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Universal design considerations for the kitchen

November 27th, 2013 by Berit Griffin

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Think about universal design and what’s the first that comes to your mind?

Older homeowners.

That’s a common default, says Bill Owens, president of Owens Construction in Powell, Ohio. Universal design succeeds when it meets the needs of people of all ages and physical abilities, a point Owens drove home during a keynote speech last month at the 2013 Remodeling Show in Chicago last month

“Imagine your kid standing on the kitchen counter deciding what cereal he wants. Kids can benefit from universal design too, by having things at a more reasonable height off the floor.”

Owens described numerous opportunities to incorporate universal design in the room where it’s most often needed — the kitchen. You can find the full recap on, but here are some of the points Owens asked building professionals to consider…

Cabinet Accessories

  • How the existing footprint limits the kitchen layout and where adjustments could be made.
  • Clients’ preferences for what types of items will need to be stored, and where.
  • The amount of interior space that will be created by adding cabinet accessories.


  • Pay attention to the doors, the lighting, and the access, Owens advises.
  • Pull-out pantries can serve as an alternative to a walk-in pantry. Consider recessing a pantry “cabinet” into a wall to gain additional space.

Prep Areas

  • Pay attention to the dominant hand/side of the primary user in the kitchen. Give at least 24 inches of prep space on the dominant side of the sink, and 15 inches on the non-dominant side.
  • Talk about how varied heights can help all the users in the house, whether grandma needs a lower work area to make cookies with the grandkids, or mom and dad want an area at seating or desk-height to pay bills or help the kids with homework.
  • Add a pull-out surface that can be used as an auxiliary prep or serving area, or a workspace that a wheelchair user could roll up to.

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