Child-Friendly Kitchens Spotlight Easy-Care
From AutoCAD to cell phones, the kitchen and bath industry
is becoming increasingly automated, sources say.
By John Filippelli
Like ice cream and Harry Potter books, the best-designed
child-friendly kitchens are suitable for people of all ages.
So says Patti Boyd-Bowles, interior designer and manager for
Fairfield, IL-based B-Way Design & Decorating, who believes
that kids in the kitchen require practical design to ensure safety,
accessibility and easy maintenance for those inevitable spills.
She explains, “Children are being [taken into consideration]
more than ever when it comes to the prep areas. For instance, we
have been lowering microwaves so that children can have greater
accessibility [and independence]. We’re also incorporating other
parts of the bar area where they can be in the kitchen with the
main prep person. This creates a continual open space for doing
homework as well as eating, helping with meal preparation and
making conversation. Overall, I think it makes the kitchen a bit
Kurt Rust, designer for Simi Valley, CA-based Kitchens Etc. of
Ventura County, adds, “For growing families, the height of the work
area is a crucial element [if you want to] include kids in the
preparation of meals. [I have seen designers] integrate a load area
[into the design] that kids can work at when they’re smaller.
You also have the option of installing a larger, taller area
[for when they grow].”
But, the designers note, there is a delicate balance that goes
with creating a layout that caters to an interactive environment
while not giving children access to items that are potentially
Says Steve Egan, production manager of Sea Girt, NJ-based Design
Line Kitchens, “In my own kitchen, I reverse things and keep dishes
down below instead of small stuff that could be dangerous to the
child. And, obviously, glass cabinets down low are a definite
But, in the end, Barbara Geller, ACSD, PKBP and president of
Boca Raton, FL-based Kitchens & Baths by Neal IsThe Place for
Kitchens, Inc., offers: “[Design professionals] need to make the
kitchen function for whatever is important to each individual
client. If we do that, then the aesthetics will always
Although most of the designers
interviewed cite cherry and maple wood cabinets as growing in
popularity, it is thermofoil cabinets that they consider to be the
preferable choice for kid-friendly kitchens.
Says Egan, “Clients will start to see a lot of nicks and dents
[on hardwood cabinets], with a lot of cleaning up and food
splattered all over the place. The wood is getting beat up and
finishes aren’t holding up.”
He adds, “The luster is beautiful on hardwoods, but [I don’t
think] they’re going to hold up like thermofoil doors.”
Indeed, nearly every designer interviewed noted that thermofoil
cabinets offer an ease of maintenance and durability that makes
them ideally suited for families with children.
As Chris McLean, owner of All About Kitchens, based in
Wolfeboro, NH, says, “Thermofoil is best because it spray-cleans.
If there is damage, there is no repairing involved. But, at least
you can replace it and still keep your kitchen perfect.”
Geller offers a way to avoid this dilemma. “If you want to get
around kids banging into wood cabinets, you go to a distressed
finish. Then, you don’t worry about it.”
“We are working on a thermofoil door that has an applied glaze
over it,” offers Egan.
In fact, Egan notes that his company is installing a lot of
painted, sprayed doors in a latte, with a scrimshaw finish. “It is
a bisque color with a brown glaze in the corners to give it an
antique look,” he reports.
Thermofoil can also help designers maintain a cohesive aesthetic
with other design elements, such as solid surface and granite,
since it blends well with other materials.
Boyd-Bowles sees a slightly different trend developing, however:
“We are seeing that our clients with children are looking for more
of a furniture style and detailing.”
Geller adds, “Contemporary is coming back, and cherry is very
popular right now.”
Egan concludes, “People should take into consideration what [the
materials will] withstand and what children really can do to a
kitchen. A young toddler who is just learning to eat with a spoon
will get messy. Think about cleaning that entire mess off of wood
raised-panel doors in the kitchen.”
Complementing these requested
looks, according to Boyd-Bowles, are a mixture of such materials as
granite and easy-care solid surface, accented by bolder colors and
speckled patterns that hide dirt.
“We are still very big on solid surface materials. It’s getting
into a granite look, but we do more with solid surface because of
its ease of use in different design profiles,” she explains. “We’re
also doing a lot of the speckled particulates on countertops, where
it looks more like a granite.”
Boyd-Bowles adds, “We’re pretty much getting into the medium
tones to dark tones on the countertops. We are not using too many
light [colors] anymore.”
Egan disagrees however, noting, “All of the colors have come and
gone, but white has always been here and white will always stay.
You can accessorize white with different color countertops,
flooring and still have it appeal to resale value.”
McLean continues, “You’re always better off contrasting with white
Egan concludes, “What is new is the bisque color and the antique
white. There is a whole line of bisque appliances, and I’ve done a
number of them. It creates a happier, warmer look.”
Have a seat
According to Rust, proper seating
is a key component that designers must take into account when
creating a child-oriented kitchen.
“The main focus is seating in the space so that people can
include the children in the kitchen area and keep them from getting
underfoot. Bar seating and seating at the island are the main two
types we [tend to install]. These help parents monitor the children
[when preparing meals] and also allow for easier feeding.”
He continues, “The raised bar or split-level island seems to be
popular right now. We do a lot of that for families because of the
different aspects it adds for [work and traffic flow] in the
Geller concurs: “A lot of clients want more than one prep area,
and if they have kids, they want some sort of seating so that the
kids can do homework while they are preparing dinner. We will
usually drop the counter down to table height to make it more
comfortable and kid-friendly.”
But, while Geller agrees that bar seating is popular, she also
points out that designers need to take the overall function of the
kitchen into account, as well.
“I have a client right now who wants a bar and seating in the
kitchen. The client can’t get seating at the bar and get the couch
and seating into the other room at the same time. As a result, the
seating has to be placed off of the kitchen.”
She continues, “I also don’t like putting seating behind a cooktop
if they are planning to put kids there, because the kids can easily
reach over [and hurt themselves] on something hot.”
But, she does note, “Overall, bar seating does give you
different options. You can put electrical on the backside of it and
you can hide faucets or other things that would normally be on the
While safety is certainly a
concern when designing any space, the issue becomes much more
pertinent when children are involved, believes Egan.
“There are things that are good for the safety of children and
still look good. For instance, there have been a lot of innovations
with safety gates to make them look better,” he remarks.
McLean adds, “Some people have considered hinging, such as the
type of hinges that can open all the way but kids still cannot
break them off.”
“I will use products such as magnetic lock systems,” Egan
McLean continues, “The other big concern is sharp corners,
which, obviously, should be avoided. We won’t build a custom square
edge with a sharp corner at head height.”
Says Egan, “I would definitely avoid having a countertop
overhang for seating right at the top of a five-year-old’s
Geller concludes with another suggestion that designers should
consider: “I recommend selecting professional cooktops and wall
ovens because a professional range throws a lot of heat out of the
front of it [which is] down where the kids will be.”
Egan believes it is quite
feasible to make a kitchen accessible for children as well as
“I will put in a Sub-Zero 24″-wide undercounter refrigerator, so
that when the kids want a drink, they can get their drink. I guess
the same application can be used for a freezer, so when the kids
want ice pops, they can easily get them, as well.”
McLean suggests another option. “A big family should consider
using two dishwashers; one is always clean while the other is dirty
[which makes clean-up easier].”
Mclean also suggests that designers consider installing a wall
“I put them higher so it is very comfortable for a normal-height
adult. It will also keep the toddler from being able to reach it.
My kids can barely reach ours, and they are five years old. [I
think] it is more comfortable when it is located just above waist
height, as well,” he says.
Says Rust, “When we are doing multiple-height counters, we
soften the corners and make sure that the work surface for the
kitchen is at a different height than the counter space for eating.
That separates the two areas [visually and functionally].
Therefore, whatever is going on whether it be cooking, cleaning or
meal preparation can be done in such a way as to accommodate the
needs of the different family members.”
Rust continues, “Appliance selection is also important in that
aspect, especially when making sure the appliances are controllable
from the correct side.”
To that end, Rust points out that his firm frequently integrates
snack centers for families, such as installing microwaves next to
the refrigerator and leaving those appliances near an entrance to
Conversely, Rust notes that, for a
kitchen to be truly accessible to children, it should offer ample
storage space. In fact, he describes a recent project that reflects
this key design need.
“We did a maple kitchen for a growing family, where they
incorporated a tremendous amount of additional storage as well as a
one-level eating bar. They also dramatically upgraded their
appliances,” he relates.
Geller also describes a natural maple kitchen in a navy blue hue
that she recently designed. “[In this kitchen], the whole back wall
behind the range is a plate of glass. We suspended wall cabinets
with no back on the glass. We had to do the glass in three sections
because we suspended the hood in front of it. There is also a tall
cabinet for the kids’ school supplies and arts and crafts
She continues, “My clients never have enough storage. You can
never have enough storage.”
She concludes that designers can find extra storage space for kids’
supplies in base cabinets.