Universal Design Kitchen Ergonomics

H ow you move within the kitchen, access space for food and utensils, prepare and serve meals, and clean up are the primary criteria in kitchen. design. Standing erect, seated in a wheelchair, or aided by a walker, basic ergonomic requirements remain the ability to reach, see what you are doing and move safely about the space.

With each task performed in the kitchen, a different set of muscles is used. You can identify these yourself by being aware of the energy it takes to pick up pots and pans, take canned goods down from an upper space, and pull cooking utensils from the lower back space of cabinetry.

As you can see, identification of the various cooking procedures as they relate to the foods you prepare is an essential step when planning an efficient kitchen design. Rolling out dough requires some leverage and a lower surface on which to work. Preparing a salad means the assembly of ingredients which must be washed, cut and dried, and then arranged for presentation. A counter height which keeps the back straight and upper torso erect

should be designated. Looking into pots and pans as food cooks on the surface units is safer and more accessible when one can look down. into the cooking utensils rather than peering over them.

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Careful planning of storage. appliance locations, lighting systems, along with ergonomics, resulted in a perfect fit in the kitchen we show.

The primary cook in this kitchen is tall and has some weakness in the back. Providing for proper transfer of weight when accessing items and an erect position while standing at preparation centers were prime considerations.

Two preparation centers were planned. The primary center contains a double sink with disposal, refrigerator, microwave oven and a gas cooktop with electric grill. The secondary work center is equipped with an 18″ sink with disposal, convection oven and dishwasher, which has been elevated 20″ off the floor. This second center has good access to the refrigerator which is the one appliance other than a sink which every member of the family should be able to use without interfering with cooking tasks in the kitchen.

In the primary food preparation center, 1 1/2″-thick pull-out boards fully extend and lock in place to create a stable lower counter on which to work.

These boards are placed at points where they will be most often used and at heights which fit the task at hand.

The microwave oven has been installed 46″ above the floor to reflect the proper reach and sight level of the cook.

Space between the microwave oven and counter top houses often used small appliances which are hidden from view by mirrored doors when stored. Because space between the upper cabinets and counter is one of the most easily accessed spaces physically, storage was designed with mirrored bi-fold doors to hide items when not needed. These mirrors create an illusion of space when doors are closed. This is a design technique you can incorporate into your existing kitchen to access this valuable space for storage without creating a bulky cabinet look.

The secondary work center is multi-faceted. Its primary purpose is that of a clean-up and dish storage area. Glass-fronted upper cabinets extend above the elevated dishwasher maintaining a feeling of openness. Loading and unloading the dishwasher at this height allows the body to remain erect. eliminating back strain. The proper height of installation varies with each family, but 16″ to 18″ is a good rule of thumb. Dishes, flatware and table items are stored in drawers just below the counter top to facilitate direct access to storage space with the least amount of muscle strain. Your ability to reach should dictate the location of all items to be stored.

The table, which pulls out from the base cabinet, is just wide enough for two people to eat a meal, yet serves a dual role as planning desk and sit-down preparation space.

Below the oven, which is hinged on the left-hand side, a pullout board has been installed to act as counter and additional space for the oven.

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Additional ergonomic features include:

– indirect Halogen lighting at the ceiling, under cabinets, and recessed into the soffit above the sink and shelf above the cooktop

– dimmer controls for each light system

– formica counter in a stone pattern, fabricated to give the appearance of granite

– square-module carpet tile floor covering. It provides resiliency for the back and with a gap a bit less than 1/2″ allows walkers and wheel chairs to move effectively. It is very easy to clean

The soothing color scheme gives this kitchen a soft contemporary look.

A kitchen that’s a perfect fit can be achieved when plenty of time is taken to plan thoroughly for kitchen tasks designed around the physical characteristics of the cook and family.

by Mary Fisher Knott, R.S.P.I Residential Space Planner

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