suitable for users of all mobilities.
Traditional kitchen cabinets have fixed shelves, requiring users to reach high and bend low to access contents. Adjustable shelves allow flexible storage configurations, so each user can position frequently-used items within comfortable reach.
- Shelving moves up and down within the cabinet on built-in pins and standards. Pricing depends on the cabinet system selected.
- Open shelves above counters should be no higher than 48 inches for wheelchair accessibility.
- Closed shelves can be adjusted between 15-48 inches high. Vary upper and lower storage areas to accommodate different abilities and heights.
- Consider installing a rollout shelf in base cabinets near the stove. Lowering the shelf makes heavy pots easier to lift when cooking from a seated position.
Adjustable shelves allow the kitchen to evolve with users’ changing needs. As mobility decreases, shelving can be reconfigured to eliminate stretching and straining. When designing for aging-in-place, investing in adjustable systems ensures continued accessibility over time.
Pull-Out Cabinet Organizers
Traditional kitchen base cabinetry has a fixed shelf and limited vertical storage space. Installing pull-out organizers in base cabinets enhances accessibility and function.
- Pull-outs on full-extension slides allow easy access to stored items in back corners. No more crouching and reaching into dark spaces.
- Baskets, trays and vertical dividers keep contents organized. Everything has its place and remains visible.
- Sitting users can fully open pull-outs to bring contents within lap reach. No awkward bending down or arm straining.
- Upper pull-out cabinets near the cooktop give comfortable access to spices while cooking from a seated position.
Visit a kitchen design showroom to test various pull-out organizer configurations. Options accommodate cookware, pantry goods, utensils, and small electric appliances. Well-designed pull-outs maximize existing storage nooks while improving accessibility.
Installing roll-out trays under cabinets and counters transforms hard-to-reach spaces into easily accessible storage. Trays roll completely out on smooth ball-bearing glides.
- Provides comfortable lap access while working at a counter or sitting at the table.
- Keep frequently used cooking tools and small appliances handy but tucked out of sight.
- No more bending down to access storage spaces. Roll-outs allow easy reach sitting or standing.
- Enhance accessibility under awkward corner cabinets or angled counter runoffs.
Consider roll-out trays near the oven and refrigerator. Storing cookware under the work surface keeps heavy items nearby but secure from counter edges. Roll-outs under seated dining areas offer accessible storage for linens and serving pieces.
Lazy susans enhance storage and accessibility within corner cabinetry. The round trays spin 360 degrees to conveniently deliver items from back corners to users’ fingertips.
- Variable sizes fit corner cabinets big and small. Measure carefully to determine the maximum lazy susan possible per cabinet.
- Smooth ball-bearing swivel actions allow easy spinning with just a push.
- Can be installed vertically or horizontally to optimize corner storage.
- Open designs provide visibility, while enclosed lazy susan cabinets hide small appliances and pantry goods.
Strategic use of lazy susans limits the need for bending, twisting, and overextending while working in the kitchen. Place frequently used items on the front half of the tray for easiest access. Lazy susans allow efficient use of awkward corner spaces often neglected in universal design.
Touch-Latch Doors and Drawers
Cabinet doors and drawers with traditional knobs require tight grasping and twisting motions to open. Touch-latch mechanisms eliminate knobs, allowing access via gentle presses or bumps with wrists, arms or hips.
- Low-profile touch latches blend discreetly into cabinet fronts with no bulky hardware.
- Different opening mechanisms available, such as:
- Push-to-open: Cabinet opens with gentle press and closes with tap.
- Touch-open: Light touch in recessed area releases latch.
- Tip-open: Light bump pops open latch.
- Allows opening cabinets and drawers without grasping or twisting. Helpful for those with limited dexterity.
Try opening test drawers with taps of varying pressure to determine appropriate latch sensitivity. Too loose creates drawers that open unexpectedly. Too tight requires excessive force and defeats the purpose of touch latches.
Upper wall cabinets with pull-down shelves allow easy access to hard-to-reach items from a seated position. Also called lift-up shelves.
- Shelves pull straight down about 10-12 inches using chrome spring rods.
- Rods hold the shelf at an ergonomic height for comfortable access while seated or standing.
- When not in use, shelves retract flush into the cabinet.
- No major remodeling needed – can be retrofit into existing upper cabinets.
Pull-down shelves create effortless access to upper storage spaces. Strategically place them near frequently used items, like coffee mugs. Just give the shelf a gentle pull to retrieve items without climbing or reaching.
Choosing easy-to-operate cabinet hardware allows universal access for all users, including those with limited dexterity or hand mobility.
- D-pulls: Offer a stable handhold for pulling open heavy doors and drawers on base cabinets. Open by pulling straight down rather than grasping and twisting.
- J-pulls: Allow users to hook fingers downward through handle to pull open lighter upper cabinets doors.
- U-pulls: Provide stability assistance when pulling out heavy drawers like those holding cookware. Fingers cup underneath the upside down U-shape.
- Cup pulls: Allow use of fingers to wrap around and evenly pull open doors and drawers.
- Lever handles: Require only a light push with wrist or arm to unlatch doors. Helpful for those lacking hand strength.
- Wave bar pulls: Provide the stability of a handle with a shape that allows sliding forearms against doors to open nearby cabinets.
Try various styles during kitchen planning to determine the best assistance for weakened or painful joints. Mixing handle types helps differentiate cabinets at a glance.
Toe-kick drawers offer valuable hidden storage and elevation options in accessible kitchen designs:
- Allow use of the toe-kick spaces under counters and cabinets traditionally left empty.
- Provide access to frequently used items without bending down.
- Can operate push-to-open mechanisms, avoiding hardware grasping and twisting.
- Allow adjustable height storage by varying drawer size – keep items within easy seated reach.
Common uses for toe-kick drawers include storing cleaning and cooking supplies, plastic containers, trash and recycling bins. Shallower drawers can elevate seated users closer to counter work surfaces.
Accent Lighting Inside Cabinets
Task lighting inside cabinets enhances visibility, safety and accessibility. Well-lit interiors help users quickly retrieve items while avoiding excessive reaching and bending.
- Battery powered LED lights affix inside cabinets with adhesive. Can be retrofitted into existing cabinets.
- Motion-sensor lights illuminate when doors open. Helpful if hands are full.
- Connect hardwired interior lighting to existing under-cabinet task lighting circuitry.
- Toe-kick lighting casts subtle upward glows within lower cabinets.
- Glass-front cabinet doors allow ambient light into interiors.
Combine lighting strategies as needed. Focus illumination on top and middle shelves where small items get lost in shadow. Proper lighting creates storage zones that are both accessible and aesthetically pleasing.
Kitchen Cabinet Accessories Boost Accessibility and Function
The strategies above help transform kitchens into spaces suitable for users of all abilities. Implementing just a few fundamental universal design principles allows for safe, independent access in the heart of the home.
Work collaboratively with kitchen designers and interior specialists to identify priority accessibility areas in need of update. Discuss how you currently use your kitchen, and how your needs may change over time. This insight allows the design team to recommend customized storage solutions for your lifestyle and physical ability.
While universal design adds functionality, it need not detract from your personal style. Thoughtfully designed cabinets and hardware enhance usability while harmonizing with your home’s décor.
With some creative thinking outside the traditional kitchen box, your cabinetry can be both beautiful and accessible for years to come. Carve out a kitchen that uniquely fits you and your family’s ever-evolving needs.
Frequently Asked Questions about Accessible Kitchen Cabinet Design
Kitchen remodeling provides an opportunity to increase accessibility, safety and ease of use for cooks and entertaining hosts of all abilities. Here we answer some of the most common questions around designing and customizing cabinetry for universal access.
What are the most important kitchen areas to make accessible?
Focus first on installing accessible features where they will provide the most functional benefit:
- At the primary prep and cook station, incorporate rollout trays, pull down shelves and pullout organizer drawers within the standard work triangle formed by the refrigerator, stove and sink.
- For the seated chef, install pullouts and rollouts near the stove along with open under counter space for comfortable rolling room.
- At the clean-up zone, open shelving and easy-grasp hardware make washing and drying accessible.
- Ensure a accessible dining area nearby for both cooking assistance and seating guests with mobility limitations.
How much additional does universal design cabinetry cost versus standard cabinets?
The upfront expense to integrate accessibility features averages 10-20% more than conventional cabinetry. However, the benefits over the lifetime use of the kitchen make it a sound long-term investment.
Many universal design elements like pull-out shelves and lazy susans can also be integrated post-remodel if needed down the road. Preparing for future accessibility makes changes simpler and more affordable.
How do I select cabinet colors to create a more accessible kitchen?
While universal design focuses mainly on function, color choice also impacts usability:
- Neutral tones like white, beige and grey minimize visual clutter for users with low vision. They also allow easier resale.
- Avoid too-dark colors that cause visual contrast issues within cabinets and absorb useful ambient light.
- Glass cabinet fronts and interior lighting brighten interiors to easily spot contents.
- Open shelving allows those with memory loss to visually access frequently used items.
What style of sink should I install for wheelchair accessibility?
For seated users, a shallow single-bowl sink optimizes functionality. Significant features include:
- Insulated to protect wheelchair legs from hot pipes.
- Open knee space below to allow rolling room.
- Lever handle controls within reach.
- Side or front approach options.
- 34″ max height with pipes recessed to allow lap access.
Compare your options to select the right sink mounting, size, depth, and faucet type for your space and needs.
How do I modify existing cabinets to increase accessibility?
Several easy DIY modifications can help:
- Adjust existing shelves to varying heights or install new adjustable shelf pins.
- Add lighting to illuminate interiors.
- Replace small round knobs with easy-grip D-pull handles.
- Affix bumpers on doors and drawers to allow hands-free, light-touch opening.
- Install lazy susans or slide-out trays into corner cabinets.
- Under counter rollout shelves offer accessible storage in unused areas.
These simple changes provide significant functional improvements without major renovation.
What questions should I ask kitchen designers when planning for accessibility?
Discuss the following to guide an accessible and user-centric design:
- How will we incorporate universal design while maintaining my desired aesthetic?
- What alternate designs or materials may better suit my physical needs?
- Can we do a 3D kitchen model to test clearances and reach requirements?
- Will the design adapt well if my mobility needs change in future?
- How can we budget accessibility features where they will be most impactful?
Effective kitchen design balances form and function. Asking thoughtful questions and articulating your needs clearly allows the team to optimize both elements.
The inclusive kitchen design strategies above help remove barriers and enhance accessibility for all ability levels. Universal design not only makes kitchen tasks easier, faster and safer, but also provides intangible benefits like pride, confidence and independence.
Kitchens should evolve with users’ changing mobility and access needs over their lifetime. Whether building new or remodeling existing cabinetry, incorporating just a few of the universal design elements above can make everyday cooking easier while maintaining essential style and beauty.
Work with qualified designers to test specialized storage solutions tailored to your space and physical abilities. An accessible, adaptable kitchen provides years of comfortable, confident use and happy memories shared cooking, eating and laughing with loved ones of all abilities.