Have you noticed that kitchens are not just for cooking meals or washing dishes these days? They’ve become the heart of the home, command central, and the place where everyone wants to hang out.
For those of us in the Sandwich Generation, with grandchildren, adult children and elderly parents visiting on a regular basis, a one-size-fits-all type of kitchen doesn’t always serve everyone. When that happens, it’s time to take a look at the details that can make life a little easier for everyone.
Whether you’re planning a kitchen remodel or a simple kitchen make over, the details make all the difference in how comfortable you and your guests will be while you’re cooking, playing, or working.
- Room to easily move around. In the kitchen above, the space between the sink cabinet and the island is 42”. The National Kitchen and Bath Association has set 36”-48” as the standard distance to use when planning your kitchen. I like to think of a 36” space as a “one butt” kitchen…only one person can pass at a time. At 42”, two people can work comfortably, but 45” would be better. Now think about your family. Is someone using a walker or a wheelchair? Even if it’s temporary, they’ll need a little extra space to maneuver.
- Rugs. I love to soften the look in my kitchen by adding accent rugs at the sink and cooktop. But, unfortunately, they can become an accident waiting to happen. Be sure to use a rug pad to keep them from sliding…or don’t use them at all.
- Think of the little ones. If your grandchildren are like mine, they love to help out in the kitchen. A little detail that I’ve discovered to make everyone happy is a step stool. They can easily do it themselves (which is a HUGE thing to a 2 year old), and they now feel like they’re part of the cooking crew. Another little detail with big safety features are cabinet locks to keep the toddlers away from cleaning supplies and things that can hurt them.
- Lots of good lighting. This includes all the natural light you can get from windows. After that, I like to make sure that there is at least one recessed can at every work station for direct task lighting. Next, is the ambient lighting provided by island pendants. And last is the light provided by under cabinet lighting. Be sure to either put them on dimmers or have separate switches for different areas.
- Use levers instead of knobs. Levers aren’t just for our arthritic hands. Think mom-holding-a-toddler or yourself trying to open the pantry with an arm full of groceries. What would make life easier? A door lever that we can operate with our elbows.
- Bye-Bye stationary shelves. Adding roll-out shelves to your base cabinets and tall pantry cabinets will make your life SO MUCH EASIER!!!
- Faucets. Single handle faucets with pull-down sprays have been around for a while. But the latest faucet technology includes motion sensors so you can work hands-free.
- Heights matter. When making plans for your dream kitchen remodel or make over take the time to consider the heights of your major appliances, especially the microwave. When it’s too high, remember that for some people, it could be a problem. Have you ever tried to pull a bowl out of the microwave and forgotten that the bowl might be hot? You drop it, or even worse, spill the contents…and you get burned. Think about this happening to a child or your elderly mother. My least favorite location for a microwave is over the cooktop. I realize that many of you may have this configuration in your own home (we had it in our townhouse). But when you finally get to plan your dream kitchen, try to avoid this. Maybe select a microwave drawer.
- Other important dimensions to make life easier.
- Your Design Homework for this week:Compare these dimensions with your own kitchen.
- From the list above, make a list of the little details you can add to your own kitchen that will make life a little easier for everyone you love.
Well, it finally happened! The need for me to put into practice what I’ve been helping my clients to do for the last few years. Unfortunately, it’s too late. Are you wondering what I’m talking about? Let me tell you my story………..
Once upon a time a young, healthy Boomer couple purchased a three-story townhouse. They loved their spacious new home. But knowing they wouldn’t live in it forever, they chose not to modify it. After all, they were relatively active. The stairs were no problem. They were good exercise!
Then one day the husband could no longer tolerate the pain in his knee. Walking had become unbearable, which meant no sight seeing on vacations. Once he decided to have his knee replaced, the questions began. Where would he sleep and bathe and live during his rehab? “Of course,” they said,”the lower level is perfect! It has a bedroom, a bathroom, a family room, and the ever important TV and recliner.”
But when he returned home from the hospital reality set in for everyone. The walker he required could only fit sideways through the bathroom door. The bath tub had a sliding glass door, no grab bar, and no hand-held shower. The floors were high gloss ceramic tile, and the toilet was too low for the knee that couldn’t bend.
This made the wife worry that he would fall. His world shrank, and he became dependent on others to bring him everything he needed. While the wife was being “nurse”she began noticing other areas of the house that should be changed to make life easier for her husband. Wider doorways into every room, roll out trays in all the cabinets, smooth flooring to move the walker easily. So many changes needed for one unexpected surgery. If they had only thought ahead when they bought the house, or made the changes when they moved in, they wouldn’t be facing these challenges today. Oh how they wished they had been proactive!
The moral to the story: Life is full of changes, and our environment affects our life. Think of areas in your home that could be changed to make life easier for someone else. Universal design doesn’t only apply to the elderly or physically challenged. When you lower a vanity cabinet so your small daughter can wash her own hands, brush her own teeth, and learn independence, that’s universal design at work. And when you add more lights to your kitchen because your eyes aren’t as sharp as they once were, that’s universal design.
Basically, Universal Design is changing lives, one room at a time, and allowing us all to age gracefully in this place we call home.
How many times have we worried about our parents living alone in the big “family home?” Or maybe it’s not that big, but we worry anyway? Since most houses have been built for growing families and not growing old, staying in the home that we love, in the community we’re familiar with, gradually becomes a problem for us.
Master suites are on the second floor requiring many stairs to climb. Laundry rooms are in the basement, where we face even more stairs…and the poor lighting is often the norm.
Our parents want to remain independent, and we want this for them too. But often this requires making modifications to their home that they steadfastly refuse to acknowledge even if it would make life easier and more convenient. Because, after all, who wants to admit that they aren’t as “quick on their feet” as they once were?
Are they still active and want to make these decisions for themselves? Do they resent the fact that you’re concerned and turn down any ideas that you come up with? This seems to be a common complaint from the adult children I’ve spoken with. But I guess that if the roles were reversed, I would feel the same way. Who wants to be told by their children how to live their life and where to live it?
There are 5 levels of dependence that each require different methods of care.
1. Still active and independent – appreciate the concern but want you to stay out of it and let them live their life, even if you can see some ways to modify their home to make life easier and more convenient
2. They recognize a need for modification and are beginning to feel less confident or secure living as they have been
3. Assisted living or nursing care has been agreed upon and the family home needs to be modified, redecorated, or staged to sell
4. Your parent has decided to move to a smaller home in an active adult community, independent care, or assisted living community and needs help with the downsizing process. There’s a lifetime of possessions to sort through, redistribute, move, and set up in their new home.
5. Your parents are moving into your home and you need to make modifications or remodel to make life comfortable for everyone.
In which of these groups does your parent fall?
You may have heard the term lately “boomerang seniors” to describe aging parents moving in with their adult children. While the term is poking fun at the previous generations of children who moved back in with mom and dad when times got tough, the research behind the movement is real. Caring.com reports floods of seniors moving into the homes of the younger generation as a perfect storm of conditions prevents them from making the move to retirement communities when their need for care increases.
We found the idea interesting as it sort of puts a new spin on Aging In Place. The idea still involves adapting spaces and lifestyles, and staying in place at home – just in a new place! Eight years ago, before the term Aging In Place was much heard of, friends in Alpharetta, Georgia decided this idea was right for them. Their mom, Jean, had been living alone in New York state, nearly 1,000 miles away from her nearest family member. Jean was an incredibly capable 82-year-old who had raised four children on her own, maintained a successful teaching career and passions for painting and tennis. Jean had had some medical problems but was by no means in need of constant care. She was an active mature adult who wanted to ensure her future security and happiness somewhere she chose to be.
It worked out that Jean’s daughter in Alpharetta had an unfinished basement, ripe with opportunity. When you saw the space prior to construction it was hard to imagine the oddly shaped section, under the stairs, in the back of the basement would be Jean’s new home. But it worked perfectly! The apartment was built with the following considerations:
- The stairs leading to the basement had the ability to be outfitted with a stair lift whenever the need arose.
- All doorways and walkways were made large enough so that a wheelchair or a person in a walker could pass through easily.
- The living area and kitchen would be open and adjoining and have access to outside.
- The flooring was all carefully chosen to not contain large thresholds or stumbling spots. The tile in the kitchen and bath was non-slip and the rug was a soft Berber and not a high pile.
- Kitchen appliances were chosen that were easy to clean and even had the ability to “time out” and turn off.
- Cabinets were designed so all of the necessities were within immediate reach, with no straining.
- The kitchen and the whole house was well lit: recessed cans, under cabinet lighting, extra lighting in the closets as well as lamps.
- The bathroom was designed with a tub with grab bars and a shower with a seat and hand-held spray.
- Extra cabinetry was added to the bath and large closets, critical for someone downsizing.
While almost none of these items were a necessity the day Jean moved in, both she and her daughter recognized the future need. And their situation was fortunate in the fact that they had the ability to plan and design from scratch. Not everyone has this ability, most of us need to adapt spaces we’re currently living in to meet these same goals – and that is none the less possible! Designing for our changing needs and changing lives is something that is worth doing before the need arrives.
Now Jean is a happy 90-year-old great-grandmother who has the opportunity to live only minutes away from her great grandson. She speaks so highly of the experience of moving into her “Alpharetta apartment” and she takes the opportunity to show it off to all of her friends who visit, most of whom leave with many ideas on how they can reorganize and redesign parts of their own home!