Designing for the Generations

Society is often quick to categorize people according to everything from ethnicity to age. Age in particular comes into play quite frequently in the kitchen and bath design industry, where clients are often labeled according to their stage of life…generations X and Y, baby boomers, mature clients, etc.

Of course there are some kitchen and bath elements frequently requested regardless of age. For example, Katheryn Cowles, of K.W. Cowles Design Center, Pensacola, FL, notes that function, product durability and timeless designs – those that won’t look dated in five years – are common requests for everyone.

Likewise, John Lang of Lang’s Kitchen & Bath, in Newtown, PA, sees large islands and gathering spaces within the kitchen as popular requests from clients of all ages. “When people entertain, their guests often end up in the kitchen,” he says. “But the cook needs enough space to work.”

But while there are plenty of Universal Design preferences, there are also specific requests that seem to be common to specific generations. This month, KBDN asked several designers to share recent projects that address some common requests for clients from various age groups.


Designer: John A. Lang

Lang’s Kitchen & Bath; Newtown, PA

Age of client: mid-30s with two young children

Goal for the space: Warm and spacious were key words for this kitchen, which could have been a challenge given its 10' ceiling height. To solve the potential problem, Lang incorporated the stone veneer hood, which also serves as the focal point for the space. “Because the stone is ‘heavy,’ it fit proportionately in the space,” he says. “We also staggered the cabinets directly to the right and left, which brought the ceiling down visually.”

Adding lights within the upper display cabinets, as well as above the cabinets, illuminated the ceiling, further minimizing the height challenge.

Lang also needed to find a design solution for the vaulted ceiling area above the auxiliary sink below the window. “That ceiling is only about 3' wide,” he says, adding that skylights were incorporated as well. “It was a difficult feature to design around. We ended up placing the tall wall oven to the right side of the sink and balanced it with the integrated refrigerator on the other.”

Generational design elements: This family wanted space for their kids in the kitchen. “We’re hearing this on a regular basis from anyone who has kids in grade school or younger,” he says. “They prefer for them to have a place to do their homework in the kitchen.”

As such, Lang incorporates a wireless connection and at least one fixed computer. In this kitchen, he also added a desk where the kids can store their school communications.

This family also requested two prep areas as well as a simple backsplash. “They liked the idea of a monotone color with some shape changes to add interest,” he says. “We used the same stone, just changed its shape and size to keep it simple.”

Lang also included a sound system. “Probably 70% of the time, we’re putting sound in the kitchen,” he notes. “We’re also seeing more requests for TVs. Now that the economy is shifting, people are looking for some extras a


Designer: Katheryn Cowles

K.W. Cowles Design Center; Pensacola, FL

Age of client: mid-40s with three teenage children

Goal for the space: This family wanted to update the 1980s décor, address several functional and storage features, create adult space for the parents and bathrooms the children wouldn’t outgrow.

“They plan to downsize when their children are out of college, and they originally thought they would wait until just before they were ready to sell the house to have the bathrooms and kitchen updated,” she says. “Then they realized the benefits of proceeding with the projects…that with good design for these spaces, they could enjoy these rooms for the next several years and realize most of their investment when they sell.”

Generational design elements (bathrooms): Light was a huge issue in the master bath, she notes. “The ‘before’ area was very dark and a large window above the tub was blocked by the shower wall that was removed in the renovation,” she says.

For the 11-year-old daughter’s bathroom, storage for grooming products was important. “It is anticipated that soon she will become more interested in how she looks, and space for future products was incorporated in the vanity area, as well as the tub/shower area,” she notes. The same thought process was used for the boys, ages 13 and 16, who share a bath.

In all the bathrooms, selecting products with clean lines and easy maintenance was essential.

Generational design elements (kitchen): A major concern was keeping the main traffic flow (i.e., running children) out of the work space, and providing a place for the children to do homework while mom cooks. The parents also wanted a coffee station out of the work area, which Cowles accomplished with custom-designed, low-slung pull-out stainless trays that allow for easy access and filling.

A recharging center and dog feeding station are located in the cabinets at the entrance, and an area above the pantry cabinets was designed for displaying collections and holiday decorations. The adjacent hall niche was transformed into a wine center, with a beverage center below.


Designer: Joan DesCombes, CKD

Joan DesCombes Kitchen Design; Winter Park, FL

Age of clients: late 50s

Goal for the space: This couple loved their previous kitchen, and they didn’t want a lot of changes in their new space. “We kept the concept of what they had so they were comfortable with their new kitchen,” says DesCombes. “We just updated its functionality.”

That isn’t an uncommon request from clients within this age group with whom DesCombes works. “They want to be comfortable,” she says. “They want to keep what they’re used to. They don’t want to move anything, and they don’t want to buy new things if they don’t have to.”

Generational design elements: Because her clients wanted familiarity in their new surroundings, DesCombes reused several elements, such as the island stools and the refrigerator/freezer drawers (which remained in their original location). “The stools were 30 years old, but she loved them,” she says. “Originally they were a light color, and taller. We cut them down, stained them a walnut color and covered them with leather.”

The designer also left the refrigerator/freezer in the same location, as well as the bookcase, which she gave a more contemporary look by recessing it into the wall. The same thought process was given to the previous kitchen desk area, which she changed from an ineffective, angled space in the corner to a tall cabinet that’s recessed into the wall. It gives her a place to hang her apron, write notes on the chalkboard and even grow a few herbs.

The homeowners also wanted to make a tribute to their Jewish heritage and, as such, chose Jerusalem stone for their backsplash. “As people age, they often want to pay homage to their heritage,” the designer adds.

Her client was also adamant about choosing countertops that didn’t require a lot of upkeep, so DesCombes used a quartz product from Europe for the island and perimeter. An onyx countertop, underlit with LED lights, adds interest at one end of the kitchen.


Designer: Bev Adams, CMKBD

President/founder Interior Intuitions, Inc.; Denver, CO

Age of clients: 60s

Goal of the space: For these homeowners it was about separate spaces…separate grooming areas, separate water closet, separate showerheads. They also wanted to create a more usable space and get rid of the tub, “which is something that often comes out with older people,” Adams says.

“The previous space was also cut up into a million pieces,” she continues. “The tub was at the end of the room, in front of the window. We took it out and created a more elongated room that was better appointed for their needs.”

Generational design elements: Separate areas are a common request from clients as they age, she notes. “They don’t like to share,” she explains. “They become more territorial.”

As such, the designer incorporated separate grooming areas, with his/her sinks, divided by a taller storage unit. She located them close to the nearly floor-to-ceiling window that provides a view to the woods beyond.

At the opposite end of the room, Adams added a dressing room with cabinetry that features a reversed design (i.e., lower center, taller end units) to provide interest when paired with the sink vanities.

Both areas are accented with onyx countertops to coordinate with the onyx in the shower, which is large enough for two people. Dual showerheads provide customization, while niches at eye level keep shower products off the floor for easy reach and viewing.

Counter-mounted cabinets increase storage and allow for easy access to contents.

Heated floors, including those in the shower, enhance comfort. “As people age, they seem to be more sensitive to temperature,” she says. “They want more comfort…not that younger people don’t want it, too, but it’s more of a focal point for clients in this age group.”

A separate water closet, with a bidet, provides privacy. Since it’s an interior room, a frosted glass door and a window in the wall allow light to flow in.


Designer: Linda Pittman

Pittman Associates; Decatur, GA

Age of client: 80s

Goal for the space: Bright and safe were two key words Pittman focused on for this kitchen. “The previous kitchen was unbelievably dark,” she says, “with only one small light fixture for the room.”

This client also loves to entertain. “She has lots of parties, and celebrates everything,” she says. “The kitchen is definitely the focus [of the house].”

Generational design elements: Pittman included an induction cooktop, which virtually eliminates the possibility for her client to burn herself or cause a fire. “It cools off instantly,” she says. “It’s a great option for people with children or for older adults.”

She also added a bench, complete with roll-out drawer for storing her client’s shoes. “She always kept her shoes in the kitchen,” she says, adding that they often accumulated in front of her old pantry, which essentially rendered it useless. “I was always concerned she might trip, so this gives her a place to sit to put her shoes on and take them off, as well as to store them.”

Pittman further enhanced safety by ensuring there was adequate light by incorporating plenty of general, task and mood lighting such as a high-output hood light and undercabinet lights.

The island provides a great place for entertaining, giving her guests a place to visit. “Her previous kitchen was difficult to gather in,” she says. “Now she has this island where people can sit. It works great for parties.”

Pittman also included full-extension, soft-close drawers. “Drawers are a great choice for older homeowners because they don’t have to bend over to access what’s inside,” she concludes.