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Designing a kitchen work triangle that serves well into your golden years

07-20-18

In our last post, we covered 3 makeover moves that will ensure your kitchen improves with your age. In this follow up post, we want to address the kitchen work triangle: sink, oven, and refrigerator. You don’t need a degree in geometry to design a kitchen work triangle, but thinking ahead now will deliver long-term convenience, usability, and safety as you age.

kitchen work triangle

A good, well thought out work triangle makes kitchen tasks easier and more efficient. When designing an aging in place kitchen, the oven, sink, and refrigerator should be as close together as possible. If necessary, have a secondary sink installed. Try to keep these three appliances/fixtures on the same level for ease of transfer of food, pots, baking pans, etc. Always choose appliances that are easy to use, easy to read, and have nice large buttons.

As we grow older our chances of sustaining serious burns increases. Fortunately, companies are hard at work designing appliances and faucets that can greatly diminish the chances of injury. One of the most hazardous appliances in the kitchen is the oven. But three companies—GE, Viking, and Bosch—now have French door or side door wall ovens to greatly enhance safety in the kitchen.

Wall ovens, microwaves, and cooktops

wall oven side by side bosch

Side by side: Photo: Bosch

Wall ovens should always be placed at a comfortable height. For some, that’s in a base cabinet. For others, it’s about waist high.  Side by side is the safest configuration. A landing space beside or across from an oven is mandatory according to building codes. But one of the best designs for an aging in place kitchen—or any kitchen– is a pullout shelf right under the wall oven, just low enough to allow closing of the oven. It’s these small things that can make a big difference.

A cooktop is usually a much safer option than a range. In general,

heston cooktop

Cooktop: Photo: Heston

electric cooktops are considered more senior-friendly than gas options. An open flame is never a good idea in an aging in place kitchen.  One of the very best gas alternatives is an induction cooktop, which heats the pan but not the cooktop itself. These are far less likely to cause burns. Always choose one with front mounted controls—no reaching over the cooktop. Also, choose a model that makes it easy to see if it is on or off.

Placement of the microwave can also spell the difference between a safe kitchen and one that may cause a serious accident. Microwaves should be about counter height whether they are built-in or not. One type of microwave that comes highly recommended for the elderly is the microwave drawer. Some companies who sell these are Sharp, Jenn-air, and KitchenAid. Although they are usually installed a little lower than counter height they are easier to use at this height than the door style.

Safety tip: Protecting against scald burns

Scald injuries are common among the elderly. While 42% are due to hot food, a significant percentage—32%– are due to hot water. Here are two simple steps you can take to reduce the risk of scald burns.

  1. Have a sink located very close to the cooktop. And install a pot filler at the cooktop. Also use the large pasta type pots with a lift out strainer in the pot.
  2. Turn down the hot water heater. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the setting should be no higher than 120 degrees fahrenheit

Faucets

The most recommended faucet for aging in place kitchens are the hands-free type. Touch faucets are very easy on arthritic hands. An anti-scald device should be on all faucets used by the elderly. When planning your kitchen design, request that the faucet placement is located on the side of your sinks, rather than the traditional center location. Reaching over a hot pan or getting too close to the hot water spray can be dangerous.

Refrigerators and other modifications

Side-by-side refrigerator/freezers are the easiest to use for seniors. Look for storage in the door, especially for large items, like milk jugs. Also look for sturdy, easy to use pull out shelves for smaller items. These make it much easier to find what you need.

Other modifications include under counter lighting, countertops with rounded edges, and non-slip flooring. Everything in the kitchen should be chosen with an eye toward easy cleaning and upkeep. Improving your kitchen’s functionality can be done all at once or little by little. The final takeaway will be a beautiful kitchen that is a joy to work in now and functional for the future when motor skills, balance, mobility, sight, and other physical functions become more limited.jennifer howard headshot

I hope you learned some useful design applications that will help add exquisite form and innovative function to your renovation plans. Please contact us if you have questions about an upcoming renovation project that relates to adaptive kitchen designs or other projects you’re contemplating.

— Jennifer Howard, owner + chief designer, JWH Design & Cabinetry


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