Cover image for our blog post universal design kitchen remodels.


Universal design (also referred to as aging-in-place design) is becoming a popular consideration when remodeling kitchens –and for good reason. The needs of individuals who are differently-abled are no longer relegated to just boring grab bars or sterile environments. Instead, remodelers and designers are embracing the challenge of building functional and safe universal design kitchen remodels that are just as stunning as regular remodels.

As universal design and aging-in-place remodel specialists, we wanted to create a resource to explain the biggest considerations when planning a universal design kitchen remodel. In this post we’ll cover the following topics:

  • Why should I opt for a universal design kitchen?
  • What are the Principles of Universal Design (and how do I incorporate them into a kitchen)?
  • What are some common must-haves for a universal design kitchen?
  • How do I choose a universal design remodeler or contractor?

Why should I opt for a universal design kitchen?

It’s more than just design for aging or individuals with disabilities.

Universal design goes far beyond just building a kitchen that is usable for aging individuals or people with disabilities. Rather, it’s about considering a broader array of needs to build the most functional, comfortable, and beautiful kitchen possible. In other words, everyone can benefit from better design.

It’s a better long-term investment.

Planning for the future isn’t always easy or enjoyable, especially if that means predicting your motor capabilities or physical health. But if you’re considering a remodel, you’ll toss a grand sum of money away if you fail to consider how usable your kitchen will be in the decades to come. Rather than spend more money on useful structural upgrades in the future, consider (and enjoy) them now.

It increases your home’s value.

Again, proper universal design serves everyone. Not only will a kitchen remodel upgrade the style of your home, but universal design will make it appeal to all potential buyers.


This universal design kitchen features toe kick lighting to help with low light navigation.

This universal design kitchen features toe kick lighting in order to assist with navigation in low-light.


What are the Principles of Universal Design (and how do I incorporate them into a kitchen)?

When planning a universal design kitchen remodel, it’s helpful to think in terms of the 7 Principles of Universal Design (which you can find at the Center for Universal Design). To explain them all, let’s define each and demonstrate how they can influence the design of your new kitchen:

1. Equitable Use

Make your kitchen usable and appealing to people with a diverse set of abilities.

Thus, drawers and cabinets should be within reach and easy to operate. Consider using no-slam hinges and drawers that you can close with just a bump of the elbow for a universal design kitchen cabinet. Also incorporate countertops in a variety of heights to suit all individuals. For example, if you have two high counters, try to balance it out with some lower surfaces. In addition, consider a refrigerator with a low-set water/ice dispenser to facilitate a simple glass of water for those in wheelchairs.

2. Flexibility in Use

A universal design kitchen should provide choices or adapt to a user’s needs.

If you have lower countertops but they aren’t currently in demand for food preparation or other such use, you can turn them into a handy spot for a snack or a breakfast area. Also ensuring that both left-handed and right-handed people can use kitchen appliances is a strong consideration. Choices in navigation can be accommodated by including different routes to enter or exit the kitchen.

This universal design kitchen features a wheelchair height countertop.

This kitchen has a wheelchair accessible countertop and open pathways for all users.

3. Simple and Intuitive Use

Your kitchen’s design should be easy to understand and avoid the risk of error.

For instance, make sure that handles are in reach of everyone and that they correctly indicate whether pushing or pulling is necessary. Kitchen features should also be simple to use without the need for extensive reading, analyzing, or effort. Universal design kitchen cabinets might also be transparent, allowing users to easily see where everything is without having to open endless doors.

4. Perceptible Information

Important information or assistive details should be present and clearly perceivable.

This principle is very useful for appliances such as stoves and faucets. For example, redundant indicators such as the word “hot” being clearly visible and also in a red color will clearly indicate its use. Symbols can also be useful in transcending language barriers, or braille to accommodate persons who are blind.

This universal design kitchen island features roll-out storage low to the ground.

A kitchen island with low, roll-out storage allows a variety of users to access items.

5. Tolerance for Error

The risk of hazard is reduced or eliminated and the result of error is minimized.

Especially in a kitchen, not everything can be absolutely safe. That’s why it’s crucial to consider fail-safe measures and design that encourages caution when extra focus is needed for safety. For example, knives can be placed in a separate container that needs to be manually opened. You should also place smoke detectors close to stove tops and ovens in order to detect fires or smoldering quickly.

6. Low Physical Effort

Keep the amount of energy needed to perform a task or operation as low as possible.

In a universal design kitchen, look for hardware solutions that will facilitate the easiest use of drawers, cabinets, and appliances. For the door to the kitchen, you can use lever handles, or even swinging doors that do not latch. In addition, choose dimmer switches with larger sliding controls that don’t require fine motor controls, while also enabling the precise atmospheric lighting you want.

7. Size and Space for Approach and Use

Enough room is provided for ease of reach and travel for all users regardless of size, posture, and mobility.

A universal design kitchen should be easy to pass through for non-disabled people as well as those in wheelchairs. You should also limit tight corners in favor of smooth paths around appliances and islands. A wheeled kitchen island that you can easily shift when necessary is a fantastic consideration.

A sleek, modern hands free faucet in a universal design kitchen.

This hands free faucet requires little physical effort.


What are some common must-haves for a universal design kitchen?

Considering the Principles of Universal Design, these are some fantastic ideas to make all areas of your kitchen easy to use:

These cabinets at different heights are a great addition to a universal design kitchen.

Cabinets at different heights allow all users to access them.

  • Counter tops and islands with varying counter heights to accommodate users of all heights and mobility.
  • Sufficient lighting that assists navigation but is also not bright enough to hurt eyes. Floor level toe kick lighting is also very useful for low-light navigation.
  • See-through shelving that allows users to scan contents without opening doors.
  • Pull-out sliding shelves that are accessible from below the countertops. Also, make sure that they have stops that prevent them from sliding completely out of the rails.
  • Appliances with easy to use knobs and handles, such as thick or extra-long bars.
  • Grab bars near sinks or wherever necessary in order to assist with tasks.
  • Cork flooring that is impact-absorbent and less rigid on feet.
  • A drawer-style dishwasher that can open horizontally rather than vertically.

How do I choose a universal design remodeler or interior designer?

The truth is that not all remodeling contractors or designers understand universal design. In order to find someone who can create both a gorgeous and functional kitchen, make sure they are CAPS certified (Certified-Aging-in-Place Specialist) and CMKBD certified (Certified Master Kitchen and Bath Designer). Also, never hesitate to ask for examples of previous work. Your kitchen is a significant investment, and especially if your mobility needs are unique, you need to get it done right the first time.

L. Evans Design are specialists in universal design kitchen remodels. If you’re in the Portland, OR area, be sure to contact us for a consultation or if you have any more questions about universal design kitchen remodels!