Multigenerational Living


Families congregate in kitchens for myriad activities, but today a different dynamic occurs in homes across the country. In 2008, 16 percent of the population lived in a household containing two adult generations, a 4 percent increase from 1980’s data. Pennsylvania alone has about 5 million households with three or more generations living under the same roof. These statistics reinforce the importance of implementing universal design concepts while creating a functional and aesthetically pleasing space. Where does one begin with such a complex task? Remodelers must learn how these multigenerational families live and function on a daily basis through a thorough interview. One critical aspect is recording each household member’s comfortable reaching and bending distances throughout their daily routine. Every set of abilities must be considered so the environmental experience is pleasurable and presents no challenges.

The extended family unit needs storage that maximizes capacity while keeping items central. Full-extension rollout shelving should be closely spaced within 18 to 60 inches AFF to increase capacity while leaving ample space between shelves to accommodate heavy appliances on lower shelves. Lower an area of wall cabinets to 15-inches above the counter for those shorter in stature if space doesn’t permit drawer storage for dishes or other frequently used items.

Children appreciate having their own area for crafts, homework and kid-friendly dishes so try to designate a toe-kick drawer or other space. A two- to four-drawer unit on lockable casters stored under a counter could provide a shorter work surface with a hinged counter on its side.

Include multiple counter heights or 30-, 36- and 42-inches with rounded or beveled corners. With children and seniors in the family unit, it’s important to include knee space in multiple areas with seating close at hand. Install a drop-leaf surface at the end of a cabinet run or a pull-out shelf in place of a drawer as possible options.

Consider the seating requirements of each generation. For chairs or stools, use full-depth arms to assist in the transition between sitting and standing and to prevent falls. If an infant high chair is needed, allow for its placement and storage. Make note of assistive devices, such as canes, crutches or walkers, so their placement while seated doesn’t create a hazard for others.

Cooking appliances should consider safety and convenience. Each should have a locking feature and front or near-front control panels that are easy to read and use through graphics. Appliances with hot-surface indicator lights always heighten safety. Suggest oven doors hinged on the side to minimize accidents. A cooktop on a lift makes more sense than a range if one of the family cooks uses a chair for mobility. This applies to the sink area, too.

Consider hand and grip size of every family member when selecting cabinetry hardware, appliances, rollouts and faucet controls. Select lever handles where possible along with C- or D-shaped hardware without tails that could catch on clothing. A faucet should have a comfortable fit to the hand and easy spray-change options. Consider motion- or touch-activated faucets or a side versus rear installation to maximize ease of use and reach.

Incorporate generous amounts of ambient, task and accent lighting with dimmers. Consider motion-activated sensors on fixtures such as in-drawer or toe-kick lighting. Honed, matte or frosted surfaces are the best choices to minimize glare. Texture and color contrast between horizontal and vertical surfaces is important to clarify a change in plane for those with vision problems. Calculate light-fixture beam spread to avoid dark spots, and position lights so they avoid glaring in a seated person’s eyes. Use switching and outlet devices that contrast with the wall color to help differentiate the devices.

As kitchen designers, it is a daunting task to creatively design this hub to serve each family member. Universal design principles ask us to consciously incorporate options and flexibility in storage, work surfaces, finishes and lighting so each member enjoys the kitchen.

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