For senior citizens, one of the biggest challenges of independent living is getting around in the kitchen. Decreased mobility can make it hard to access what you need to make a meal, while everyday occurrences, like slippery surfaces, become potentially perilous.
At the same time, kitchens also present challenges and dangers for the young ones, too. Whether it’s high countertops or a drawer full of sharp knives, small children need to be constantly monitored when they are in the kitchen.
But what if you have a home where inhabitants of these opposite ends of the age spectrum both live?
That’s the scenario designer Johnny Grey and Professor Peter Gore, an expert on ageing, wanted to answer when they started working on a concept for a multigenerational kitchen in 2017. The two noticed that more generations were living under one roof in their country and elsewhere in the world, so they started to think about how a kitchen space could serve the diverse needs of multiple generations and age groups.
With support from the U.K.’s National Innovation Centre for Ageing, they set about envisioning a kitchen that would factor in all the various needs and adapt to those needs depending on who was using it. The first thing they did was interview families to identify what types of challenges they would face.
“Rather than focussing on why people have problems, we focused on the problems people have,” said Gore. “This gave us the insight that we needed to move to the design stage.”
After the research phase, the group set about building a prototype with funding from a national consortium of universities.
Some of the features the kitchen concept includes are:
Cook anywhere surfaces. The prototype incorporates induction heating and cordless power (like that developed by the Wireless Power Consortium) technology in a number of surfaces. While those not familiar with induction heating may think this sounds dangerous, it’s much safer than gas or electric since the cooking surface doesn’t get hot.
Adjustable height countertops. The prototype has multiple adaptable height countertops. This idea of adaptable or personalized space is one I’ve noticed getting traction in recent years, and it really makes sense for a multigenerational kitchen.
Smart assistants. The prototype makes use of smart voice assistants such as the Amazon Alexa, but gives the assistants some operating context by giving specific control permissions depending on who is accessing what.
The combination of cutting edge features with warmer design featured like soft-edged counters and memory-era wallpaper resulted in a kitchen prototype that designer Grey felt was both welcoming and functional.
“The furniture is very flexible and it’s responsive -- it can behave in a way which works well for you and your family,” said Grey. “It’s about a living space, much more than just a kitchen.”
Despite the fact that more generations living under one roof has continued to increase, like many industries, the home design space is often too fixated on building towards the needs of a single generation in mind. Grey and Gore hope this prototype can influence more home designers and builders to build with multiple generations in minds.
“You can often find examples of homes that are designed and built with a specific age group in mind such as homes for older people, or apartments targeted at young professionals,” said Gore. “We think there is potential to shift design and construction away from thinking about building properties for just one or two generations toward building for multigenerational homes.”
You can take a look at the building of the prototype and hear from Gore and Grey in the video below.