How to design a kitchen that will accommodate your needs as you age
Today, many older Americans are more active than ever, taking on marathons, obstacle course races, triathlons, Pilates, yoga and other age-defying activities. It’s not a stretch to say that 50 is the new 35.
The side effects of all this activity are better fitness and increased longevity. Despite this, bending down to get something from the bottom shelf of your pantry can still be a struggle for all ages.
If you’re a baby boomer, you’re going to want the hardest-working room in your house to keep up with your lifestyle. An aging in place — or athlete in place, if you prefer — kitchen can be your body’s best friend (at any age). Here’s how to get an aging-in-place (AIP) kitchen:
Polished stone may look gorgeous in a hotel lobby, but it’s not the ideal surface for an AIP kitchen. First, it can be super-slick (and a broken hip waiting to happen). Second, it’s extremely hard underfoot. So even if you don’t slip and fall on it, it’s going to take its toll on your feet, knees, hips and back. You’re going to want to preserve those for your next race or Zumba class.
If you have floors like this that you can’t bear (or afford) to part with, look into a professionally-applied anti-slip treatment. If you’re in the market for new floors, reclaimed wood or linoleum will be softer (and less slick). If you opt for harder porcelain or ceramic tile — both low-maintenance, durable flooring options — consider adding an anti-fatigue mat in the area where you stand the longest.
Accessorize! Roll-out trays, swing-out units, back of door organizers, Lazy Susans, backsplash and drawer organizers can all make your kitchen gear easier to find and reach. They can also increase the storage and resale value of your kitchen. (Most high-end kitchens are full of these accessories.)
You’re also going to want your cabinet hardware (as well as your entry door and faucets), to have easy-to-operate handles, rather than knobs. When your hands are tired from gripping a tennis racket all weekend, they’ll thank you for this choice.
Climbing up and off of barstools is no fun when you’re stiff and sore from a weekend event or have any balance issues. Consider counter height stools or chairs at a lowered eating counter instead. Lowered counters are also great for wheelchair users and those who would rather sit than stand while doing meal prep. Seating with a back will be more comfortable than seating without.
Lighting is essential at all ages, but especially for older eyes and kitchens, where task tools include sharp knives and small-print recipes. Cool-burning LEDs are ideal for under-cabinet lights to illuminate work surfaces. Any seated areas where you’re likely to catch up on the day’s news should also have good lighting.
Too often, our vent fans go unused because they’re inefficient and noisy. This becomes an even bigger issue as we lose some of our hearing with time. It can also be an issue for anyone with respiratory issues. Consider replacing a poorly working vent hood with a more powerful, but quiet, model. They are made in configurations for mounting under cabinets, against walls or over islands. An appliance specialist can help you choose the right model for your cooking zone.
A cooktop and ovens mounted at a comfortable height will be more ergonomic than a range, especially when cooking big roasts or turkeys.
f you’re buying a new-construction home, work with your builder and, potentially, a Certified Aging in Place Specialist to address both your current and future needs. This can help you remain safer, more productive, comfortable and independent in your home for as long as you wish to remain there.
Jamie Gold, CKD, CAPS, MCTWC is a wellness design consultant, Certified Kitchen Designer and the author of the New Bathroom Idea Book and New Kitchen Ideas That Work, (Taunton Press). Jamie can be found online at jamiegold.net.