March 1, 2007
Three European kitchen systems prove that universal design and high-end aesthetics are not incompatible.
While much is made of the ongoing influence of America’s aging baby-boom generation—whose members are turning 60 at the rate of about three million a year—the demographics of Europe are even creakier. Nearly 16 percent of Western Europe is already over 65. Demographers estimate that by 2050 one in three Germans will be 60 years old or older. These are startling statistics, with profound implications for design.
In recent years, much has also been made of universal design’s lack of progress and dearth of attractive options. Objects and spaces designed for the elderly or the disabled have often looked like it. And while they carried a “universal design” label, their medicinal aesthetics undermined the whole idea. Fortunately, the growing size of the market favors real change—a huge and highly affluent segment of the population will demand it. It’s no surprise that Europeans—and the Japanese—have begun designing products that fuse genuine elegance with utility for all. Here’s hoping the three kitchens shown here (two from Italy, one from Germany) will serve not only as models for the twenty-first-century home but for a range of other goods and services that will require serious rethinking in the next 20 years.
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Five years ago Snaidero commissioned Lucci Orlandini Design to create a new kitchen to coincide with the 2003 European Year of People with Disabilities. A meticulous 18-month design process ensued. “We interviewed people, went to rehabilitation hospitals, hired someone in a wheelchair for three months, and built a full-size mock-up,” says Roberto Lucci, whose firm has designed several kitchens since 1970. “Disabled people were videotaped cooking, and special electronic dynamometers were used to measure the degree of effort involved in different tasks. Quite a few improvements over the original design were either the result of these tests or suggestions from people who used our kitchen in the hospital.” Out of this process came two products, Skyline_Lab, created specifically for people with a range of disabilities, and the award-winning Skyline, a kitchen for the general public embodying universal design principles. “Designers usually work for the general market, make a nice design, and then spoil it by trying to adapt the concept to the needs of disabled people,” Lucci says. “We went the opposite way, starting with a design for the disabled and ending with one for everybody.” —Martin C. Pedersen
Alno My Way
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When German company Alno began developing a kitchen for that country’s growing ranks of “Silver Agers,” its design team focused on a single mundane but vital concern. “A lot of the items are about not bending over,” says Kevin Henry, Alno USA’s CEO. “I hate to say that’s the design philosophy, but it is.” The company’s solution was My Way, a fluid kitchen—recently introduced in the United States—that uses an electronically based tracking system to allow cabinets, appliances, and even the sink to meet the user.
With the push of a button, the kitchen countertop raises six inches or the stovetop lowers to the height of a wheelchair. Other accessibility components include a flexible LED task light that swivels, a locking prescription holder that moves down from a top cabinet, and drawers that pull out to provide extra counter space. In response to studies showing that seniors with pets live longer and happier lives, Alno added an entire tuck-away cabinet with space for food and water bowls as well as storage cans just for Fido. “It’s amazing how many people consider pets just as important as any member of the family,” Henry says. —Michael Silverberg
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The idea of a wheelchair-accessible kitchen first occurred to Marco Miscioscia in 2001 while he was still a student. Inspired by a quadriplegic friend’s wish to live independently, the kitchen became his graduate thesis. “Being an industrial designer and an architect, I decided to carry out projects respecting everybody’s requirements,” he says. Four years later the manufacturer Bautek produced the resulting design: a stainless-steel unit that integrates all of the components of cooking into one height-adjustable workstation. To the left is a food-preparation and washing area with a pull-down faucet, an elevated dish-drying rack, and a removable bucket that serves as a sink. To the right is the cooking station with two burners, a central drain for overflowing liquids, and a removable cutting board.
Now Valcucine has adopted the workstation into its Hability universal kitchen, which is customizable with the manufacturer’s existing accessible components, including wall-hung cabinets, corner units, and the stainless-steel Libera hood. Valcucine also made one key adjustment: whereas the original workstation had telescoping legs for height adjustability, in the Hability kitchen it can be raised and lowered with the touch of a button. —Mason Currey