The world is a dangerous place; your client’s home remodel shouldn’t be. We often seem to focus most on safety features for homes with children and the elderly, but safe design is a necessary consideration for any new project.
From range placement in the kitchen to providing plenty of grip surfaces in the bath, there are a number of ways to introduce safety into a remodel without having to sacrifice style.
“A lot of designers are ‘Yes’ people,” says Rob Bortell, designer at Albany, NY-based Modern Kitchens. “We’re here to do a job for our clients, and part of that job is to make sure we’re creating a safe, healthy space.”
Designers queried by Kitchen & Bath Design News agree that it is up to the professional builder, designer or architect’s expertise to set the tone for the client.
“Clients will tell you what they want, and then it’s up to you to assess the safety of the set up and introduce a better alternative, if what they want presents hazards,” observes Cynthia Radcliff, designer for Steamboat Springs, CO-based Thurston Kitchen & Bath.
Beyond that, says David Frym, owner of Northbay Kitchen & Bath of Petaluma, CA, “Every client is different, so no two jobs ever look alike. It’s critical to assess the safety needs of your client before beginning to design.”
The kitchen, with its various hot surfaces and electric appliances, is a natural place to begin any conversation about safety between designer and client.
According to Bortell, adding children into the equation means carefully considering the placement of the range.
“I don’t believe in putting the range on an end,” he says. “In a lot of new houses especially, in builder-type configurations, the range is often found on an end, and if kids are running through the kitchen, that’s an accident waiting to happen.”
Bortell acknowledges that designing the range placement is easier in a new construction, but dismisses the notion that it is impossible in a remodel.
“If it is a small kitchen, I’ll put the range on a 45 degree angle. You waste a little bit of countertop space on either side,” says the designer, identifying having to reach across a hot stove to put something on a counter as a potential safety hazard.
“That’s a good place to start designing the various work stations in the space,” adds Bortell.
Even with the most top-of-the-line induction system, every cooktop presents a heat hazard. Radcliff says that any kind of reaching across the cooktop can, and should, be avoided.
“I think burns are just the worst, and we’re constantly trying to prevent against them,” she says. “To that end, we leave a lot of space around the range so that children can’t lean up and over.”
Radcliff also identifies a modern convenience she avoids specifying due to potential safety hazards.
“I absolutely try to avoid microwaves that sit above range tops. It’s a piece everybody uses, those microhoods, but think of the danger.”
She imagines a worst-case scenario where the user is not only leaning over a hot stove, but reaching up to pull something hot from the microwave.
“The location is just horrible. If you think about it, you’re grabbing a hot cup of tea at 5', with the potential to pull it down on top of yourself or dropping it while leaning over the stove, potentially catching your shirt on fire on the gas range,” she says.
The designer identifies microwave drawers as a common sense alternative, if there isn’t space to put the microwave on the countertop.
Frym agrees. “If we’re working on a kitchen where children will be preparing their own snacks, we most often put the microwave at undercounter level by putting a space for it in the base cabinetry,” he says.
Frym also sees the trends for safety mirroring Universal Design principles.
“Heights and depths are big in this arena,” he says. “Lots of people – not just the elderly, but people of all ages – have back troubles. We try to design and specify comfortable counter heights, bump-out sinks and pull-outs and roll-outs for cabinetry.