When most parents plan a new house or a major remodel, they spend a lot of time on the kitchen, trying to make sensible choices from the staggering number of cabinet door styles, countertop materials and appliance models available.
In most cases, though, little thought is given to who will be using the kitchen. Will it just be Mom and Dad, or will the whole family be cooking together? Making a new kitchen user-friendly for kids is surprisingly easy.
For countertops, experts recommend engineered stone, such as Silestone or Zodiaq brands, because it is nearly impossible to scratch or stain and it’s easy to keep clean.
For cabinetry, finish is more critical than style or material, said Mary Jo Peterson, a certified kitchen designer based in Brookfield, Conn. A darker stained wood is more forgiving because it tends to conceal dirt, dents and bruises. Lighter cabinet colors are more revealing and show dirt, but they reflect more natural light and make a smaller room feel larger.
For flooring, Peterson recommends linoleum because it is shock absorbing; fragile dishes accidentally dropped on it are less likely to break. Slate and tile are harder; things dropped on them do break.
The lack of shock absorption in tile and slate can also be hard on the parents, Peterson added. If you cook dishes that require you to stand for long periods at the stove, you may find your legs beginning to ache.
If you want your children to help with the cooking, you might want to consider a lower work surface. Standard kitchen counter height for adults is 36 inches; kids need a work surface that is about six inches lower.
When ordering new cabinets, you can incorporate a section of lower counter into its design, and this will make some cooking tasks easier for you long after your kids have grown and left the nest, said Jim Bingnear, a certified kitchen designer and the general manager of Stuart Kitchens in McLean.
A lowered counter should not add to the cost of a new kitchen, because most cabinet lines offer both 30-inch- and 341 / 2-inch-high cabinet boxes, Bingnear said. In any case, a lower counter is ergonomically advantageous for adults, too, because an adult’s arms will be straight when leaning over it. This allows adults to use their entire upper body strength to knead dough or mix ingredients and put more weight on the rolling pin for pastry dough or pizza crust.
A lower counter is handy for tall appliances and toasters, said Johnny Grey, a British kitchen designer whose work has influenced American kitchen design for more than 20 years. When blenders and food processors are lowered, it’s easier to peer in and see if the food is blended or minced.
Cooking and eating areas are typically separated in American homes. But for teaching kids to cook, integrating the two is advantageous because most of what kids learn about cooking and healthy eating is by observation.
Cooking together will be a family activity some of the time, but they are watching you every day, Grey said. A social area within the kitchen also helps to reinforce the idea that cooking is not merely providing nourishment but is also “a wonderfully social activity,” he said.
If you plan to use the counter for eating and casual socializing as well, you’ll need one that’s at least 48 inches wide with a depth of 26 inches — “Enough,” Grey said, “to feel like you’re sitting at a table and not a shelf. This is especially important when the lowered counter faces into the kitchen. You need to have a space in front of your face to talk to people, whether they are sitting next to you or standing at the sink across the room.”
Store everything you don’t want your children to use high up; store everything you want them to use lower down. A practical way to separate the two is a floor-to-ceiling, 12-inch-deep bank of cabinets, which Bingnear installed in his own kitchen when his daughters were young.
To make it easy for them to help with chores such as unloading the dishwasher and setting the table, Bingnear and his wife rearranged the contents of their cabinets. Items normally stored up high, such as dishes and glassware, were kept in the lower cabinets, along with the cookware that his children used. Bingnear also rearranged the drawers of a drawer base, moving the silverware drawer to a lower position so that his kids had easier access.
Katherine Salant has an architecture degree from Harvard. A native Washingtonian, she grew up in Fairfax County and now lives in Michigan. If you have questions or would like to suggest topics for coverage, contact her by e-mail or at katherinesalant.com.