4 Universal-Design Ideas for Comfortable Kitchens

Making your kitchen comfortable and accessible for everyone is an important goal for many homeowners. Universal design principles allow you to create a kitchen that works for people of all ages and abilities. Here are four great universal design ideas to make your kitchen more comfortable.

Introducing Universal Design

Universal design is an approach to designing environments and products so they can be used by as many people as possible regardless of age, mobility or ability. The principles of universal design promote flexibility, simplicity, intuitiveness, perceptibility and tolerance for error.

When incorporated in kitchen design, universal design creates kitchens that are safer, more comfortable and easier for everyone to use. The open concept and easy circulation between work zones allow people with mobility issues to move freely. Adjustable countertops and sinks accommodate users of different heights. Easy-grasp handles and intuitive controls make appliances accessible for all.

Universal design benefits everyone, not just users with disabilities. Features like pull-out shelving, full extension drawers, and adjustable lighting make tasks easier for all users. Households with children or seniors especially appreciate the convenience and comfort universal design offers.

1. Open, Flowing Floor Plan

An open floor plan is a hallmark of universal design. Removing walls between the kitchen, dining and living rooms eliminates major barriers to circulation. This openness allows people using mobility aids like wheelchairs or walkers to move freely throughout the main living spaces.

Islands and peninsulas also streamline traffic flow in an open kitchen. Base cabinets and countertops do not obstruct movement. Appliances and cabinets with front or side access keep pathways clear.

Other good floor plan ideas include:

  • Widening doorways and traffic areas. Standard 32-36 inch openings may impede movement for some users. Try expanding to 48 inches or more.
  • Providing five foot diameter turn spaces at key areas. Wheelchair users need this space to make tighter turns.
  • Allowing ample clearance along paths between fixed elements like islands. At least 42-48 inches of width ensures accessible circulation.

Keep It Minimal

Clutter is the enemy of accessible design. Organize efficiently to keep surfaces and traffic areas free. Consider options like:

  • Wall-mounted fold-away tables to get surfaces out of the way when not in use.
  • Custom built-in storage for small appliances. Get them off the counters yet easily accessible.
  • Drawers and pull-out shelves in base cabinets to contain items neatly. Shallow shelves minimize reaching.
  • Tall pantry cabinetry makes regular use items easy to grab. Orderly storage limits clutter.

2. Adjustable Work Areas

The ideal kitchen accommodates users of different heights and abilities. Adjustable work areas allow you to customize the space for greater comfort and convenience. These universal design elements make kitchen tasks easier for all users:

A. Adjustable Height Countertops

Standard 36 inch tall countertops suit some users but make food preparation difficult for shorter adults or wheelchair users.

  • Electric height adjustable – Use programmable electric lifts to change counter height at the touch of a button. Good for tasks done both sitting and standing.
  • Manual crank – A manual crank system lets users alter height as needed. Locks in place for stability. More economical option.
  • Interchangeable lifts – Modular brackets allow removable countertop sections to be switched between standard and accessible heights.

B. Adjustable Workstations

Appliance garages with adjustable-height shelving give flexibility for food prep and cooking:

  • Drop-down shelving – Wall-mounted shelves manually lower to comfortable levels for diverse users. Simple and inexpensive.
  • Powered lift shelving – Electric lifts raise and lower shelving with controllable precision. Easier option for frequent height changes.

C. Flexible Sinks

  • Adjustable-height sinks – Use electric or manual lifts to raise or lower sink height. Allows standing or seated use.
  • Cabinet-mounted faucets – Gooseneck or swing-arm faucets attached to wall cabinets keep the sink clear for easy wheelchair access.

3. Easy Reach Storage

The ease and comfort of working in a kitchen is greatly impacted by storage solutions. A universal design kitchen optimizes storage with these user-friendly features:

  • Pull-out shelves – Full extension drawers and roll-out shelves in base cabinets bring contents fully into view without bending and reaching. Great for heavy items and small spaces.
  • Pantry drawers – Wide and shallow is the way to go. Provides easy access to essentials from a seated position. Consider under-counter pantry drawers by sinks or prep areas.
  • Lazy susans – Circular rotating trays efficiently organize corner cabinet spaces. Makes items in the back readily accessible.
  • Vertical storage – Floor-to-ceiling pantry cabinets let you store frequently used items within easy reach. Dedicate upper cabinets for seldom-used items.
  • Wall-mounted rails – Install rails on walls to hang utensils, pots and pans within easy reach. Keeps items off counters yet close at hand.

Maximize Drawers

Replace interior cabinet shelves with drawers wherever feasible. Full extension drawers slide fully out, giving complete access without awkward reaching. Roll-out trays under cooktops provide the same benefit.

4. Easy-Use Appliances

Appliance controls should be simple and intuitive for users of all abilities. Follow universal design principles when selecting appliances:

  • Clear visual controls – Knobs with graphic indicators, touchpads with digital displays, and controls that light up when in use. Avoids confusion.
  • Logical control layout – Logical sequence of controls makes operation straightforward. Group often-used buttons together for convenience.
  • Easy-grip handles – Large D-shaped pulls or loops on doors and drawers are easy to grip with arthritic hands or fingers.
  • Front-mounted controls – Side-mounted controls make viewing awkward. Front placement allows user to see settings clearly.
  • Multi-function appliances – Models with built-in versatility reduce the need for small countertop appliances. Less clutter.

Other Smart Appliance Options

  • Induction cooktops – accuracy, responsiveness, cool touch surfaces
  • Sensor-activated faucets – touch-free on/off operation
  • Refrigerators with LED interior lighting – see contents clearly

More Universal Design Tips for Kitchen Comfort

Beyond the major elements already discussed, small details also have a big impact on kitchen comfort, accessibility and safety. Keep these additional ideas in mind:


  • Include general, task and accent lighting for maximum visibility. Lighting helps reduce falls and makes tasks easier.
  • Add undercabinet lighting to illuminate countertops and work areas without glare.
  • Use dimmers and automatic daylight controls to adjust light levels.


  • Specify anti-slip flooring to reduce fall risks, even when wet.
  • Use rounded countertop edges to prevent abrasions and injury from sharp corners.
  • Install an emergency shut-off switch for appliances that can be easily reached from a seated position.

Cabinets & Hardware

  • Include soft-closing mechanisms on doors and drawers. Prevents slamming accidents.
  • Select easy-grip D or loop pulls that don’t require tight grasping or pinching to operate.
  • Put most frequently used items in upper cabinets between 42-48 inches high. Eliminates excessive reaching up or bending down.


  • Incorporate banquette seating, pull-up seating at islands/peninsulas and space for wheeled chairs to slide under work surfaces.
  • Provide ample knee space at all seating areas. Insufficient clearance restricts leg room.
  • Offer back support either with chair design or placement of countertops/walls. Helps avoid fatigue.

Technology & Automation

  • Install outlets at multiple heights to accommodate different users. Keep cords out of pathways.
  • Use smart home technology like voice controls, remote monitoring, and programmable settings. Provides ease, precision and accessibility.

Frequently Asked Questions About Universal Kitchen Design

Q: Is universal design more expensive than conventional kitchen design?

Not necessarily. Thoughtful planning allows you to integrate universal design affordably. Some specific features like powered adjustable counters add cost, but the overall design does not have to be more expensive. Focus on customizable, flexible options suited for adaptation.

Q: Our kitchen is small. Can we still use universal design concepts?

Definitely. Clean, open layouts work in any kitchen size. Just optimize the space available with accommodating features like pull-out storage, easy-access counters and wall-mounted or compact furnishings. Focus on efficient organization, multi-function and movable elements.

Q: We plan a kitchen remodel. What’s the first step for universal design?

Start by understanding how your household uses the kitchen and identifying problem areas. Analyze how people move through the space and what tasks are awkward or difficult to perform comfortably. Use this knowledge to come up with solutions tailored to your needs. Focus on opening pathways, adding adjustability, and simplifying storage and tasks.

Q: Who benefits from universal kitchen design?

Truly universal design suits users of all ages and abilities. It helps family members with physical limitations while also simplifying daily routines for everyone. Open floor plans and reachable storage offer advantages for children and shorter adults. Adjustable counters suit both standing and seated users. Easy-grasp handles and intuitive controls assist those with hand mobility issues. Overall, universal design creates kitchens that give greater independence and convenience.

Q: How do we include guests with disabilities in our new kitchen planning?

Talk to family members and friends about any kitchen challenges they experience in their own homes. This gives insight on what works or does not work well for them. Also consider perspectives of professional occupational therapists who specialize in accessible home design. They can provide expert input on accommodating different physical needs.

Q: What are some good universal design brands or manufacturers to look for?

Many companies now offer universal design products:

  • Cabinetry: Barkert Kitchens, Accessible Systems, Kitchens for Life
  • Counters: VARIER, Corian Accessibility, Cambria Designer Network
  • Faucets: Delta Touch2O, Kohler Sensate
  • Drawers: Rev-A-Shelf, Knape & Vogt, Blum
  • Appliances: GE Appliances, Whirlpool, LG


Universal design allows you to create a kitchen that conveniently accommodates users of all ages and abilities. By incorporating adjustable work areas, easy reach storage solutions, and simple appliance controls, your kitchen can offer comfortable access for family and friends. And an open, uncluttered floor plan provides ease of movement and flexibility for adapting the space as needs change. With some thoughtful planning, it’s easy to integrate universal design in ways that make daily kitchen tasks easier for everyone.