Safety and Comfort Mark Multi-Generational Kitchens

Safety and Comfort Mark Multi-Generational Kitchens

By Barbara Capella Loehr

Indeed, multiple-height countertops, ample lighting, easy-to-use appliances and pull-outs and roll-outs are just a few of the design elements that provide the kind of function that makes these rooms work, say dealers and designers.

"The first thing that comes to mind is the comfort and safety for the different age groups," notes Michael Kienzl, owner and president of Bradco Kitchens and Baths in Los Angeles, CA.

Multi-generational kitchens are not that far removed from universally designed kitchens, note dealers and designers.

"The basic tenets of both types of kitchens are the same," concurs Bruno Pasqualucci, CKD and executive v.p. of the Stamford, CT-based Mohawk Kitchens.

"I believe they go hand-in-hand. They are not dissimilar," adds Tamara Newell, CKD with the

Tucson, AZ-based Arizona Designs Kitchens and Baths LLC. "The ergonomic positioning of the appliances is the same, so that people don't have to take extra steps to get to each one for the things they need. Ease of use and easy access are also seen in both kitchen types.

"As in universally designed kitchens, everything in multi-generational kitchens should be at a comfortable height for everyone using it," she continues.

Susan Knight, president of Korts & Knight in San Francisco, CA, agrees. However, she makes this point: "It can be true, but sometimes there's an awful lot of harder-edge looks in universal design more ramps and grab bars, for instance, as well as other items that are not usually put into multi-generational kitchens."

And one for all
So, what exactly are the items that make a kitchen comfortable and functional for different generations?

"Everything should be at point-of-use because the families living in these kitchens are on the go," says Newell. To that end, she suggests storage options that hold items specific to each area of the kitchen for instance, storage for pots and pans by the range and for baking tins and trays by the oven.

Pull-down upper cabinets, says Kienzl, are also a good option for older generations, while a hidden step for children by the sink allows the younger generation to have easy access.

Flat-surface cooktops work well and add safety to a multi-generational kitchen, says Knight.

Raised or lowered appliances, such as dishwashers and ovens, are also key in multi-gen kitchens to prevent back strain for the middle and older generations, adds Newell. "Single dishwasher drawers placed on either side of a sink at countertop height are also nice," she states.

Lowered microwaves, warming drawers and other electronics, such as computers, that can be used at a comfortable height for younger children are also good to include.

"Microwaves should be at counter height or just under the countertop," advises Newell.

This leads into multiple-height countertops that accommodate the young, the old and everyone in between, say dealers and designers. For easy clean-up, non-porous surfaces such as engineered stone make the grade in multi-generational kitchens, they add.

The lighting design is also key. Specifying a lot of windows for natural light is fine, say dealers and designers, but, remember, many times these busy families are working and living in the kitchen well into the night, doing everything from cooking and watching TV to doing homework and paying bills.

Thus, task lighting in addition to ample general lighting is important. Installing dimmer switches allows families better lighting control. They can create a party mood or turn up the light for cooking. And, a night light ought to be installed for anyone wandering into the kitchen late at night.

Another aspect to consider is safety. To that end, Kienzl advises installing hidden safety locks on cabinetry requiring a simple magnet key to access. Knight, however, suggests locking the whole kitchen up at night, depending on the older generation's physical and mental health, to avoid accidents or fires.

Lastly, Knight advises leaving space in the kitchen to accommodate any possible future physical handicaps due to old age, disease or accident.

Multi-Gen Tips
However, before including any of these design elements, it is imperative to assess clients' specific needs.

Indeed, listening to clients who wish to have a multi-generational kitchen is important, states Knight. She suggests sitting down with each generation to ask what each one would like to see in the kitchen, learn what needs they have and find out how each one will use the kitchen.

"Arrange one-on-one meetings," Knight advises."Even kids as young as eight years old can have opinions. And this way you'll also be able to draw out the older generation's concerns, since, many times, they may not feel comfortable expressing their needs in front of everyone.

"Engaging all of the generations will allow you to create a much more family-friendly environment that works for everyone, and not just for the generation with the buying power," she notes.

In addition to learning about the family and each generation's specific needs, Kienzl suggests inquiring about eating habits and what types of foods are going to be cooked, and asking who uses the kitchen. "Knowing the clients' ethnic heritage comes in handy when planning for their cooking needs," he adds.

"And keep yourself aware of what new products are out there," concludes Pasqualucci. "Part of your responsibility is to bring clients those ideas so they can make informed decisions."