• Living in Place

Do You Know How to Create a Safe Kitchen?

Louie Delaware, Founder of the Living in Place Institute, does.

Kitchens for Living In Place

How to Promote Safety in the Most Popular Room in the Home

by Louie Delaware, MBA, BSME, CLIPP, Living In Place Institute


Is This Kitchen Safe for a Wheelchair?

Is This Kitchen Safe for a Wheelchair?


Kitchens are where people spend most of their time when at home – putting away groceries, preparing and eating food, washing dishes, as well as entertaining. However, most kitchens present challenges for individuals who plan to continue Living In Place and are poorly designed for comfort, health and safety of the home’s occupants and visitors. For example, according to the National Fire Protection Association, nearly 2/3 of all home fires start in the kitchen.


Other key issues of unsafe kitchen design are poor lighting, appliances that are not appropriate for the user as well as lack of adequate or accessible storage causing items to be “left out,” creating clutter in the kitchen. Below are suggestions from well-known kitchen industry experts for you to incorporate into all your kitchen designs to make your projects more accessible, comfortable and safe for everyone.


Countertops

Traditionally, most stone or synthetic countertops have been polished and high gloss. The challenge is that those shiny surfaces reflect bright light into everyone’s eyes. That blinding reflection off any shiny surface can be uncomfortable and causes an afterimage, like flashes from a camera or a flashlight shining in your eyes. The brighter the light, the longer it takes for your eyes adjust and see normally. This afterimage can make the environment very disorienting and can lead to accidents and falls. Mary Wisman, CMKBD, CLIPP, of Mary Wisman Design & Consultation in Bozeman, Montana has this advice, “To make these surfaces safer, and more comfortable, we recommend some of the new matte, honed or leathered surfaces. We also suggest countertops with simple patterns and graining, allowing individuals to see small items on the surface and reduce the psychological impact of being just too busy, more commonly a problem for all of us as we age. We also specify smooth and rounded countertop edges that minimize the opportunity for scratching fragile skin or snagging clothing. They are also much easier to clean than chiseled edges.”


The goal is to design all projects with accessibility in mind. It is just as uncomfortable for a tall person to work on a low counter as it is for someone who is seated in the kitchen to use a standard height counter. Based upon a family’s specific needs, Mary and her company often suggest counters at different heights and incorporate open areas under counters to accommodate those who are seated, whether that be the homeowner or their guests.


Lighting


Incorporating a comprehensive layered lighting plan into a kitchen design is of paramount importance to the long-term comfort, health and safety of a home’s occupants. Consider the risk of using sharp kitchen tools, not to mention the eye strain, when working in a poorly lit kitchen. Molly McCabe, AKBD, CLIPP, of A Kitchen That Works on Bainbridge Island, WA, has developed her own process. “We look to provide a variety of task and ambient lighting options to increase the amount and quality of illumination in the kitchen, from toe kicks for visual contrast, under cabinets for concentrated task lighting to overhead lighting for ease of navigation in the kitchen. We also specify dimmers to accommodate everyone’s lighting preferences along with color-tunable, mood altering lights, important in our area where some clients have more difficulty with seasonal effectiveness disorder during the darker, gloomier days of winter. Good lighting design makes the kitchen much more appealing and functional.”


Accessibility for Everyone

Through thorough research we now know that only 1% of our population uses a wheelchair and because we cannot control who calls us for a kitchen or bathroom, why not design for everyone? People come in all shapes and sizes.


“For many of my clients, and even my own parents, easy access to items in the kitchen can prove to be a challenge, “says Dawn Deluca, AKBD, CLIPP, CAPS, of Dawn Deluca On Design in New York City. “A shorter individual, someone who has shoulder issues, or has difficulty bending down low all face challenges in accessing the content of kitchen cabinets”

When designing a kitchen, we all work to understand the client’s limitations and needs and then determine how best to improve comfort and safety. When we include a medical expert, such as an occupational therapist, we learn how to best help those with balance and dexterity challenges. One idea now gaining in popularity is to create a reaching zone, from nose to their knees, where often used items are stored, or provide pull-down upper cabinet shelf interiors.


Dawn adds, “We are now starting to use lineal sliding cabinet doors on both upper and lower cabinets. Standard hinged base cabinet doors swing out into the room and are a challenge for working around a kitchen and are almost impossible for someone using crutches, a walker or wheelchair. Upper cabinet doors that swing out are right at face level so the linear slides are a better option. We present them in our concept phase and emphasize their distinctive look, and if necessary, how they make accessibility easier.”


Cooking Safety

We all have probably left a stove burner on, some of us a few times. The number one cause of house fires is the stove. Most homeowners are now familiar with or at least open to the idea of induction cooktops.


“Induction is a much safer way of cooking,” says Sheri Gold, CKD, CLIPP, National Showroom & Design Manager for MONOGRAM Appliances. There are no open flames or hot coils to burn someone or set their clothing or a hot pad on fire. Induction cooktops have a built-in safety feature that will turn off the power if there is nothing on the burner, or if the temperature gets too high in the pot or pan. French door ovens are very easy to operate and don’t require you to lower or raise up what may be for some people a too low, heavy oven door.


“Another feature that should be recommended in every kitchen are automatic fire extinguishers, especially for people who can’t properly or safely use a fire extinguisher or may be out of the kitchen when a fire may start. These can be built into a custom insert vent hood and will operate when the temperature above the cooking area is too high. These devices can prevent major damage to a home from a stove fire.”

As after-market add-ons there are now available devices that automatically shut off the electricity or gas to a stove or cooktop if an item gets too hot or has been on for too long. They can programmed to only operate during specific hours or for an allowable duration. One manufacturer, MONOGRAM, has incorporated a child safety feature that prevents a child from operating the stove and for gas stoves, they have an automatic cooking shutoff timer and child-lockout feature.


These are just a few of the more important features that should be incorporated into every kitchen design to make the kitchen very functional for everyone for many years to come.

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