How to Design a Multigenerational Kitchen

1. Let Sociability Determine the Layout

The position of certain elements in your kitchen will help household members feel connected.

“Locate the cooktop on an island or peninsula so the cook connects to what’s happening in the rest of the space, whether that’s chatting to someone sitting at the table or keeping an eye on the kids playing in the garden,” says Alan Drumm of Uncommon Projects. “But make sure small children can’t reach pans from the other side of the island.”

“It’s a hard-wired human need to see people’s faces,” says Johnny Grey of Johnny Grey Studios. “If you concentrate on eye contact when designing a kitchen, it immediately opens up to multifunctional use.”

It’s also important to illuminate the spaces where people gather.
“Look where the best natural light is coming from and use that to plan the areas where the family spends the most time,” Drumm says. The functions that don’t need the best light, such as utility rooms, can be pushed to the darker areas of the plan.

2. Tailor Spaces to Everyone’s Needs

Grey believes post-COVID kitchens will need to support myriad functions — home cafe and restaurant, digital classroom, wine bar, play area, home office and hobby zone — and “should be newly liberated for gender, disability and age. In short: more fun, fewer accidents, more workstations.”

This approach is about designing welcoming spaces that foster independence for longer for those with sensory, cognitive or physical challenges. Such spaces also would benefit from attention to aspects including acoustics, transitions and zoning for people with autism, who can experience sensory overload in everyday settings.

3. Multiply Tables and Seating

For Drumm, understanding how dining and living areas need to work, how many people will be using them and for what, and how often the family entertains is crucial. “Dining and other tables can then be sized appropriately and planned alongside the kitchen,” he says.

“Where you put tables and seating will depend on the location of the cooking area, island and access points and the flow through the space,” says Troy Dehaney of Model Projects.

If space allows, different meal times might mean different surfaces. “Breakfast might be at a perching spot, snacks at a small, sociable surface, and lunch and dinner at a main table,” Grey says. “Or there may be groups of the household using multiple work surfaces at a similar time.”

To be fully inclusive, he says, tables, surfaces and seating should be at different heights or be height-adjustable and adaptable to different users.

4. Position Appliances and Fixtures for Usability

Plan for convenience and safety when locating kitchen elements, the experts advise. For example, Drumm recommends positioning ovens at waist height or eye level rather than below countertops. “It’s safer to lift heavy things out of an oven that’s raised off the ground,” he says. “And no matter what age you are, it’s easier to keep an eye on what’s cooking in an eye-level oven.”

Look for wheelchair-accessible sinks and cooktops and kitchen faucets with easy-turn levers or extended handles. Grey suggests housing overhead lighting and a range hood in a movable gantry, or adjustable structure, so it can be positioned in line with an adjustable cooktop.

Choose an induction stove rather than ceramic or gas, Dehaney says. “With an induction stove, the ring only gets hot once a saucepan is on it. If anyone rests their hand on it, they won’t get burned.” The cooktop remains cool, with only some residual heat from the pan.

Where possible, provide an area of clear counter space to one side of the oven, Drumm suggests. “This allows you to put hot dishes and plates down immediately after lifting them out of the oven, instead of moving around the kitchen with them,” he says.

Creating a single, high-visibility spot in the kitchen for all hot items just out of the oven will help keep everyone safe, Grey says.

5. Design Surfaces for Everyone to Use

Dot different surfaces and workstations throughout the kitchen, Grey says. “Mix those dedicated to particular tasks with ones that can serve multiple functions — eating table, workspace, bar, servingware. They don’t have to be big, but place them to ensure eye contact with family occupying other areas.”

Adjustable counter heights make food preparation easier if you’re in a wheelchair, Grey says. “Or fix them [28 to 30 inches] high, so they’re comfortable for children and you can also get a wheelchair underneath.”

Dehaney says that if there are young children running around, you don’t want sharp corners on countertops. He recommends having curved corners on an island overhang.

6. Choose Functional Flooring

Flush thresholds, floor levels and anti-slip flooring are all important considerations for full accessibility and safety in a multigenerational kitchen.

“Choose a hard-wearing flooring material,” Dehaney says. “The kitchen gets a lot of bashing, footfall and movement, so durability is important, along with ease of cleaning.”

7. Build In Inclusive Units and Storage

A three-generation kitchen will need to store an awful lot of stuff. “Think about the position of kitchen cabinets, countertops and storage and particularly their height,” Dehaney says. “Can everyone who has to reach high-level units do so? Look for clever storage devices that ensure easy access.”

Some accessible kitchen product lines, such as those by Roundhouse Design, feature low-hung, automatic, click-to-open wall cabinets that can be reached by those in a wheelchair. An extended handle can lower the cabinet contents to worktop height.

Installing base cabinetry with drawers rather than traditional cupboards means no occupant will have to crouch down or kneel to access anything located at the back. If you have to have corner cupboards, fit them with accessible pullout or rotating shelf solutions.

Keep heavier items such as pans visible and within easy reach and do the reverse with knife blocks, chemicals and anything else that poses a hazard to anyone in the house. Accessible areas will be different for individual family members, so make sure you think about all potential danger spots.

“Walk-in pantries with open shelves and everything on display provide accessible storage,” Grey says. For those with dementia, this can be more helpful than having items concealed behind a row of cabinet doors that all look the same.

8. Watch for Product and Technology Advances

“There’s so much smart tech out there designed to make what we do in the kitchen more precise and nudge us into using it in a safer way,” Grey says. This includes a “cook anywhere” continuous wireless induction cooktop that doesn’t get hot. Users can cook at any point along its surface.

Grey also cites voice-activated assistants to help those with limited mobility or dexterity control lights and appliances. There are ranges that switch off if left on too long, lights that come on if the kitchen floods and smart locks that activate on knife drawers and other potential danger points.

“There’s so much potential in the technologies being pioneered around safe cooking,” Grey says. These include sous vide precision cookers, connected induction systems and glass ceramic cooktops.

Given that one of the measures used to determine whether someone needs to go into a care facility is whether they can safely use a kitchen, these technologies could have far-reaching implications.

Tell us: Do you have a multigenerational household? How have you adapted your home to accommodate everyone? Share your ideas in the Comments.

This content was originally published here.

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