In one sense, kitchen design can be compared to “Star Trek.” After all, both will always be a part of the “Next Generation.”
Indeed, if designed correctly, a multi-generational kitchen can be enjoyed by several different generations right now, and also continue to function efficiently for generations to come. This is more important than ever, as changing family demographics and continued economic challenges are increasingly creating households with multiple users of different ages, sizes and abilities.
Michael Kienzl, president of Bradco Kitchen in Los Angeles, CA, explains: “In today’s economy, more than ever, households are multi-generational. College students and even graduates are returning home rather than spending money to live on their own. Meanwhile, elderly parents are moving into their children’s homes to cut expenses for the entire family. These changes in lifestyle certainly bring about challenges for today’s kitchen designers, who must create spaces that work for these new, multi-generational households.”
Patti Boyd-Bowles, owner/interior designer of Fairfield, IL-based B-Way Design & Decorating, notes: “Effective multi-generational design is about creating a safe, functional and aesthetically pleasing environment. It’s important to incorporate safe designs that address our clients’ needs and their limitations or disabilities.”
Bruno Pasqualucci, CMKBD, of Mohawk Kitchens in Stamford, CT, adds: “It’s a matter of [designing the space so that] items are located at the point of use, or even having multiple utensils and accessories to allow each person his or her own work station. The best way to make sure that client issues are addressed is to look at the clients’ priorities and then look at the space from ‘outside of the box.’”
Boyd-Bowles adds: “All kitchen designs should incorporate Universal Design principles. You may be thinking of your children’s use now, but in a few years, your aging parents may be living with you. If you plan now, adapting later may be less stressful.”
Safety & Ergonomics
Of course, ergonomic and safety issues must be addressed.
“The key to effective multi-generational kitchen design is to include multiple heights for wall cabinet storage, work surfaces and tabletops, and appliances such as the wall oven, microwave and cooktops,” says Stephen Klassen, general manager for Affinity Kitchens in Scottsdale, AZ.
He adds that it is also important to have multiple prep zones – mainly to allow more than one cook at a time, but also to make it more convenient for those who must work while sitting or standing.
Boyd-Bowles adds: “Designing for ergonomic accessibility should be the first priority. Consider using varying heights of appliances, and cabinet accessories for safety and ease of use.”
She notes that this is a good idea, even if the home only includes frequent visits from young children or the elderly. One multi-generational project Boyd-Bowles completed was designed for a couple whose grandchildren often visited.
“We placed the microwave at a height accessible for smaller children to use,” she says. “We also designed several large, full-extension drawers to accommodate snacks and pots and pans.”
She notes that an island was designed to incorporate an undercounter refrigerator and icemaker for ease of use by the grandchildren. At the end of the island, counter-height barstools provided seating away from the cooking area. Martha Kerr, CMKBD, of Lake Oswego, OR-based Neil Kelly Co. Design/Building Remodeling, also cites a project where frequent visitors necessitated a design that would accommodate multiple users from different generations. “We designed a kitchen that had to accommodate a family with three growing girls who were very much a part of the everyday kitchen activities. Grandparents visiting from the East for several months at a time also participated [in cooking and food prep]. We used undercounter refrigerator drawers located next to the microwave drawer to allow each generation to be utilizing the island counter to prepare a snack or meal, while the full-sized refrigerator and ovens on another wall provided space for the primary cook to work there at the same time.”