There’s a reason we call our kitchens the “heart of the home.” It’s where we make forever memories. Watching mom make breakfast every morning. Teaching our little ones to cook for the first time. Gathering generations together for holiday baking. And celebrating every other type of life accomplishment and milestone in this space. Kitchen appliances and the materials used have continued to improve and today a modern kitchen is synonymous with what we consider in an “aging in place kitchen design“.
So it’s no surprise we tend to spend more on kitchen renovations than any other home modifications. In fact, investment in a typical kitchen remodel rose 27 percent just over the last two years.
What’s interesting is, while research shows we are living longer and that we want to do it right where we are, we’re still making choices that are only perfect for now — which can cause real living in place issues down the line.
While current home design and function are certainly key drivers for any kitchen renovation, we say, instead of spending big money on short-term improvements, every plan should consider both modern design and continued functionality over the long-haul.
Incorporating the Principles of Universal Design
Our guiding principles of continued functionality are from the concepts and teachings of Universal Design. This is the practice of designing and composing an environment’s usability and interior design elements “so that it can be accessed, understood and used to the greatest extent possible by all people regardless of their age, size, ability, or disability.”
So how do you modernize for the kitchen style you want now and the functionality you’re going to need later?
First, the facts…
A Few Fast Facts on Aging in Place
By 2035, for the first time ever, there will be more adults in the US than children. The Census Bureau predicts more than 78 million people will be 65-plus. And 90 percent of seniors already express they prefer aging in place in their own home.
When both Gen Xers (currently age 40-54) and Boomers (those age 55-74) intend to remain in their current homes for at least 11 years, it seems a kitchen renovation is a great investment.
Surprisingly enough, however, Home Advisor’s most recent Aging-In-Place survey only reports about a fifth of seniors believe kitchen modifications are even necessary.
Whether you are already planning or still on the fence about whether to modernize your kitchen, read on to learn more about how and why these renovations can help you achieve your live-in-place goals.
Updating Your Kitchen Footprint for Accessibility
In large part, accommodating live-in-place goals requires a slightly different mindset. Next to the bathroom, the kitchen is actually one of the most dangerous spaces in your home. Carelessness and forgetfulness are key ingredients in a recipe for disaster — cuts, burns, slip-and-falls, fires.
Add any number of normal age-related ailments…you get the idea. So when you’re planning your new modern kitchen it is important to incorporate accessibility and function for all sorts of scenarios into your age in place home design plan.
Take a Look at Your Floor Space
When planning an accessible kitchen renovation, take a look at the floor space. If you were to need assistance, would you say there’s room enough for both you and someone else? Would a walker or wheelchair have easy access? Do you think you could maneuver easily?
Luckily, open floor plans are a rising trend with no sign of stopping. So opening up your kitchen into broader living spaces and creating additional passageways are perfect in two ways. They are desirable for your personal long-term needs. And as some say, the best part is they look amazing! These renovations also add value to your home.
Consider Your Doors and Entryways
In most homes, doorways and hallways are only 24 inches wide. We imagine you notice already when bringing in your grocery bags each week. Again, what if you use a walker or wheelchair? Could you still get into your kitchen?
To give you an idea, you will need at least three feet to get around in a walker. That jumps to about four feet clearance when we’re talking about proper wheelchair access.
You could add a special hinge to any existing kitchen doors. But why not stay on-trend with your renovation project and remove them completely?
Widen your kitchen entryways both horizontally and vertically as much as you can. This includes removing thresholds whenever possible. A modern home design choice like this not only gives a feel of openness but true functionality for a variety of life-stage scenarios.
Choosing Functional Flooring for Added Safety
Choosing the right flooring can be life-altering in a myriad of ways. Hard surfaces such as concrete and tiles are terrible on aging backs, hips, and knees. Cooking, washing, drying, and every other activity you do in your kitchen comes with some kind of hazard of slipping, falling, and dropping things. Here are a few key age in place design secrets in modernizing your kitchen.
Save Yourself, Lose the Rugs
If you’ve got rugs, get rid of them. Slip-and-fall injuries happen all the time in the kitchen. A throw rug in front of the sink is a common culprit. Even those with anti-slip backing have a tendency to curl or lift on the edges which can trip anyone up regardless of age.
Think Textured Flooring
When someone slips in the kitchen and it’s not because of a rug, it’s usually due to liquid. Fortunately, there are currently a plethora of modern flooring options in a variety of textures. Textured flooring provides the traction needed to avoid slipping on a spill you don’t notice right away.
There are textures you can apply directly to existing flooring, but we recommend going with entirely new material in your age in place home design for safer, fuller coverage.
One technique that can provide a gorgeous modern look and extra added safety is to lay down small ceramic tiles — think quarter-sized or so. The slight variation between tile and grout provides the texture you need for protecting against slip and fall accidents. (This is a great solution for your bathtub surround, too.)
Get a Little Give
The truth is you aren’t going to anticipate your every future need. So choosing options carefully is very important. Select flooring with “give” to relieve pressure in your joints from upcoming holidays in the kitchen. At the same time, don’t choose something that could make using a walker or wheelchair access difficult later.
Ultimately, investing in a non-glare material is your best option to address all three of our suggestions. Some of the most up-to-date options among modern design trends include environmentally friendly cork and rubber floor tiles. Textured hardwoods are another long-standing, yet quite popular, choice.
Creating a More Maneuverable Kitchen
There are a few age-related conditions from which most of us suffer at some point or another. These conditions are sometimes related to things like injuries, arthritis in the joints and other ailments, but often even the healthiest individuals can suffer from mild aches and pains. The following suggestions address the most common: failing eyesight, reduced strength, and diminished mobility.
More and Better Lighting
Your best option is to incorporate as much natural light as you can. Opening up your floor plan should already expose any dark areas. If you need to, and can, add a window over the sink. Another super-sleek modern option: a long narrow window under your cabinets. In addition, simply adding under-cabinet lights will utterly change how you function in your kitchen.
Also, be sure light switches are wheelchair-accessible (lower on the wall). Instead of a traditional switch, consider a rocker-type switch or motion-sensor lighting, for easier use.
Ample light provides confidence in your work. It prevents accidents. And it reduces eye strain.
Countertops for Everyone
This is a big one. Height, reach, and other safety features should all be considered when configuring new countertops and cabinets.
Many aging-in-place experts believe multilevel counter spaces are a perfect choice. They increase both maneuverability and choice. Friends and family members will choose whichever counter height is most convenient for them. Standard counter height is 36 inches. Additional levels can be selected from there.
Rounded corners and edges help avoid injuries. Non-glare materials allow people to see better. And AginginPlace.org suggests adding an emergency grab bar on the side of countertops to help break a fall. What’s great is today’s wide selection. You can get a modern, clean-lined grab bar in a number of popular finishes.
Lowering Cabinetry and Pull-Down Shelves
Cabinets should never be difficult to reach regardless of age. For aging-in-place, the rule of thumb is to place upper cabinets 3 inches lower than usual height, but remember to maintain several inches of clearance above your normal countertop. If new cabinets aren’t in the budget, consider a pullout step installed under or on the side of the lower cabinets.
Another fun option is to add pull-down shelves to the upper cabinets and pullout shelves in the lower cabinets. You could even opt for an entire pullout pantry these days!
They actually tend to keep your pots, pans, and other kitchen utensils more organized while eliminating your tendencies to overreach. No more reaching way into the back of your cabinets means reduced risk of back and neck strain. As a bonus, it maximizes your storage space.
Getting Smart with Your Kitchen Features
Maybe you’ve already jumped on the Amazon Alexa or Google Home bandwagon. These devices allow you to use voice commands for nearly every activity in your home it seems. Ask for a recipe. Call out what song to play. There are even ways to connect your kitchen appliances to turn them on and off when needed.
This is just the latest in great smart technology for improving ease of use in your kitchen. Here are a few key renovations that will modernize your home in a way that’s both cutting edge and absolutely relevant to aging in place.
Smart Features for Sinks and Faucets
Your lower counter space should be outfitted with a shallow sink. Six inches deep is ideal for accommodating most mobility levels. And those are just the basics in kitchen remodeling for the long-term. Consider fulling modernizing your kitchen for the new age with any number of the following:
- Touchless faucets turn on (and adjust temperature) with the wave of a hand
- Voice command feature for specific volumes of water
- Hands-free soap dispensers make dealing with limited arm mobility better
- Anti-scald devices are practical in reducing burn injuries
These smart sink and faucet features look amazing while also making life more convenient now and keeping you safe in the future. Why stop there?
Smart Kitchen Configurations
So you’ve got motion-sensor light fixtures, smart sink and faucet features, and Alexa managing your mood music and recipe. Might as well think about the rest of the modern design possibilities. Here are a few of them:
- Side-by-side refrigerators are always best for longevity. But did you know you can have one that takes also inventory? Then, quite possibly create a grocery list? And afterward, even place an order for delivery? It’s true!
- Modern stoves, cooktops, ovens, hot food drawers — you name it — often have safety shut-off features in place that, connected to a smartphone, can monitor whether you’ve left without turning them off.
- You can even have an internal vacuum system installed. With a quick sweep of the broom under your counters, your floors can be spic-and-span. This is an item that can actually traverse the whole house, kitchen, living spaces, bathrooms, and bedrooms.
While You’re Re-Designing, Think About Re-Evaluating Layout
A side note, you should also re-evaluate the layout of your appliances. The general rule of thumb? Your oven and stove components should be oriented so that with the refrigerator and sink, all three should form a triangle for easier meal prep and cooking.
Furthermore, having your dishwasher just near the sink will also ensure ease of use. And placing your microwave near your cooking surfaces just makes good sense.
Ultimately, when you choose to invest in a modern kitchen renovation, you will always see a better return when you’re planning for now and the future. Once you say yes to that, find a contractor specifically experienced in aging-in-place modifications. You want someone who not only understands your needs today but can foresee what you need for accessibility in the future — all without sacrificing style and luxury.
A CAPS-trained remodeling contractor will do that and more. For instance, although it’s not required for residential building and renovation, our CAPS contractors understand ADA guidelines and often incorporate the organization’s best practices into your design.
Even when more extensive projects require an architect, rest assured your CAPS contractor has the right one in his or her network! Reach out to an Aging-in-Place Specialist with Live in Place Designs to learn more about what we can do to help you create your customized live in place design checklist, and modernize your kitchen with these ideas in mind.