What Design Would You Recommend for a 4' 7" Person?
Question: "My husband and I are planning to build a home. What design would you recommend for a person who is 4'7" tall? I have never been able to reach overhead cabinets without a stool. I hate to admit it, but my balance is not what it used to be. I find myself falling off the stool or falling over it. I love to cook and spend most of my time in the kitchen. I want a kitchen built for me." —Karen M., W. Va.
Answer: This situation calls for a designer trained in universal design, an approach that considers the physical abilities and needs of people of all ages and heights. A few immediate thoughts come to mind:
36 inches is normal counter height, but it's not uncommon for some sections of counter to be lower (down to 28 inches) for a baking center or higher (up to 42 inches) for a breakfast bar. You say you want a kitchen designed just for you, so you could lower all the work surfaces. However, if you plan to sell the house within a few years, be aware that this could hurt resale value.
Stock base cabinets are all 34.5 inches tall, so you'll probably need to go with a semi-custom or custom line. Another option would be to go with KraftMaid's Passport Series of universal design cabinetry or Merillat's Universal Access cabinets. Both lines are 32.5 inches tall.
You could design it so that most of the storage is in the lower (base) cabinets instead of the upper (wall) cabinets. Using pullout drawers instead of cabinets with fixed shelves and drawers will not only make better use of the space but make it more accessible to you. And it's a design trend, too.
Get a cooktop and wall oven(s) instead of a range so you can position your cooking appliances at a good height for you. I also see a lot of people purchasing two separate wall ovens and placing them side by side rather than buying a stacked double oven. It's more expensive, of course, but both are easily accessible that way.
A kitchen design specialist who is familiar with the National Kitchen & Bath Association Planning Guidelines also will have a good working knowledge of ergonomics and be able to come up with suggestions that work for you and still look beautiful. Especially because you love to cook and spend so much time in the kitchen, the money spent will be well worth it.