Kitchens are the heart of every home. As we age or experience mobility challenges, this essential space can start to pose difficulties. Universal design in kitchen cabinets keeps convenience, accessibility and aesthetics in mind. With clever planning and strategic use of fittings and organizational tools, it is possible to create a kitchen that suits users of all abilities. Read on for tips on universal design considerations for cabinet fittings in kitchen remodeling or new construction.

Choosing Cabinets for Accessibility

The layout and configuration of kitchen cabinets can impact how easily they can be used by people with limited mobility. Here are some universal design factors to keep in mind:

Optimize Cabinet Height

  • Standard kitchen cabinets are 36 inches tall. For shorter or seated users, lower cabinets at 32 or 34 inches high allow easier access without excessive bending or reaching.
  • Wall cabinets typically sit at 84 inches high. Evaluate if this is reasonable for the intended users to easily access, or if lowering to 78 to 80 inches is better.
  • Downward extending cabinets bring items 10 to 12 inches closer at the touch of a button. This greatly increases the accessible storage space.

Focus on Drawers and Pull-Out Shelving

  • Drawers and pull-out shelves in lower cabinets make contents easy to see and reach without awkward maneuvering. Full extension slides let you access the whole depth.
  • Lazy susans in corner base cabinets offer easy access to items in an otherwise difficult to reach area.
  • Pull-down baskets provide comfortable access to wall cabinet contents from a seated position.

Incorporate Open Shelving

  • Open shelves reduce need to open doors to find, grab and return frequently used items. Great for commonly used spices, cooking utensils and dinnerware.
  • Glass door upper cabinets allow you to visually locate items, while keeping dust at bay.

Select Accessible Door Styles

  • Drawers, rather than doors, eliminate need to open and obstruct kitchen work zones
  • For hinged doors, consider side-to-side rather than vertical opening. Requires less perimeter space for approach and opening/closing.
  • Doors that open by pressing on the edge or gentle push eliminate knobs and pulls that may be difficult to grip and require fine motor skills.

Accommodate Various Heights

  • Include at least one section of counter space at 34 to 36 inches high. This allows comfortable prep area for seated users.
  • Section of lower counter, sink and prep space allows children to participate alongside adults. Stool seating boosts their reach.

With some forethought, cabinetry selection and placement can make your kitchen gracefully accommodate all users.

Choosing the Right Cabinet Hardware

Cabinet pulls, knobs and hinges may seem like a purely aesthetic choice, but they have functional considerations for universal access too.

Door Pulls and Knobs

  • Loose grip or arthritis can make small circular knobs difficult to comfortably grasp and turn. Go for larger D-shaped pulls that are easy to open by pulling rather than tightly gripping.
  • Larger U-shaped pulls can accommodate fingers or the palm for easy open/close. Look for at least 1 1⁄2 to 2 inch depth and 4 to 6 inch width.
  • For those with minimal grip strength, choose pulls that can lay flat against the door surface and be opened by pressing with fingers, palm or side of hand.
  • Contrasting color door pulls stand out against cabinet fronts, making them easier to spot and operate.

Drawer Pulls

  • Same consideration for shape and size of pulls as doors. Focus on ease of use rather than just appearance.
  • Vertical pulls allow a natural downward pull motion to open drawers. Useful for weaker grip or arthritis.
  • For people with use of only one hand, side mounted pulls allow drawers to be opened with just one hand.
  • Loops or C-shaped pulls allow use of fingers rather than tight grip to open.


  • Self-closing hinges avoid doors left ajar that can obstruct pathways.
  • Soft-close hinges prevent slamming doors that can startle users.

Take the opportunity when selecting cabinet hardware to evaluate choices through the lens of universal access. Small adaptations can make your kitchen cabinets safer and easier for all to use comfortably.

Kitchen Cabinet Organizers for Accessibility

A variety of innovative organizational tools exist to make kitchen cabinets more orderly and user-friendly. Here are some worth considering:

Lazy Susans

A lazy susan is a round tray that sits on a rotating base allowing easy access to items along its edge from a single spot. Great options for:

  • Corner base cabinets and blind corner access.
  • Pantry storage to easily see and reach all shelves from seat.
  • Under sink storage for cleaning supplies within reach without bending down.

Drawer Organizers

Customize drawers to neatly corral like items. Options like:

  • Cutlery dividers keep utensils sorted in designated spots.
  • Deep utensil organizers for efficient storage of spatulas, serving spoons etc.
  • Separators for spice bottles, food wraps and bags.
  • Dividers for baking sheets, cutting boards and other awkward items.

Tiered Cabinet Organizers

Pull-out tiered shelves are great for storage and visibility of canned goods, mixes and other kitchen items. Configurable shelves allow you to customize heights for access.

Pantry Pull-Outs

  • Full extension pantry pull-outs allow easy access to pantry goods from a seated position at counter height.
  • Some feature dual-tier pull out baskets to separate like items.
  • Clear labeling helps identify contents at a glance.

Sink Base Cabinet Storage

Cabinets under sinks can be challenging to access. Install pull-outs or lazy susans to create an easily accessible home for cleaning supplies. Add hooks for rubber gloves and sponges.

Wastebasket Pull-Out

Mounting a small waste bin in a pull-out drawer keeps trash neatly tucked away but easily accessible for quick clean ups while cooking.

With some savvy storage accessories, it is possible to configure cabinets for accessibility, clarity and independent use by all household members.

Additional Universal Design Elements

Beyond cabinetry, a universally designed kitchen has features that support safety and ease of use. Be sure to evaluate:

Clearance Space

  • Ample clearance around islands and peninsulas for knees and comfortable movement. At least 40-60 inches between all fixed elements.
  • At least 32 inches of clear passage space for navigating kitchen in wheelchair or walker.

Work Zone Configuration

  • Logical triangle workflow between sink, stove and refrigerator. Limit cross-through traffic.
  • At least 15 inches of countertop workspace on one side of cooktop or stove. At least 24 inches on other side.
  • Side-by-side refrigerator eliminates frequent bending down to access fridge below freezer.

Easy-Access Storage

  • Carousel in base corner cabinet rotates for convenient access to canned goods and foods.
  • Pull-down shelving in upper cabinets brings frequently used items within reach.
  • Adjustable height storage keeps commonly used items accessible to users of varying heights.

Lever Faucet Handles

Single-lever faucet handles allow operation with closed fist, which is easier than grasping small knobs. Look for types with minimal force required. Pull-down sprayers with pause button minimize need to grip.

Touch Controls

For appliances like stovetop and ovens, softly illuminated touch controls are preferable to difficult to turn physical knobs.

Seated Working Space

Include at least one section of counter at 34 inches high and with knee space below to accommodate comfortable seated prep work.

A kitchen designed with accessibility principles in mind can be comfortably used by young and old, tall and short, and people of all mobility levels. Apply universal design insights, and you can create a kitchen for your family to enjoy for years to come.

Frequently Asked Questions About Universal Design Kitchen Cabinets

Kitchen cabinet design plays an important role in creating a cooking space accessible to users of all ages and abilities. Here are answers to some commonly asked questions.

What cabinet height is best for accessibility?

Standard 36 inch tall base cabinets can pose challenges for those of shorter stature or using a wheelchair or walker. Lower cabinets at 32 or 34 inches are ideal for increased comfort and access. Wall cabinets can also be lowered to 78 or 80 inches if needed.

Should upper cabinets be open or have doors?

Glass door upper cabinets provide visibility while keeping contents dust-free. Open shelving reduces need to open doors, but does sacrifice some esthetics. Assess priorities for form vs function.

What cabinet door style is most accessible?

Drawers and pull-out shelves improve access to contents. For hinged doors, side-to-side opening doors allow approach from either side. Doors that open via gentle press with palm or side of hand increase ease of use.

What should I look for in cabinet hardware?

Choose larger D-shaped pulls that are easy to open with loose grip or side of hand. Vertical pulls on drawers allow natural downward motion. Contrasting colors aid visibility. Focus on ease more than appearance.

What accessories increase cabinet accessibility?

Lazy susans, drawer dividers, tiered pull-outs, sink cabinet organizing tools, counter height pull-out pantries and other innovations can customize cabinets for easy access.

How much clearance space should a kitchen provide?

At least 40-60 inches clearance around islands and between all fixed elements. Aisles should be at least 32 inches for wheelchair passage. Allow 15 inches counter at cooktop, and 24 inches on other side.

What faucet and appliance features add accessibility?

Lever-style faucet handles, touch control appliances, and side-by-side refrigerators all support ease of use. Carousels and pull-downs provide user-friendly storage access.

How can I accommodate varying user heights?

Include some lower 34-36 inch counters and sinks. Adjustable shelves and pull-downs accommodate different users’ needs. A mix of cabinet heights suits both seated and standing users.

Thinking through these common access questions will help guide you to kitchen cabinet design that truly serves your family’s functional needs.


Creating a kitchen environment that gracefully accommodates users of varying ages and abilities goes beyond aesthetic design. By thoughtfully incorporating universal design principles into cabinet configurations, hardware selections, storage solutions and overall space planning, it is possible to build a kitchen for life.

Focus first on ensuring safety and ease of access. Then layer in attractive yet functional cabinetry, hardware and organizational tools tailored to your family’s unique needs. The resulting kitchen can be a space your whole household can comfortably use and enjoy for many years to come.

The right ideas and quality products make it possible to seamlessly blend accessible solutions into any desired design aesthetic. With good planning and some expert help, you can have the beautiful, functional dream kitchen your family deserves – a space that truly stands the test of time.