Green Design: Looking Toward the Future

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Green Design: Looking Toward the Future

It’s inevitable, we all get older.  And with age comes certain restraints that may challenge us in the everyday normal residential kitchen.  It’s always a good idea to keep in mind the future when renovating or designing a new kitchen.  By concentrating on a few specific areas, your kitchen can be designed to be accessible for the future without sacrificing a beautiful design!

We are not all built the same, so why should all our counter heights be the same?  When designing a kitchen with accessibility in mind, it is a good idea to think about work areas versus storage areas and have these at different heights.  Moveable storage is a good idea: it can be pulled out from under the cabinets leaving the space under the counter tops open for rolling up wheelchairs or sitting down to prep food.  Leaving the cabinet space open or unused under a sink can also be a great idea; the plumbing can be concealed with a curtain or retractable doors.  This will allow for someone to wheel underneath the sink if needed. 

When thinking about the interior of your cabinets, think about having the maximum flexibility in the smallest spaces.  Pull outs are a great way to store trash and recyclables and keeps the floor space open, but you can also use pull outs to store food or other items needed for cooking.  Deep drawers with pegs are a great way to store pots and pans as well as plates and bowls.  And upper cabinets can be outfitted with manual or electronic pull down shelving.  It’s always a good idea to think of using open shelving at comfortable heights as well.

When selecting faucets or hardware, it is helpful to do a “fist test”.  Make your hand into a fist and see if you can turn on the faucet, adjust temperature or open and close drawers and doors.  This will allow you to see if anyone, regardless of their ability to grip, can operate these items within the kitchen.   Placing the faucet to the side of the sink and choosing one with a single control high arched pull down sprayer is best.  Long bar pulls are better for cabinet hardware versus small knobs and cup pulls.

Appliances placed at torso height are the best for anyone needing accessibility.  Built in ovens and microwaves at counter height and refrigerator drawers allow easy use for all.  Placing popup outlets strategically throughout the kitchen or even outlets on the front of cabinets allow additional small appliances to be utilized without the strain of reaching to the back side of the countertops. Induction cook tops are the safest, but regardless surround the cooktop with a heat resistant material so that hot pots can slide off of the range easily rather than lifting potentially heavy items.

Try to have twice as much lighting as possible in your planning.  Task lighting is very important in the kitchen.  This can be achieved by using overhead and under cabinet lighting.  Placing switching on all ends of the kitchen eliminates walking around in the dark.  Or think about putting lighting on motion sensors, allowing for the lighting to automatically turn on and off as needed.

Last, but not least, have a smooth, non slip surface flooring that is free of rugs.  When transitioning from one flooring material to another, have the lowest, smoothest transition possible. Keeping all these various ideas in mind will help you.

                           —By Jennefer Guthrie
Editor’s Note: Jennefer Guthrie is a LEED accredited professional and a member of Middle Tennessee Chapter of USGBC (United States Green Building Council).Beth Haley Design, an urban interior design firm, focuses on remodeling and revitalizing established homes, as well as creating stimulating, functional, sustainable spaces in new homes. Jennefer Guthrie is an allied member of ASID (American Society of Interior Designers). E-mail your questions to her at or visit

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