How to Design a Multigenerational Kitchen
A space that successfully meets the needs of all those who use it is not only inclusive, it’s futureproof
As part of our Kitchen Planning guide, our experts consider key aspects that will help to design a kitchen for everyone.
Professional advice from: Alan Drumm of Uncommon Projects; Troy Dehaney of MODEL Projects; Johnny Grey of Johnny Grey Studios
Beginning your kitchen project? Read How to Start a Kitchen Renovation
The position of certain elements in your kitchen will help household members to feel connected.
“Locate the hob on an island or peninsula so the cook connects to what’s happening in the rest of the space, whether that’s chatting to someone sitting at the table or keeping an eye on the kids playing in the garden,” Alan Drumm says. “But make sure small children can’t reach pans from the other side of the island.”
“It’s a hard-wired human need to see people’s faces,” Johnny Grey says. “If you concentrate on eye contact when designing a kitchen, it immediately opens up to multifunctional use.”
It’s also important to illuminate the spaces where people gather.
“Look where the best natural light is coming from and use that to plan the areas where the family spends the most time,” Alan suggests. The functions that don’t need the best light, such as utility rooms, can be pushed to the darker areas of the plan.
Johnny believes kitchens nowadays need to support myriad functions: home café and restaurant, homework area, wine bar, play mat, home office and hobby zone, and “should be newly liberated for gender, disability and age. In short: more fun, fewer accidents, more workstations.”
This approach is about designing welcoming spaces that foster independence for longer for those with sensory, cognitive or physical challenges and may need to pay attention to aspects such as acoustics, transitions and zoning for people with autism, who can experience sensory overload in everyday settings.
More: Designing for Neurodiversity
For Alan, understanding how dining and living areas need to work, how many people will use them and for what, and how often the family entertains is crucial. “Dining and other tables can then be sized appropriately and planned alongside the kitchen,” he says.
“Where you put tables and seating will depend on the location of the cooking area, island and access points and the flow through the space,” Troy Dehaney says.
If space allows, different meal times might require different surfaces. “Breakfast might be at a perching spot, snacks at a small, sociable surface, and lunch and dinner at a main table,” Johnny says. “Or there may be groups of the household using multiple worksurfaces at a similar time.”
To be fully inclusive, he says, tables, surfaces and seating should be at different heights or height-adjustable and adaptable for different users.
Plan for convenience and safety when locating kitchen elements, advise our experts. Alan recommends positioning ovens at waist height or eye level, rather than below worktops, for example. “It’s safer to lift heavy things out of an oven that’s raised off the ground,” he says. “And, no matter what age you are, it’s easier to keep an eye on what’s cooking in an eye-level oven.”
Look for wheelchair-accessible sink and hob units and kitchen taps with easy-turn levers or extended handles. “It’s possible to house overhead lighting and an extractor fan in a moveable gantry, so it can be positioned inline with an adjustable hob,” Johnny says.
Choose an induction hob rather than ceramic or gas, Troy suggests. “With an induction hob, the ring only gets hot once a saucepan is on it. If anyone rests their hand on it, they won’t get burned.” The hob remains cool, with only some residual heat from the pan.
Creating a single, high-visibility spot in the kitchen for all hot dishes, pans and food that’s just come out of the oven will help to keep everyone safe, Johnny adds.
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Dot different surfaces and workstations through a kitchen space, Johnny advises. “Mix those dedicated to particular tasks with ones that can serve multiple functions – eating table, workspace, bar, servery. They don’t have to be big, but place them to ensure eye contact with family occupying other areas.”
Adaptable bench heights make food preparation easier if you’re in a wheelchair, Johnny says. “Or fix them 700mm to 750mm high, so they’re comfortable for children and you can also get a wheelchair underneath.”
In this accessible kitchen, the island has been designed with two levels to accommodate everyone.
“If there are young children running around, you don’t want sharp corners on worktops,” Troy says. He recommends having curved corners on an island overhang.
More: A Stylish, Wheelchair-friendly Open-plan Space
Underfoot, flush thresholds, even levels and anti-slip flooring are all important for full accessibility and safety in a multigenerational kitchen.
“Choose a hardwearing flooring material,” Troy says. “The kitchen gets a lot of bashing, footfall and movement, so durability is important – along with ease of cleaning.”
More: How to Design a Kitchen That’s Easy to Clean
A three-generation kitchen will need to store an awful lot of stuff. “Think about the position of kitchen units, worktops and storage and particularly their height,” Troy says. “Can everyone who has to reach high-level units do so? Look for clever storage devices that ensure easy access.”
Some accessible kitchen ranges, such as those by Roundhouse Design, feature low-hung, automatic, click-to-open wall cabinets that can be reached by those in a wheelchair. An extended handle can lower the cabinet contents to worktop height.
Installing base units with drawers rather than traditional cupboards means no occupant will have to crouch down or kneel on the floor to access anything located at the back. If you have to have corner units, fit them with accessible pull-out or rotating shelf solutions for the same reason.
Keep heavier items such as pans visible and within easy reach and do the reverse with knife blocks, chemicals and anything else that poses a hazard for anyone in the house. Accessible areas will be different for individual family members, so make sure you think about all potential danger spots.
“There’s so much smart tech out there designed to make what we do in the kitchen more precise and nudge us into using it in a safer way,” Johnny says. This includes a ‘cook anywhere’ continuous wireless induction worktop that doesn’t get hot. Users can cook at any point along its surface.
Johnny also cites voice-activated assistants being used to control lights and appliances by those with limited mobility or dexterity. There are hobs that switch off if left on too long, lights that come on if the kitchen floods, and smart locks that activate on knife drawers and other potential danger points.
Given that one of the measures used to determine whether someone needs to go into a care setting is whether they can safely use a kitchen, these technologies could have far-reaching implications.
More: What Smart Appliances are Available for a Kitchen?
Do you have a multigenerational household? How have you adapted your home to accommodate everyone? Share your ideas in the Comments.