Bigger Doesn’t Always Mean Better

Dear Jane, I live alone in a small town-house. I have multiple sclerosis, and there are good days and bad […]

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Dear Jane,

I live alone in a small town-house. I have multiple sclerosis, and there are good days and bad days. There are days when I am very fatigued and do not have a lot of strength to reach items in my upper wall cabinets or at the back of shelves in base cabinets. There isn’t any room to enlarge the kitchen. Do you have any suggestions on modifying my kitchen so I can continue to prepare my meals, even on my difficult days?

Jean R., Duluth, MN


Dear Jean,

We have often been challenged to solve a problem similar to yours. There are several scenarios where it is not architecturally possible to enlarge the kitchen to provide additional storage within an individual’s accessible reach range. When looking at a standard kitchen, a significant amount of storage is “out-of-reach.”

There are some unique products available for organization that works well for individuals with limited reach ranges. Individuals who have small areas need great organization products to convert a small “inefficient” kitchen into a small “functional” kitchen.

As a start, base cabinet shelving can be removed and replaced with pull-out shelves, bringing the back of a shelf to the front. Pull-out shelves can be solid or wire “basket” style and easily available.

We have recently seen upper wall cabinets and base cabinets where the entire shelving system pulls out from the wall allowing access from the side of the shelves. Some manufactures also offer full height pantry shelving that can be as tall as 80” above the floor, with a width of 9” to 20” that can roll out of the cabinetry. This is especially functional in small kitchens where there isn’t adequate width to install a traditional pantry cabinet.

If you are unable to reach items on the upper shelves in your wall cabinets, you may want to consider installing a pull-down shelving system, which can bring items from the top shelves down closer to countertop level. This hinged shelving system is mounted in upper wall cabinets in place of fixed or adjustable shelving.

As with corner base cabinets, lazy-susans can also be installed in upper corner wall cabinets bringing items stored at the back corner towards the front opening. If you have difficulty lifting and moving small appliances such as a mixer, food processor, etc., an “appliance lift” shelf can be installed in base cabinets. The appliance is placed on the shelf and stored in a base cabinet. When used, the shelf is easily pulled out of the cabinet and rises to counter height with very little effort.

Oftentimes in a small kitchen, countertops are used to store a toaster, coffee maker, mixer, etc., leaving little counter space to use as a work area. Pull-out bread boards can be added in a kitchen to provide additional work surfaces. Some individuals who tire easily will use a chair on casters to sit in while preparing meals. Use of a bread board as a work surface provides knee clearance below to accommodate use of a chair without loosing valuable storage space in base cabinets. Placement of bread boards also provides convenient counter space when positioned adjacent to an oven, microwave, refrigerator or cooktop.

In some kitchen situations, we have installed two bread boards, one on top of the other, with the lower board having a hole cut out of it the size of a commonly used mixing bowl. After the top board is used for cutting and chopping, the food items can be pushed from the top board into a bowl placed in the hole of the lower board.

A base cabinet drawer can be converted to store a pull-out ironing board that folds away into the space of a drawer. When pulling out the drawer front, the ironing board unfolds and rises to counter height. Other options include wall mounted ironing boards that recess into a wall cabinet.

For additional guidance, I would suggest you consult with your cabinet maker or installer. If you have access to the internet, you can view some of these products on the following company Web sites, or feel free to call the companies directly to request a catalog or identify a showroom representative in your area. And remember, bigger doesn’t always mean better when it comes to kitchens.

Do you have a question for Jane and Accessibility Design? We’ll cover all of your questions in future issues of Home Access Answers. Contact us at: 952-925-0301, [email protected]

Jane Hampton, CID, Access Specialist, president of Accessibility Design, founded the company in 1992 to enhance lives through design and project management. They provide design, consultation, project management, and product recommendation services specializing in home access for individuals with disabilities at all stages of life.


Rev-A-Shelf: 800-762-9030,

Knape & Vogt Manufacturing Company: 800-2531561,

Häfele America Co: 800-423-3531,

Improvements—Quick & Clever Problem Solvers!

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