When Jo Wright became wheelchair-dependent, she asked designer Keith Myers to help build her a stylish and accessible home. It went on to win Home of the Year at the British Homes Awards. One of its key features is a practical yet beautiful kitchen, so we asked Keith all about creating it…
Had you ever worked on a kitchen design for an accessible home before?
“We had worked with a client with a disabled child. We helped design a kitchen space that would enable their child to access and enjoy their kitchen-living area. When designing for a disability, it’s important to firstly consider practical issues, but make the space functional and beautiful too. Some customers feel they need their accessible kitchen to be solely practical, but that isn’t the case. We can create a space for them that is not just practical. It can also look elegant and stylish with plenty of attractive design features.”
What kinds of things did you have to learn in order to create a safe and navigable kitchen for Jo?
“We worked alongside the architects, ACG Architects, and Adam Thomas, who is an accessible kitchen design specialist. We were determined to create a kitchen space that would allow Jo to live, cook and enjoy her home independently. The design has been highly acclaimed in the press. It is shortlisted for ‘House of the Year’ at the 2022 RIBA South Regional Awards.
“We initially received a conceptual design from Adam Thomas. From that, we started to create almost two kitchens into one space. The design makes the kitchen easy for Jo to use, and also for her husband and grown-up children to use in symphony. For example, we looked at the conceptual moveable worktop around the hub and sink area (which is a standard disability type function in a kitchen space). Because of the size of the space, it enabled us to fix a lower-level worktop in position for Jo, and another worktop for her husband and grown-up children to use when they are all in the kitchen together preparing food.”
What would you say are the kitchen’s most exceptional features, and why?
“The kitchen allows Jo to prepare, cook and serve meals for her family independently. We included wheelchair level ovens with tray slides directly under two Neff Slide & Glide ovens, a Neff Steamer and a Microwave. This meant Jo could hold/slide hot oven trays across each tray slide. We also included a little pull-out shelf that allowed Jo to move food/trays to her worktop level.
“In front of the hob, there is also a protective lip at the edge of the worktop to stop a pan from boiling over onto the floor or onto Jo’s lap. The mix of SC10, S2 and SLC SieMatic cabinetry in tones of Sterling Grey and Graphite Grey allowed Jo to easily clean the cabinetry. The durable Dekton Keon worktops provided heavy-duty use, while looking attractive.
“The architects included wood slatting across the entire ground floor, which created a stunning feature in the kitchen. The inclusion of this wood in the kitchen did create some technical issues that had to be overcome. We had to work out how the doors could open without clashing with each other. And we needed to keep all the gaps the same size. The other tricky bit was ensuring that the slats ran with precision over the door units.
“This is because they were designed off-plan first, so we had to ensure that they wouldn’t be overlapping over a door front. There were also toasters and pull-out drawers behind that area which needed to be isolated from the power even when the doors were closed. We included isolators on the door switches so when the doors were shut, all the appliances would automatically switch off.”
Elements of the design are naturally at different levels and heights to those in a non-accessible kitchen, aren’t they?
“Yes, the kitchen had three different heights to enable both Jo and her family to prepare and cook food. The end of the Peninsula and second sink area in the slatted wall area had a standard height of 900mm. The accessible worktop with the sink was 870mm, and the worktop that features the hob was 820mm.
“The stone sink was also custom made by Cosentino, so it wasn’t too deep for Jo to reach into. The waste trap was positioned right at the back rather than the centre of the sink. This meant Jo’s knee didn’t make contact with the waste trap when sitting underneath it when washing up, etc.”
Were there any compromises to be made when it came to kitchen design?
“We took each difficulty and turned it into a positive outcome. We worked with our suppliers to create custom solutions in a range of sizes and shapes and positions that we wanted them to be in. This was all to provide Jo and her family with a kitchen that they could enjoy together or independently.”
What was the most satisfying thing about designing the kitchen?
“I visited Jo and her family after they had been living in the space for just under a year and asked them, ‘How’s it working for you?’. Her answer was, ‘It is absolutely fabulous. Everything is in the right place. And everything works!’ There is no better reward than to hear that from a client, especially as the kitchen has meant that Jo feels independent again.”
What was the most difficult element of the kitchen to realise, and why?
“To create a fused kitchen design that works for each family member with varying needs and heights. I am delighted to say that it’s a space that allows for the whole family to enjoy and create memories together.”
If another homeowner wanted to make their existing kitchen more accessible, how would you advise them to modify it?
“The first thing is to understand what their needs and desires are and who else lives in the house. Simple things such as installing cabinetry with handles that allow drawers and cupboards to open easily, changing a tap to a hot water sensor tap, and changing one of the worktop heights are great ways to modify an existing kitchen into a more accessible space.”
If one of our readers wanted to hire you to design a similarly accessible kitchen, would you be able to provide a rough estimate as to cost?
“We would estimate a similar kitchen design including appliances would start at around £65,000, but the design would depend on the quality of materials, appliances and bespoke work that would be undertaken.”
- House of the Year 2022, British Homes Awards – Winner
- RIBA Awards 2022 – Shortlisted (announcement Spring 2022)
For more on accessibility from These Three Rooms, here’s our feature on inclusive design.