Learn The Characteristics of A Universal Design Kitchen Remodel

Learn the universal design standards for a kitchen remodel

One of the hottest trends right now in home remodeling is a concept known as universal design. As more homeowners, especially baby boomers, are choosing to remain in their homes as they age, designers and builders are beginning to incorporate design elements that can add to the quality of life no matter the homeowner's age or ability.

Universal design is the design of products and environments that are usable by as many people as possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design. The intent is to simplify life for everyone in the home, from the youngest family member to the oldest, including those with disabilities.

At its best, universal design is not only functional for everyone in the household; it is aesthetically pleasing as well. When properly executed, universal design elements should be seamlessly integrated into the overall design aesthetic while providing complete functionality for family members regardless of age or ability.

Let's explore some of the design characteristics, and elements of a kitchen remodel that uses universal design concepts and techniques.

Considerations When Planning A Kitchen Using Universal Design Principals

This universal design kitchen includes multiple height work areas, minimal upper cabinets, a roll-under sink, and a wall oven.

When planning a universal design kitchen, every aspect of the space needs to be considered from the cabinet height to the accessibility of appliances, to the space between cabinets and walls or islands. The principals of universal design call for the space to be functional and accessible for everyone in the household. That can include older homeowners with mobility or sight issues, as well as younger members of the family.

Ideally, an open floor plan or at least a space with the least amount of doorways and access issues is best. Four or five feet of space between obstacles is ideal for an open kitchen design. For example, a five-foot gap between the kitchen cabinets and the island provides plenty of space for wheelchairs and walkers.

Another consideration is to install kitchen storage and appliances at a level that is easy for all household member to access. For example, raising the dishwasher can make it usable for those in wheelchairs or family members with arthritis that may have difficulty bending. When it comes to refrigerators, French door or side by side models may offer easier accessibility than those with top or bottom freezers.

A countertop level microwave may be more accessible than an under-counter model. Other appliances should be kept where they will be used and adding an appliance garage can keep small appliances hidden, yet available to all.

These are just a few considerations when planning your kitchen design to incorporate universal design principals.

Use of drawers is more effective in a universal design kitchen. Avoiding deep corner cabinets is a must.

Kitchen Layout Adjustments

Layout and flow should also be taken into consideration when planning a universal design kitchen space. To promote functionality for all occupants, it's vital to consider every aspect of your design, this includes:


If your kitchen has a door, make sure that is at least 36-inches wide to offer clear, safe access for anyone using a walker or wheelchair. Consider using double doors in your design. A better solution is to get rid of the door entirely. This eliminates the need to have to operate door hardware while carrying armloads of groceries.

Traffic Patterns

When planning your design be sure to allow enough space between counters. The optimal space between two counters is 42 to 48 inches. This allows for multiple cooks in the kitchen and also lets anyone in a wheelchair or walker function without obstruction. In a U-shaped design plan for a minimum of 60 inches clearance between counters. This gives users in a wheelchair an ample turning radius. This minimum is also ideal for anyone seated an island or peninsula.

Raised toe kicks, or open cabinets for example at sinks or cooktops also allow users in a wheelchair convenient access. Toe kicks should be a minimum of 9 inches. Another option is to have wall mounted base cabinets to eliminate toe kicks. This also allows for customized counter height.


If someone in the household is in a wheelchair, adding workstations that have clear space below them allows easy reach to fixtures. Keep knee space to a minimum of 30 inches wide. Ensure that any exposed plumbing is insulated, covered or behind door panels to prevent burns from hot water pipes. Retractable doors are a good option for closing off spaces when not in use.

Products For A Universal Design Kitchen

Here's another universal design feature. It's the Moen touchless faucet that turns on and off with the wave of your hand!

Manufacturers are also designing products using universal design principals. Height adjustable countertops are available that use hand cranks or switches to automatically raise or lower counters to adapt to users of different height and ability. These units allow you to create an ergonomically correct working environment for everyone to work safely, together or independently.

Storage solutions like pull-out shelves, lazy Susan inserts, and pull out trash and recycling bins can make working in the kitchen and clean-up easier as well.

Also, don't forget about lighting! Bright lighting and larger easily seen cabinet and drawer pulls can be a godsend for those with sight issues. Make sure to include specific task lighting to make countertop edges easier to see as well.

With a little planning, you can create a well-designed kitchen space that is not only functions and accessible for everyone in the household. Universal design principals are not only practical but in the hands of a talented interior designer, they can be aesthetically beautiful as well. From softer more forgiving flooring to adjustable height countertops, simple changes can keep everyone in the household happy, productive and safe.

Additional Articles On Universal Design

This article was updated by Abe Degnan on 6/25/2018.

About Degnan Design Build Remodel
Since 1981 Degnan Design Build Remodel has provided home improvement and construction services to customers throughout Greater Madison, Wisconsin. Our goal is to WOW you with a "Designed For Your Life" solution using a process that will transform your home into a beautiful living space, delivered on time, and on budget. We are known for our communication, respectfulness, and a commitment to our customers and our community. Contact us to speak with one of our designers about your home improvement project.