Have a question on how to make your home more user-friendly with universal design? E-mail your query to Rosemary Bakker, Certified Interior Designer,at Ask-Rosemary@aarp.org.
Be sure to include your name, state and ZIP code. Your name will not be published.
Kitchen Countertop Considerations
Whether you’ve had a long day at the office or are recovering from foot surgery, most of us have wished, at one time or another, that we could chop vegetables while sitting down. With universal design’s built-in flexibility, you can devise a countertop that will work whether you sit or stand.
The height of any work surface is one of the most important factors in creating a comfortable space. It’s a great idea to have at least two different countertop heights: the standard 36 inches (91.5 cm), if this height works for you, and a lower height of 30 inches (76 cm) so you, a friend or a grandchild can work while seated.
Standard base cabinets are 34 1⁄2 inches (87.5 cm) tall, which includes a 4-inch (10 cm) toe kick space. Countertop material adds another 1 1⁄2 inches (4 cm), bringing the standard kitchen work surface to 36 inches (91.5 cm). The ideal countertop height is typically 6 inches (15 cm) below your elbow, as measured while you’re standing, so adjust accordingly.
The most ergonomic countertop height for those cooking while seated is 30 to 32 inches (76 to 81 cm). This is also a great surface height for kneading dough while standing, baking cookies with grandchildren, or using your laptop to find a favorite recipe.
To take advantage of sitting while working in the kitchen, keep a section of your countertop — a 3-foot-wide (91.5 cm) space is nice — with room for your knees underneath. If you’re reluctant to give up the storage space, designate one base cabinet for possible removal later; the floor surface under this cabinet should be finished, as should the sides of the adjacent cabinets. Screw the countertop of this section of cabinetry into the wall (not into the base cabinets). If the need arises, all you have to do is remove the cabinet (no tearing up the kitchen), for a customized, comfortable, and functional workspace.
A perfect chair for meal prep at the sink or countertop is a perching stool. Look for one with side arms, a comfy padded backrest, and an adjustable-height, slightly slanted seat that makes getting on and off easier and safer. If the best place to sit doesn’t allow you to tuck in your legs, see if you can remove an under-the-counter cupboard door.
You can make all kitchen countertops function better by selecting the proper surface material. Fortunately, with today’s choices, you don’t have to sacrifice aesthetics for practicality. When shopping for countertops, look for durable, even surface materials.
Avoid options, such as tile, that may be pleasing to the eye but aren’t completely level. And keep in mind that, with the exception of stainless steel or stone, most surfaces can’t withstand the heat of pots taken directly from the oven or the burner. But don’t worry. You can avoid damaging your countertop by using an array of trivets or metal grills. If you choose a laminate countertop, specify a “no-drip” edge. This 1⁄8-inch (3 mm) lip around all or part of the countertop will reduce spills and floor cleanup jobs.
A clever universal design idea is to choose a countertop that’s a different color from the cabinets, and use a colorful border on the edges. This arrangement makes the countertop pop visually, which is especially important for those with visual impairments. Choosing a relatively light shade for your countertop means it’ll be easier to see food and utensils.
Leaving AARP.org Website
You are leaving AARP.org and going to the website of our trusted provider. The provider’s terms, conditions and policies apply. Please return to AARP.org to learn more about other benefits.