Tuesday, January 2, 2018

"Kitchen Upgrades Involve Much More Than Just Modernizing"

Many advice columns, decorating sites, real estate sales sites, and others that have something to say about kitchen renovations - and especially adding value to a home - discuss kitchen upgrades and remodels in terms of aesthetics rather than function or designing for ability.

This is where we come in. As aging in place professionals, we are interested more in freedom of movement, accessibility, flow, reach, range of motion, mobility, sensory perception, and accommodating a variety of ages, physical sizes, and needs.

This does not mean that kitchen design cannot be exciting and attractive while remaining functional. People must be comfortable in their kitchens and able to have their kitchens serve them well, and not just have them win an award for aesthetics.

There are two interesting dynamics of kitchen design that factor into the aging in place emphasis we are working with: (1) overall size and basic layout of the kitchen and (2) budget.

Kitchen sizes vary tremendously with some that are as large as living rooms in other homes to those tiny galley or pullman style kitchens that offer a great efficiency but little room to move about in them. How we redesign or reconfigure a kitchen, the materials we use, the appliances we suggest, whether it offers eating space, and the amount of storage it can accommodate are directly related to the size and configuration of the kitchen. Totally removing everything from the kitchen to the bare walls, and not being able to expand it for any number of reasons, means that the general size parameters remain. The resulting look when finished may be very different than what it is now, or it might just be an update to what is there, choosing to spend money on lighting, flooring, countertops and other important safety components rather than a total rebuild.

People like looking at new cabinets, flooring, appliances, countertops, and other outward signs of kitchen composition. It's fun to shop online, at the retail showroom, or with a catalog. Then, there is the budget and the function. The items selected must be attractive, although most new items, when compared to existing features, will look nice regardless of the price point.  Still, there are many ways to accomplish a pleasant, updated look within a budget even if a little lower quality finish (less expensive) needs to be used.

Just adding more countertop space, more drawers, more cabinets, or even more cooking appliances won't automatically make an underperforming kitchen into a star. For our purposes, we are looking for kitchens that allow full utilization regardless of someone's age, size, strength and other physical abilities, or cognition. If they want or need to sit, there roll-under space at the sink, at the cooktop or island can be created. The controls and digital displays are at eye level or below (at roughly the same maximum height as wall switches). The faucets take little physical effort or strength to operate. Whether someone needs any or all of these helps in the kitchen, these are reasonable improvements that could apply to anyone - occupants as well as visitors - and whether they normally stand, sit, use a wheelchair, or balance themselves on a walker or cane.

Lighting is often overlooked in the kitchen for illuminating work surfaces and promoting safe use. Often people stand under the light so that they actually cast a shadow on their work area and make it harder to see what they are doing. Kitchens that are underlit or ones that have poorly positioned lights that create glare on shiny surfaces do not promote safe conditions. Others are fine during the day with natural daylight but very hard to see in at night.

People don't have to make a choice between creating a kitchen that is aesthetically pleasing to them and one that is functional. It can be both. The main thing is to make sure, regardless of budget, that it promotes safe, ease of movement, and full utilization of the features that are present.

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Steve HoffackerCAPS, CEAC, SHSS, is a licensed Certified Aging In Place Specialist - Master Instructor and best-selling author of aging in place books. To learn about this and other programs for aging in place or universal design, visit stevehoffacker.com or call 561-685-5555. Also, check out the "Aging & Accessibility" groups on Facebook and LinkedIn.