Kitchen users come in all sizes - Design accordingly

  • Kitchen appliances should be placed at a height appropriate to the people who use them. This kitchen was designed for a wheelchair user, so the microwave goes under the counter.8

    Kitchen appliances should be placed at a height appropriate to the people who use them. This kitchen was designed for a wheelchair user, so the microwave goes under the counter.8

Published3/14/2009 12:01 AM

The kinds of questions I receive for this column seem to come in waves. Not long ago, lots of readers wanted to know about color options; then came a flock of questions concerning window coverings. And now there's a great deal of interest in renovating kitchens and bathrooms. Does this changing curiosity reflect social or cultural trends? It might, particularly in regard to what's on readers' minds today. Many Americans are now choosing to fix up or retool their current living spaces rather than looking for newer or bigger homes. That type of investment makes sense for a couple of reasons: it can improve both the appearance and function of a heavily used interior, and it can bring a better sale price for a home when the market does revive. So let's all hope I'll soon be getting a set of questions related to purchasing a new home.

Q. I remember reading in one of your columns that the height of counters in a family kitchen should accommodate more than the average-sized person. Can you explain how that can be achieved?


My grandchildren visit regularly and sometimes cook with me. I'd like to make the kitchen easier for them to use as part of a renovation I'm planning.

A. For decades, the standard kitchen counter height has measured 36 inches from the floor. Almost all under-counter cabinetry and appliances, including dishwashers and stoves, were manufactured to meet that specification. Today, however, in keeping with our society's recognition of its own diversity, cabinetry, shelving and drawer units are available in a variety of heights. Appliances such as wall-mounted ovens are also being designed to fit in different-size spaces.

Accommodating kitchen users both large and small isn't only a matter of courtesy and convenience; it's about safety, too. You, as well as your grandchildren, should be able to see what's cooking in a tall pot on the range top, and they shouldn't be risking injury when they reach to remove something from the stove.

Heights don't have to vary greatly from the average in order to be suitable for a child or a smaller adult. A countertop only four or five inches lower than standard height can greatly elevate a short person's comfort level. Similarly, an appliance should be mounted on a wall at whatever height best suits its users, rather than conforming to a one-size-fits-all approach.

"The New Kitchen Idea Book" by Joanne Kellar Bouknight serves as a well-illustrated guide to options for placing kitchen equipment. This photo from the Taunton Press book shows a microwave oven that was installed under a counter to meet the needs of a wheelchair user. This sort of placement can also help save space in anyone's small kitchen and makes for better viewing of the food inside then the normal microwave oven height of most kitchens.

Have fun cooking with your grandkids!

Readers with general interior design questions for Rita St. Clair can e-mail her at

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