How to Design a Kitchen When You’re Retired

How to Design a Kitchen When You’re Retired

When building or upgrading a kitchen in retirement, you’re not just creating something for the present, you’re also setting yourself up for the future. The decisions you make with your redesign today could have a major impact on your quality of living in a few years. Taking into consideration the current state of your health and how it might change down the road is just as important as creating a space that is beautiful and functional. 


In this guide, we’ll outline key considerations you should keep ‘front of mind’ when redesigning a kitchen as you get older. We’ll look at how to reduce or eliminate common hazards so you don’t experience any precarious accidents such as falls, lacerations or slips. While these changes may feel quite personal to you, know that some of these can also benefit the entire family, including creating a space where you can enjoy spending time socialising and preparing food with grandchildren around.


What to look out for in your kitchen


Before looking at what you can do to make your kitchen space safer and more convenient, it’s good to have an understanding of why redesigning your kitchen in such a way might be important. You may look around your space and think that’s it’s just fine as it is with no glaring hazards in sight. However, many accidents that occur in the kitchen happen as a result of the subtle things we often overlook. Here are a few potential culprits.


  • Location of cooking appliances is one of the biggest causes of kitchen fires each year. Those that are freestanding on the floor can more easily come into contact with water. Left unattended, cooking appliances are also a higher fire hazard.
  • Storing and using sharp kitchen tools – Lacerations or cuts are easily caused by kitchen tools. 
  • Hot water – from kettles or being boiled on a stove can result in scald burns.
  • Wet, slippery kitchen floors -these, in particular, account for the majority of falls older people experience after a certain age
  • Overused kitchen clothes – can gather bacteria and lead to foodborne diseases 
  • A home without a fire alarm or one that doesn’t work properly can result in a higher risk of fire when smoke goes undetected.


While a number of these kinds of incidents are easily prevented, larger changes such as installing new flooring or making the space more wheelchair friendly may require a full redesign of the space. Barbury has a wealth of experience in redesigning kitchens for residents in retirement that are looking to stay put, so it’s worth getting in touch with us to understand what we could do for your particular situation. 


Designing a retirement friendly kitchen


Below are a few suggestions for optimising the various areas and elements of your kitchen.




With slips and falls being the leading cause of accidents for older people, incorporating the right flooring in your kitchen (and entire home for that matter) should be at the top of your list. It’s often difficult to tell when a floor is wet, particularly if it has a glossy finish. So, opt for a floor covering that is non-glare. Steer clear of rugs or even taped carpet as any flooring should be firmly affixed, so it can’t move under you. Non-slip tile is a safe and stylish choice. The smaller the tiles, the more slip-proof they will be. It can also be added as an additional layer of protection on top of existing tiles. Low pile carpet and cork can also help you avoid slippage. A texture like carpet may also feel more comfortable underfoot as tiles can be difficult to stand on for longer periods (especially for those with lower back or hip pain).


Perhaps the best choice for those ageing in place (particularly if wheelchair-using) is wood, linoleum or vinyl. Hardwood is especially great for wheelchair users as it offers easier rolling surface than tile or carpet.


Temperature control


As you work in the kitchen, the temperature is likely to go up, so it’s vital to be able to adjust how hot or cold your environment gets. You should have easy access to a thermostat you can adjust as you cook. That way, you can prevent feeling lightheaded or faint in the case of getting over-exhausted as you move about. If you can’t install a thermostat nearby, then ensure you at least have a window unit in place that’s within reaching distance and easy access from your cooktop.


Ovens and cooking appliances


The safest place for an oven and also microwave for that matter for ageing residents is when these are built into a wall. That way, you can ensure it’s set at a particular height and in-line with the closest countertop (to reduce bending). Other additions for making an oven or other cooking appliance safe include installing a pull-out counter underneath it.


Having a cooktop, instead of a standard range, is also safer given that these cool down faster and can help you transfer items from cooking elements to the countertops much more swiftly. Cooktops with colour indicators are especially useful as you can see whether or not burners are hot, regardless as to whether the cooktop is turned on or off. The self-cleaning versions will also add to the convenience of your kitchen area.


Kitchen Cabinets


The most obvious concern with kitchen cabinets is that they should be within easy reach. A good rule for ageing residents to abide by is to ensure upper cabinets are roughly 3 inches lower than their typical height. Pull-down shelves can assist in making this storage space more accessible. Equally, pull-out shelves in lower cabinets, or simply installing large drawers instead, can help reduce back strain from bending. You should also store bulkier, heavier items in lower cabinets to avoid accidents from heavy items falling from overhead. Keep frequently used items in open shelving units where they are easy to obtain and to find (as they’ll be conveniently in sight).


Added room for manoeuvrability


As we age, our mobility can change. The more space we have to manoeuvre, the easier life becomes in our living space. Ageing-in-place residents should think about designing doorways and thoroughfares to have additional clearance room. Doorways and entranceways should be 36 inches wide, at least. Allow enough access for walkers or wheelchairs, which require 42-48 inches of clearance.  

If possible, try and design your space to be open-plan. Align larger furniture pieces, such as tables, along one wall and remove unnecessary walls to create more open passageways. If you don’t want to redesign existing doors, you can install a special hinge on them that can move the edge of the door out to give you more room for entering and exiting rooms by wheelchair.




This is a space you’ll be using very frequently, so it’s important to get this right. When in doubt, opt for a countertop material that airs on the side of practicality. While there may be a glossy granite countertop you absolutely love it may not provide the best surface for your needs. Keep surfaces clear of clutter so you have more space to manoeuvre when cooking. A multi-level countertop is a great investment for those ageing in place. This can provide you with a great deal more freedom and mobility. You could have one surface set at a standard level (36 inches) with another one set lower at 30 inches. The lower countertop is also convenient for children to reach in the case of you wanting to spend some quality time baking with the grandchildren. 


One thing you should definitely have in place above your countertop is an emergency grab bar. Whether this is a series of shorter handles or one long continuous one, having a handlebar(s) in place above your countertop will help break any falls and prevent you or your older relative from grabbing anything dangerous instead (such as a small appliance or sharp kitchen tool).


Doorways and handles


Door handles that are in a traditional knob shape are often very finicky for older residents.  A D-shaped handle offers a much better grip. Replace all main doors as well as cabinet and appliance doors with a D-shaped handle.


Kitchen sink area


When it comes to sinks, there are a few adjustments you can make. A good depth for your sink, if you’re an older resident, is about 6 inches, so quite shallow. The height of the sink should also match that of your countertops and be ideal for reducing the need to bend too far down or reach too high. In terms of faucets, opt for one that is hands-free one or at least equipped with lever handles. Pullout sprayers are also very handy. An anti-scald device will regulate water temperature, preventing it from running too hot. Soap dispensaries and water filters also help with maintaining a hygienic environment, particularly where cooking is concerned.




As we age, our vision changes. Seeing things clearly can become more difficult and can be exacerbated by working in poorly lit areas. Reduce eyestrain by ensuring your kitchen is well lit using a good mix of natural and artificial light. This is particularly important for all those smaller areas that become dark quickly during the day such as worktops under cabinets. Under-cabinet-lighting is a clever way of flooding those hard-to-see places with ample light. Just make sure you get an expert to install this kind of lighting and advise you on what level of light will work well with your space – especially if your cabinet and worktop surfaces are glossy. In this case, if the lighting is too strong it can create glare, which could be dangerous. 


Furthermore, light switches should be easy to reach, with the mains ones being at the entrance of your kitchen or any other rooms with entrances off of the kitchen. You should also have light switches easily accessible from your actual kitchen workspace, especially within reach of where you cut food or operate any appliances. Automatic lighting that turns on and off as you enter and exit a room or track lighting can make using lighting much easier.


There are other considerations when it comes to lighting. Windows are important for filtering through natural light during the day, so you should have ones close to or overlooking your kitchen workspace.


Round off edges


90-degree angular edges on open shelves can be sharp, especially if you bump into them accidentally as you’re moving around your kitchen. By making the exposed edges of these round, you’ll reduce the likelihood of garnering any scraps as you pass by.


Calming colour scheme


This is certainly not an immediate concern when it comes to eliminating physical hazards in your kitchen. However, it’s important to also take into account the effect your environment can have on you mentally. If you’ve got a kitchen that’s particularly bright and bold in tone you may find this colour scheme more irritating than inspiring as you age. Tone down a style that is too loud or brash by opting for more neutral, earthy and calming colours. Opt for pale blues, olive greens or dusty pinks. Additionally, decorating the space in a way that makes it homely and relaxing, will do wonders for your mental health as you begin to spend more time at home.


Building your kitchen in retirement


As we explored in this post there are many new things to consider when upgrading or redesigning your kitchen in retirement. It can feel slightly daunting as a project, especially if you’re unsure of how your needs may change in a few years.

Barbury has years of experience in designing and building kitchens that will last and evolve with you throughout retirement. We can work with you to understand your specific needs (and how these might change in the future) and determine the features you’ll need for an upgrade that’s as practical as it will be beautiful. From the initial consultation, through to design, manufacturing and installation, our team will be there to guide you the entire way. We aim to create a space that is entirely bespoke and exactly tailored to your current and future lifestyle, so you’ll be happy for years to come.

If you’d like to find out more about how we could help you or an ageing relative, request a free brochure here. Or, request a free design concept consultation here.