We all love to prepare wonderful meals for our guests when we entertain. In our 20s and 30s we all begin to experiment with our new roles of host and hostess whether we are having wine and cheese in our New York City loft apartment or our English Tudor in the suburbs. Regardless, of our budget or the size of our abode, we all crave friendly interaction while enjoying good food and drink, but is our kitchen conducive to our needs as we age?
When Clients Want to Stay in Their Homes for the Long Haul
Ironically, a client I’d worked with some time ago contacted me to arrange for some design changes to their Tribeca loft apartment. They had been living overseas and were ready to take the trip back over the pond and re-birth their lives here in the states. Their apartment was in wonderful shape, but needed a freshening to accommodate their current character.
When we talked about some of the ideas for the redesign, we identified that the loft itself had wonderful open floor plan that would allow for this couple to make transitions easily and naturally as the years passed by. The loft has wonderful, natural light from the enormous windows and offers the ideal flow whether gathering a large crowd or an intimate group. The clients were concerned about using the space efficiently and effectively for the long-haul. They sought my council about which renovations they should consider that would take them into their later years.
In this particular Tribeca Loft, the kitchen was designed to be open and used simultaneously by different members of the family. The lighting was sufficient and placed correctly. My observations determined that ultimately this lovely space simply required some cosmetic changes to ready the loft for the returning tenants.
Shortly thereafter, I was asked to apply the same thought process to another kitchen project. You see, many New York City apartment and loft owners enjoy the city life and have every intention of staying in their homes for many years.
Tweaking the Kitchen
Making true, valued changes to a kitchen for use in one’s later years was key in taking on this renovation project. For instance in this lovely Central Park West apartment, simply raising the counter height by 1.5”, would make working in this kitchen a dream with many ‘physical’ stress-free hours.
Raising the counter height when planning a renovation considers the body’s physical changes reducing the need to bend or stoop over when prepping for meals or cleaning up. This simple tweak helps with what older folks call ‘feeling stiff’ at the shoulders or back. As we age, our bones become more brittle (osteoporosis, thoracic compression etc), and unfortunately, we encounter small stress fractures which are extremely painful and eventually debilitating. Standing tall and straight will never fail your physical body.
Within the cabinets and the pantry, I incorporated pullout shelves to once again reduce the need to reach or bend deeply into the cavity of the cabinetry. Another consideration is raising the dishwasher height off the floor, so again, the user wouldn’t need to bend as far. This simple solution will also provide the homeowner an easy reach should they require a wheelchair at a later stage in life.
Lighting is the key player in any kitchen and a personal favorite to work with. I also find it to be the most important element as we get older. I find myself reaching for my glasses just about all the time and to see the simplest thing. As we all chuckle about these basic, common foibles, we really do need to make choices in lighting not only for today but also for a later time.
Let’s review. In my opinion a well lit kitchen should include LED task lights under the cabinets to shed light directly over the countertop, a great exhaust fan over the stove with bright bulbs to view the stove top, and LED ceiling fixtures that provide a tremendous amount of light – much more than the conventional 6” recessed fixtures found in most kitchens today.
LED bulbs, while a little costly at the onset, have a few huge benefits worth stating here. First, they will pay for themselves in replacement cost very quickly. A regular incandescent bulb will last approximately 1200 hours while the LED bulb lasts up to 50,000 hours. Second, they are brighter. Although they are smaller in overall size, you experience twice the light with half the holes in your ceiling. These provide a wide, bright beam of light to encompass a great deal of workspace.
I’ve moved away from incandescent altogether, but I digress here and promise a full review of lighting in another blog. Last, is the heat consideration. Again, as we age, our body temperatures do some crazy things. With the heat in the kitchen coming from your cooking and appliances, the last thing you need is to feel the warmth from a ceiling full of incandescent lightbulbs. LEDs are cool not only as an energy choice but also aid in controlling those warmer moments.
Regardless of the type of lighting chosen, a must-have, in any kitchen, are dimmer switches. These allows for the homeowner to use as much or as little light as required for the specific task or as their glasses get thicker.
What About The Cookin’ Part?
After some reflection it was apparent to me that it wasn’t time, energy, finances or any other outside influence that was preventing folks to continue to entertain. It was, in fact, that as we change so do our needs. If and when your kitchen is ready for renovation, keep in mind, counter heights, ease of use and targeted lighting so that as you age you still enjoy entertaining as much as you did in your 20s. Those needs not only include function but comfort. Once comfortable – bring on bubbly and enjoy your company!