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Today is May 30, 2020

Universal Design

By Laura Araujo

Universal Design

Kitchen renovation project. Photo by Laura Araujo.

Walk into any kitchen and its design will help reveal its age. Avocado and mustard-colored appliances: leftovers from the 1970s. Granite and stainless: marks of the early 2000s. So, what are the trends in the kitchens of today?

Elle H-Millard, industry relations manager for the National Kitchen and Bath Association, said today’s kitchens are moving away from one particular look and toward what best meets a homeowner’s needs and tastes.

“Anything goes today depending on personality,” she said. “More and more homeowners are pushing a custom design that fits their lifestyle.”

With this in mind, one of the design movements that has become popular is universal design, often referred to as “living in place.”

Mary Jo Peterson, president of Mary Jo Peterson, Inc., is a Connecticut-based designer, author and nationally recognized expert on universal design. She explained that living in place involves design that appreciates the differences in people; it recognizes that people have varied physical and cognitive abilities throughout their lives.

For example, a couple in their 30s may consider the safety of their young children during a kitchen remodel. They may choose to install an induction cooktop because it doesn’t get as hot as a gas or an electric cooktop does.

A shorter person or a person who accesses the kitchen from a seated position may need to position their kitchen storage and work surfaces differently than the way they are in a standard kitchen. Rather than stacking double ovens, one above the other, they can be placed side by side. This reduces the need to stoop down or stand on a stool, and it increases safety as hot foods are removed from the oven.

Ample lighting, including natural, is another key element of universal design. “As we get older, our eyesight deteriorates,” H-Millard said. “This starts happening in someone as early as their 40s. As our eyesight diminishes, it can make foods look unappetizing. For example, meat will look gray and have the appearance of being rotten. Color-corrective lighting can help with that.”


Another element of universal design may be to ensure generous clearances in the kitchen – whether to accommodate a person’s mobility aids or to allow room for two cooks in a busy family to comfortably utilize the space at the same time.

“Universal design causes us to stop and think about the function of every element and what is the best solution for the space,” Peterson said. “The only rule is that the design must be beautiful.”

Peterson said universal design accommodates people’s unique needs and allows them to live in place and enjoy their spaces for longer.

Elizabeth McKenna, director of marketing and communications for the National Association of the Remodeling Industry, added that Boomers are increasingly choosing to modify their homes for accessibility in the aging process.

“Due to a historic low of inventory in the real estate market, more people are tending to stay in place and remodel existing homes to fit their needs,” McKenna said.

To implement universal design into a kitchen remodel, look for a designer with a CLIPP™ (Certified Living in Place Professional™) or CAPS (Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist) certification.

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