Submitted by lfisher on Tue, 01/14/2020 - 15:00
Incorporate Universal Design into Your Next Kitchen Project

Check out a guest post from KCMA's partner, the National Association for the Remodeling Industry below:

Consumer preferences continue to evolve with one of the biggest shifts seen in older adults choosing to stay in their home versus downsizing. Remodeling professionals saw an increase in requests for universal design projects for older adults wishing to increase home comfort and safety. This blog identifies seven key principles of Universal Design as well as helpful hints when incorporating these practices in remodeling projects.

Universal Design’s 7 Principles

A little planning goes a long way. Universal design requires upfront planning and creative thinking when remodeling existing spaces. When elements of universal design are integrated into the overall design they become virtually invisible. Below is a list of the seven key principles.

  1. Equitable Use - Design is useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities.
  2. Flexibility - Design accommodates a wide range of individual preferences and abilities.
  3. Simple and intuitive - Use of design is easy to understand regardless of the user’s experience, knowledge, language skills, or current concentration level.
  4. Perceptible information - Design communicates necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user’s sensory abilities.
  5. Tolerance for error - Design minimizes hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions.
  6. Low physical effort - Design can be used efficiently and comfortably wand with a minimum of fatigue.
  7. Size and space for approach and use - Appropriate size and space is provided for approach, reach, manipulation, and use regardless of the user’s body size, posture or mobility.

5 Ways to Incorporate Universal Design

  • Understand Your Client’s Needs - Before starting any remodeling project, take the time to define your needs. Ask simple questions such as:
    • How do you live in your current home?
    • What health issues – current and future – should be considered?
    • How can a remodel help make your space safer and easier to use?
  • Identify Structural Mobility Changes - Mobility addresses one’s ability to move freely in a space. While mobility issues can impact older adults, it is not limited only to them. While mobility assistance may not be a concern today, take a walk through your home and identify structural items that should be addressed, such as:
    • Doorways
      • Widening doorways to 32-36 inches so walkers, wheelchairs or even large household items may easily move through
      • Removing thresholds that may create a tripping hazard
    • Hallways
      • Expanding hallway widths to 36-42 inches
      • Well-lit hallways can improve safety
    • Clear Space
      • Incorporating clear space, especially in front of kitchen appliances
      • Best practices suggest clear space of 30-by-48 inches to allow for easy access
  • Safety First - As the hub for many homes, kitchens are one of the busiest rooms of the house. Whether remodeling a kitchen for a home chef or empty nesters, safety practices are easy to incorporate.
    • Non-slip flooring surfaces
    • Bright lighting and under cabinet lights
    • Install task lighting
    • Drawers that use soft-close
    • Easy to grab cabinet and door pulls
  • Kitchen Updates for Ease of Use - Incorporate the principle of “Simple and Intuitive” when establishing cabinets and counter heights. Other areas of focus should include the location of appliances such as the oven, stove, and refrigerator as well as sink placement. All of these can improve the ease of working in the kitchen space and yield a high degree of satisfaction for the overall cooking experience. Other checklist items include:
    • Dishwashers in drawer units eliminate the need to bend over when loading or unloading
    • Push button controls for dishwashers for easier use
    • Refrigerators with drawer unit options or side-by-side models
    • Ovens and microwaves placed in the wall at appropriate heights
  • Visual Cues for Cabinetry - When incorporating new cabinetry, make sure the cabinet design applies the principles of “Perceptible information” and “Tolerance for error” by using easy-to-use door pulls, knobs and open in an expected way. Improve safety by using cabinets that include soft-close functionality to avoid pinched fingers. Hardware placement should also visually indicate the direction in which the cabinet opens.

Learn More

Interested in learning more about the principles and practical implementation of Universal Design? NARI offers a designation, UDCP (Universal Design Certified Professional), and online resources are available to prepare for the certification exam. Visit the UDCP section on for more details.