Independence thinking

Sam Cartwright, marketing manager at Design Matters in Flackwell Heath, Bucks, on why space is crucial to accessible kitchen design

The trend for open-plan spaces seems ideal for modern living, but it deprives the kitchen designer of wall space, and can create as many design challenges as it solves in the typical British home.

Space is critical to achieving a good result for your client, and we find this equally true for our standard and accessible kitchens. Most ‘before’ photos show kitchens with worktops covered in pots, pans and ingredients, kept close at hand because storage is such a problem that the client is using the worktop to store everything.

When we began developing our kitchen service for disabled people in the early Nineties, we regularly discovered standard products with interesting ‘accessible’ applications. That is to say, we spotted useful features that could be used to make our kitchens safer and more accessible. Over time, we’ve come full circle and find that we are recommending accessible design features to our standard kitchen clients.

In accessible kitchen design, large knee spaces use up valuable storage space, which puts added pressure on the designer to come up with magic solutions to the usual issues. The stakes are high, because a kitchen that works well for a person with a disability could mean real independence in the kitchen, and less reliance on personal assistants.

This accessible kitchen design features a rise-and-fall worktop
This accessible kitchen design features a rise-and-fall worktop

We prefer working with a large, open-plan space, but in a recent project for Buckinghamshire University at the University Campus of Aylesbury Vale (see pictures), we fitted an accessible kitchen into a 3m x 3m space.

The kitchen forms part of a Centre of Excellence in Teleheath and Telecare (CETAL) and can be visited by healthcare professionals and their clients.

By including a large L-shaped rise-and-fall worktop on hydraulic lifters, we’ve made the key cooking and sink areas accessible to a range of visitors who want to come and experience a state-of-the-art, accessible kitchen for themselves.

It’s easy to see at a glance how the large knee space reduces the amount of available storage space. To get over this issue, on either side of the concealed extractor, we created a whole wall of tall storage and wall cupboards that lowered electronically to worktop height for easy access. In other designs, we’ve mounted an integrated microwave into a wall unit, so that it can be ‘put away’ after use, keeping the worktop clear. A rise-and-fall wall cupboard is an easy feature to include in a standard kitchen, and a great idea for a compact appliance like a microwave that might not be used every day. Bring it down to worktop height for safe use by children and shorter members of the household.

The wall of tall storage includes a range of pullouts that bring the contents within reach, including a fridge with pull-out shelves. These help clients find the food items they want; they also help with checking ‘best before’ dates and cleaning – all vital aspects of kitchen safety. Think about recommending pull-out appliances to older clients or those who have mentioned back problems or conditions like arthritis that make leaning and reaching that bit harder.

A rise-and-fall cupboard is great for a compact appliance like a microwave that might not be used every day
A rise-and-fall cupboard is great for a compact appliance like a microwave that might not be used every day

The first accessible kitchen of its kind in the UK, we fitted a full complement of Blum Servo Drive mechanisms to doors, drawers and even the fridge for easier opening and closing, as so many people with a disability and conditions like rheumatoid arthritis also have impaired grip. Most of our cabinets have interior lighting, because our older clients, and those with a range of other conditions, also have a visual impairment.

Wheelchair users can’t easily move from side to side, so anything that reduces the need to reposition continually can make a few hours in the kitchen less tiring. Larder mechanisms that move forward and rotate, like those from Kesseböhmer, make the best use of tall units and reduce the need for repositioning. Standard clients with back and neck problems also benefit from this ease of use.

We love the accessibility of the Fisher and Paykel DishDrawer, and often specify a double DishDrawer so that that one drawer can be used for storage of clean plates, while the other is loading.

Small design idea – big daily impact, and great for a city-centre bolt-hole.

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