This article was published in the Sunday May 5, 2024 edition of the Houston Chronicle.

Whether by choice or by circumstance, there are many intergenerational families sharing living space today—but do those spaces serve everyone in the family? Let’s take a look at multi-generational living and universal design, and how universal design principles serve everyone residing in your home.

Implementing universal design when you renovate a kitchen is a great way to make the most of the space, regardless of a users’ age or ability. Universal design helps keep things simple and streamlined to help you gracefully age-in-place, or more easily resell your home down the road. Create the conditions for comfortable living in your kitchen with thoughtful universal design principles.

When updating cabinets and drawers, think about the following features to improve accessibility:

Reduce pinching by choosing pulls and handles for drawers and cabinets that have enough space to accommodate hands and fingers.

Upper-level cabinets can be challenging for shorter family members, or family members who use a wheelchair. Pull-out drawers are easier to access than upper cabinets; they are also more accessible than the bending and reaching required for deep, lower-level cabinets.

Additional space is sometimes needed to accommodate a wheelchair or walker. A kitchen designer can help you consider clearance to maximize ease-of-use of your kitchen. Consider Installing countertops at varying heights to accommodate individuals of different heights and mobility levels. Lower countertops allow for seated work tasks, while standard-height countertops provide options for standing tasks.

The kitchen is the heart of the modern home, a place to both work and relax. Updating kitchen lighting with layered lighting is a great way to improve the ambiance and workability of that space. Create “layers” of lighting to give you options:

  • Build flexibility into lighting with dimmer switches; not only does it give you control over lighting levels, but a toggle or touch switch is also more easily controlled by family members with limited hand strength and dexterity.
  • Create task lighting above countertop surfaces; under-cabinet lights brighten a work surface for ease-of-use and safety.
  • Create ambiance and add safety and security to stairs or hallways with wall fixtures.

Designing a kitchen with universal design principles for aging in place involves creating a space that is accessible, safe, and convenient for individuals of all ages and abilities. By incorporating these principles into the kitchen layout and features, homeowners can create a space that is not only functional and accessible for aging in place but also stylish and welcoming for individuals of all abilities.