Universal Design Ideas in the Kitchen

Roomy drawers are great way to organize your kitchen.

Wouldn’t you want the hardest-working room in your house to allow you to perform tasks with ease as you get older? A kitchen with Universal Design features can be your body’s best friend (at any age). Here are a number of ideas to incorporate: 

Layout and Design:

Keep the sink close to the stove. As we age, it’s harder on our arms and backs to carry big pots full of water to and from the cooktop. If any spills occur on the way, it’s a slipping hazard.Place the sink near your stove, but be sure to leave a workspace in between. Or place the sink across from the stove, and you’re only a step or two away. 

Clearance space. The standard clearance between cabinets, walls and appliances is 36 inches. This is enough room to comfortably pass in a walkway and have access to drawers and doors. However, ADA guidelines for U-shaped kitchens require at least 60 inches of clearance between opposing cabinets, walls or appliances. Galley or “pass through” kitchens should have at least 40 inches of clearance between opposing surfaces.


Pick drawers, not doors as much as possible. Drawers display all your flatware, utensils, bowls and plates all at once.Large drawers set wider than 30 inches can stow plenty of pots and pans. Corner drawers can even be created to eliminate rummaging for items in the back. Having a few cabinets with doors is great if you can incorporate sliding shelves. 

Install a pullout pantry. With pullout shelves, you can see everything at a glance without having to shuffle items around. Use the pullouts to store heavy portable appliances, such as blenders, slow cookers and toasters.

Cabinet hardware (as well as your entry door and faucets) should have easy-to-operate handles, rather than knobs. D shaped pulls are easier to use. 


Place the microwave at counter height. It’s best for your back since it minimizes bending and reaching above your shoulders.

The Vent Fan is important to help prevent respiratory problems and moisture in the home.  Choose a vent hood/fan that is both powerful and operates quietly to preserve hearing.

Counter top cooktop and a separate wall oven are more ergonomic than a range, especially when cooking big roasts or turkeys. 

Dishwasher drawers are a great product, designed to save your back when you are loading and unloading dishes.

Other Ideas:

A shallow sink (6 to 8 inches deep) is easier to use for rinsing vegetables and dishes than a deep sink. A hands free or lever style faucet is more comfortable for arthritic hands to use.

Flooring. Wood, Linoleum or Luxury Vinyl flooring (which can look amazingly like wood or stone) offer good slip resistance. Also softer on your feet. Add an anti-fatigue mat in the area where you stand the longest. 

Seating. 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.

Proper lighting is essential for all ages, but especially for older eyes where tasks can involve sharp knives and reading small-print recipes. Cool-burning LEDs are ideal for under-cabinet lights to illuminate work surfaces.

Final Thoughts:

If you’re building a new home, work with a builder who is a Certified Aging- in- Place Specialist. This professional can address both your current and future needs in the kitchen, and throughout your home.