Elevating the design of a wheelchair accessible kitchen

Outwardly this looks just like a regular spacious dream kitchen but there are many features that make this far much more. Making the space universally accessible for all five members of the family was of paramount importance. They have been back in their newly renovated and functional home for almost a year now and the space is working well for them all.

When this family were suddenly faced with the need for an accessible home there were an overwhelming number of changes that needed to be made to take their home into a place where they could all live independently, somewhere where there were no barriers and everyday life could resume in a new normal. I worked very closely with the family as a whole to ensure everyone’s needs were met, not just those to accommodate a wheelchair user. The key focus all along has been to design a house that feels like their home and for it not to appear outwardly institutional in any sense.

When people typically think of ADA and CSA approved fixtures and fittings they generally think of ugly and cumbersome designs, large levers and grab bars. None of those are going to be evident here and a considerable amount of time has been invested in sourcing things that are both functional and beautiful. Sinks and faucets that are sleek and modern. Appliances that offer accessible and space saving features, the overall design of the kitchen and all the elements that come together.  Additionally there were financial constraints due to the majority of the work being covered by insurance, this meant all these fixtures and fittings needed to also stick strictly to a very tight budget.

Note the dual height counter at the island allowing for meal prep both from a standard position and seated on the left. A wheel-under area at the end means family and friends can easily be sat around the island together. Working with the structural constraints of the 12′ addition, we have integrated the pillar into the overall design by painting it out the colours of the upper and lower cabinets and adding the same crown used on the cabinets.  Shallow depth cabinets added at the rear of the island (facing us in the image) maximize accessible storage space. To keep the visual feeling of space and openness I designed the bulkheads across the back of the house to conceal essential HVAC duct work that also carries down behind the full height pantry.

Shallow sink bowls provide essential wheel-under access. With one large single bowl rather than the typical double bowl configuration it leaves room for washing large roasting pans easily despite the shallow 6″ bowl depth. This sleek Blanco Quatrus sink hit all the marks with it’s shallow 5 1/2″ depth, rear drain hole and sharp zero radius corners. While the counter height is lower here, the shallow sink depth still enables a comfortable height also for standing while washing up.  The Fisher & Paykel pull out drawer style dishwasher makes for more accessible loading.  Floor space is optimized with the drawers rather than a pull down front. The clean profile pairs beautifully with the clean lines of the cabinetry and the angular styling of the sink. Whilst in this particular case the ADA requirement for faucets isn’t essential, these Moen Nori ADA approved plumbing fixtures still look stylish with single lever control and a pull down goose neck sprayer. The spot resist stainless finished is another added bonus. To keep counter space clear we also added a coordinated soap dispenser so soap is easily to hand. In so many public accessible spaces the undersink plumbing is visible and unsightly. I really wanted to keep the clean clutter free look so we added a removable painted panel set back under the sink to conceal the plumbing creating a neat finish while still allowing plenty of knee space.

Now showing the wheel-under island from a different angle. We installed an electrical outlet in one of the end support pillars so that small appliances such as food mixers can be used making baking an easier family activity. You can also see the small infill of quartz at the left of the sink to transition across the height difference and prevent water seepage to the wooden cabinet. A thicker waterfall edge here would have made the transition much heavier.

An integrated convection microwave and pull out waste disposal centre are also housed within the island. Sink, dishwasher and waste disposal are all kept within easy reach of each other. 

All lower level cabinets are fitted with pull out pantry drawers. No one has to fight to reach things stuck at the back of the cupboards.

The ADA & CSA approved convection wall oven from Bosch has a side opening door rather than the traditional drop down style. The height was determined for accessible reach and also knee clearance. In this instance, for the function and layout of the kitchen we opted for the hinge to be on the left side. We worked hard sourcing appliances to ensure we had the best available to meet the needs irrespective of whether the same brand was used throughout. Keeping to the same stainless steel and black details but combining manufacturers still works in the design by making sure handles and display panels all have a complementary appearance.

Two deep drawers under the oven provide ample space for storage of baking trays and roasting pans.

The standard requirement for turning space of a wheelchair is 60″, therefore we have allowed a minimum of 60″ between the island and the wall counter. There is a wide unobstructed wheel-under section incorporating a drawer for utensils, the gas stove with controls at the front and a prep sink. It proved challenging finding a smaller prep sink that was less than 6″ in depth, but this was key for both design and function. The depth of the sink needed to be concealed within the depth of front fascia while also keeping clearance for knee space to a maximum. Having the sink and faucet next to the stove enables pans to be filled with water for cooking without having to manoeuvre from the main sink. Without this a wheelchair user would have to carry a filled pot on their lap whilst trying to manoeuvre themselves from a sink to the stove. Saucepans of hot water can easily be drained minimizing risk of scalding and accidents. The extractor fan over the stove also has controls at the front for operation within comfortable reach. By incorporating these subtle design features a wheelchair user can move around the kitchen and prepare a meal independantly without assistance, things a typically abled person takes for granted.

Instead of ugly support panels and brackets, this whole lower length of counter is supported by a custom horizontal metal beam allowing for a continuous run of unobstructed knee space while also supporting the quartz counter. As with the island, the plumbing and the gas line are concealed from view with a removable painted panel giving a seamless flow to the colour of the base cabinets and continuity to the design. The panel sits approximately 6″ from the back wall to allow sufficient depth for knee space.

I really should also mention the lovely purple tiles just because they’re so pretty! Pops of colour are evident throughout this home reflecting the home owners personalities combined with some more subtly neutrals.

A few other things to note, a counter depth French door refrigerator helps to leave passage ways clear. Integrated water and ice dispensers in the door also gives one handed operation, there is no need to open the door and hold a glass leaving one hand free for manoeuvring a wheelchair.

Due to the reduced number of lower cabinets, all upper cabinets are 15″ deep an upgrade to the standard 12″ to maximize storage for less needed items or items more specific to the rest of the family.

An automated door onto the deck by way of remote control means independent hands free access to the garden although possibly also a rather elaborate dog door, no one needs to get up to let him out.

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