How to design a comfy ergonomic kitchen

How to design a comfy ergonomic kitchen

Private Property South Africa
Sarah-Jane Meyer

A poorly-designed kitchen can spoil an otherwise lovely home. The kitchen environment should be designed to ensure you can work comfortably for extended periods. If you are constantly obliged to bend, reach, strain and stoop, everyday tasks like preparing meals or cleaning up can become unbearable.

Bending down to reach into the dishwasher and repeatedly reaching up to the crockery shelf may cause back pain and other aches. Appliances at the correct reaching height and adjacent storage can save a lot of time and effort in the kitchen and help prevent health problems.

WATCH : Tour 5 glamorous kitchens in South Africa

Working heights

When it comes to countertops, storage, appliances and sinks in the kitchen, just a few centimetres more or less can make a big difference.

The ideal height for a working surface will depend on the position of your elbows while standing comfortably upright. For example, with palms down on the countertop, your elbows should be resting with your forearms at 45 degrees above the work surface.

Stovetops should be slightly lower than working surfaces so that you can look down into pots and pans without strain. A stand-alone hob – rather than a stove with an oven – will allow you to customise the height to your specific needs. Make sure the extractor hood has a high enough clearance above the hob so that you don’t bump your head while working over a hot stove.

The top of your oven should be at shoulder height to easily see what is inside and don’t have to bend down to remove hot items.

The working height of a kitchen sink is calculated from the depth to the bottom of the sink and not from the rim. You should never stand stooped over while washing dishes. Instead, measure where your palms will reach the bottom of the sink while standing comfortably upright. Tap height should also be considered to avoid splashbacks in deeper or shallower sinks.

Storage

When designing kitchen cabinets and other storage facilities, you need to visualise the kitchen’s workflow and minimise having to reach above your head for anything heavier than a box of cereal.

Ergonomically-correct reaching height is just above eye level. To calculate the correct height for shelves, note the level of your elbows when you reach up above your head.

  • Cabinet shelves for items used often should not be higher than a healthy reaching height.
  • Use drawers below countertops for heavy items to avoid the strain caused by lifting while reaching.
  • Consider the way the cabinets will open. Will this hamper or create awkward movement for kitchen users?
  • Sliding doors for kitchen cabinets also helps reduce awkward movement and add a new aesthetic to the space.

Appliances

Kitchen appliances are commonly incorrectly positioned.

Placing your dishwasher at chest height will prevent constant stooping when stacking and emptying the appliance.

When shopping for a fridge-freezer, look for appliances with bottom drawer freezers and refrigerators at the top to reduce the need to bend down too often.

Workflow

Freedom to move between workspaces is essential. The ideal workspace allows you room to move and work without inefficient movements and wasted space.

The kitchen work triangle principle has been applied for more than a century to allow efficient movement between the three most common kitchen work areas - the refrigerator, the stove, and the sink. The principle still holds today, although modern kitchens have added more appliances, and many have more space to work with than in the early 20th century.

To find the correct locations for the three points of the triangle, you need to see which paths you will take most often and in what relation they stand to the different areas of the kitchen.

Visualise your food preparation tasks from start to finish.

  • Food items come from the refrigerator and the pantry to make their way to the preparation table.
  • They meet up with pots, pans and other cookware on their way to the oven or the hob.
  • From there, food travels to plates and serving dishes and then to the table.
  • After meals, dishes go into the sink and then the dishwasher.
  • They are then stored on shelves or in cabinets.

When designing your kitchen, you need to keep this pathway natural and uninterrupted with as few hindrances as possible.

The average ergonomic distance between kitchen workspaces is between 105 cm and 120 cm. Keep in mind that more than one person may be working in the kitchen at any given time. Allow the separate work areas and space they need to keep collisions to a minimum.

Decor

The distances you walk in your kitchen could be taking its toll on your back, legs and feet.

  • A sprung floor will make constant stepping and standing far more comfortable.
  • Materials like cork and bamboo are easier on the body than tiled kitchen floors.
  • You might also want to consider placing kitchen mats in strategic spots such as in front of the hob and the sink but be sure they are not trip hazards.

Mood lighting can improve kitchen aesthetics, and overhead spotlights look good and provide the ambient lighting needed. But when preparing meat or vegetables with a sharp knife, you need to be able to clearly see what you are doing.

Adding dedicated illumination for every work surface will make all the difference in creating an efficient and comfortable kitchen. The key is to position task lights to cast as little shadow as possible on the preparation surface.

Functional

When designing your ergonomic kitchen, remember that simple solutions are usually available to solve common problems.

Aesthetics are important, but for a functional kitchen, the primary focus should be on health and accessibility. No matter how perfect a kitchen design may look, it’s no good if it breaks your back to use it.

Writer : Sarah-Jane Meyer

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