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Planning an accessible kitchen

A carefully planned kitchen will conserve energy and time for everyone who uses it (DLF, 1996). A refit, or partial redesign, can help you to maintain or regain your independence enhancing access throughout the kitchen to carry out food preparation and cooking. In addition to a kitchens functional use, its appearance / aesthetics should be considered (Gheerawo and Bichard, 2008). If you are paying privately it may be the largest investment you will make in your home, so its important the final result suits both your needs and tastes. In some situations you may be able to receive assistance with funding adaptations.

This page provides advice on:

  1. General kitchen layouts
  2. Who are you planning the kitchen for?
  3. What do you plan to include in your kitchen?

General kitchen layouts

Most traditional kitchens are based on four main kitchen layouts, which are galley, corridor, L-shaped or U-shaped. The position of the windows and doors usually determine the choice of layout. Read more about kitchen layouts.

Consideration of the kitchen work triangle has been the traditional approach to kitchen planning. This involves the spatial relationship of the cooker, hob/oven or microwave, to the fridge and to the sink/dishwasher. The positions of these items creates a work space in which food preparation, cooking and cleaning/washing up is carried out (DLF, 1996), (Government of South Australia, 2008). If the distance between these main work areas is too small, people may feel cramped. If the distance is too large more energy is required for walking, wheeling, lifting, carrying and cleaning (Government of South Australia, 2008).

Within the layout, you need to consider access to storage at suitable heights and space for the ironing board (if not integral to the design), larger cleaning equipment like mops and access to kitchen waste disposal facilities (including the pedal bin). Space must be left for the passage of kitchen trolleys or rollators if they are required.

Apparently kitchens in new build properties in the UK are 44% smaller than their 19th-century equivalents (Gheerawo and Bichard, 2008), consequently space needs to be used more effectively.

Who are you planning the kitchen for?

Be clear who the kitchen is being designed for. Is it primarily to provide an accessible kitchen for one user or designed so that all the members of the household can use it (DLF, 1996)?

It is important to plan for the future and consider if you are likely to have changing needs especially if you have a deteriorating medical condition. For example the layout may include extra space to give room for the use of a perching stool or for wheelchair use. What are the specific requirements that you have due to your dexterity, mobility or visual requirements? How far can you reach up, down, and across to ensure that the work surfaces and storage areas are accessible? Consider if your needs, could change in the longer term (DLF, 1996), (Government of South Australia, 2008).

If you would like advice or information, you could:

  • Arrange an individual assessment with an Occupational therapist may be appropriate as your safety in your kitchen is very important. There may also be individual factors which determine which kitchen and kitchen appliances or equipment best suits your needs. The information on this site is not a substitute for individual assessment or
  • Discuss design options with an experienced kitchen designer.

If you are refurbishing a kitchen for a person with cognitive problems, such as Alzheimers, then a simple uncluttered design layout that resembles what the person is familiar with is recommended (Government of South Australia, 2008).

If you have reduced mobility, a corridor-style kitchen allows you to make use of the bench tops for support. Additional handrails can be installed along the sides of the worktops and provide a safe place to hang a walking stick or crutch (Government of South Australia, 2008).

If you have reduced grip, small adjustments like replacing the type of kitchen door and drawer handles and lever taps may help. If you have difficulties with lifting things such as heavy saucepans you could make adjustments to how you carry out tasks such as replacing lifting with sliding things from a hob to the adjacent worksurface.

A person using a wheelchair generally requires comfortable manoeuvring space of approximately 1500mm diameter, but this depends on the size and type of wheelchair (Goldsmith, 1984). For circulation space, L shaped (Thorpe, 2006) or U shaped kitchen layouts are preferable. If you are going to be pulling up to the worktop with your thighs going under the worktop then it is essential to accurately measure your actual thigh height when seated and then allow approximately 2cm for comfort. 700-850mm high is the usual range (Government of South Australia, 2008), (Thorpe, 2006). If you use a powered wheelchair can the control swing away, or will it fit under the worksurface at the height you are considering? Do your armrests limit access to the worktop (DLF, 1996)?

Sometimes it is essential to reassess the wheelchair style and fittings, for example the type of footplates, or type of control of a powered wheelchair in conjunction with the kitchen design. The NHS wheelchair managers group have a complete list of all wheelchair services, they may be able to help with reassessments.

If you are the main user of the kitchen you maybe able to decide on an optimum fixed worktop height before considering more expensive fittings such as adjustable height kitchen cupboards, worktops or sinks. If you share, you could consider either adapting a section of the kitchen for your use or install a rise and fall unit which allows the sink unit or worktop area to be raised or lowered to suit the user at the time.

If you have reduced reach, height adjustable overhead cupboards could be helpful if you want to make the most of the height above the worktop. AskSARA's kitchen section has further information on height adjustable kitchen worktops, drawers and cupboards.

If you need changes to your kitchen due to your eyesight, there may also be other vision related services or equipment that would interest you. You may be able to make changes to the lighting, use colour and contrast or minor modification to the kitchens which will have a major impact without changing the kitchen layout.

For more information visit:

Funding maybe possible through local authorities and direct payments for small pieces of equipment such as, a perching stool or household trolleys.

What do you plan to include in your kitchen?

  • What are the specific limitations of your current kitchen, what are the things you dislike or reduce your independence?
  • Think about the activities and time you and/or your household members want to spend in the kitchen. Are there other tasks that you need to do in the kitchen as there isn't space elsewhere? Do you want to observe the children in the garden out of the kitchen window? have easy access to the front door? You may want to write a list and then decide your priorities as there may need to be compromises related to your budget (Gheerawo and Bichard, 2008) or other household members needs.
  • Are you planning to cook extensively and entertain? Will you socialise in the kitchen? for circulation space an 'L' or 'U' shaped layout is preferable (Government of South Australia, 2008).
  • Or will it mainly be used for reheating meals in a microwave or drink preparation only? If so, be aware that microwaves, either have a left hand door opening or have a drop down door and the depth required for the worktop will be more for a combination microwave and oven.

Further information

The Kitchen, Bedroom, Bathroom Specialists Association brings together over 300 fully accredited, independent, UK based retailers. It guarantees customers deposits and ensures standards of design and installation (Goldsmith, 1984). The website includes a section on accessible kitchens.

The Communities and Local Government website has a good practice guide, Delivering Housing Adaptations for Disabled People: A Good Practice Guide P67 which gives guidance to local authorities for adaptations to facilitate preparation and cooking of food.

Advice last checked: 09 May 2017 Next check due: 09 May 2020

All advice is either supported by references (cited in the text) or is based upon peer reviewed professional opinion. Our advice is impartial and not influenced by sponsors or product suppliers listed on the site.
Conflict of interest statement

References

  1. Gheerawo, R. and Bichard, J. 2008  Living Independently: accessing aspirations for kitchen design
    Access by Design: The Journal of the Centre for Accessible Environments   Vol.114(2)   p18-21 Evidence type: 2
  2. Goldsmith, S. 1984  Designing for the Disabled
    3rd  Ed. RIBA Publications Ltd :  UK Evidence type: 2
  3. Government of South Australia 2008  Kitchen Design: meeting everyone's needs
    View reference   Last visited:  13/12/2013 Evidence type: 2
  4. Ricability 2008  Making your kitchen easier to use
    View reference   Last visited:  13/12/2013
  5. Thorpe, S. and Habinteg Housing Association 2006  Chapter  Chapter 10: Using the kitchen: Design considerations  in  Wheelchair housing design
    2nd  Ed. BRE Press :  UK   p26 Evidence type: 2