Monarcha Marcet’s clients enjoyed cooking together, but the kitchen layout and appliances in their 1987 home in Winter Springs, Fla., made that impossible for their wheelchair-bound daughter.

The Orlando-based designer’s challenge was to come up with a design that would enable the couple’s adult daughter to join in the food preparation, as well as ensure that the kitchen would accommodate the couple’s needs as they age. Marcet’s other challenge was working within the existing 10-by-19-foot space—a dimension that included a dining nook. The size of the cooking area was roughly 10 feet square, and included an island that cut the kitchen in half, separating it from the dining area, plus a small pantry.

What Marcet created not only meets the clients’ needs, it won her one of two Home for Life Awards given this year by the National Association of Home Builders Remodelers.

To give the daughter maneuvering space, Marcet streamlined the layout, running the new bilevel 5-foot island parallel to and equidistant from the side walls. The lower section of the island is at desk height, so a user can work at it seated. There is a 36-inch turning radius at the end of the island, which faces the eating nook, and between the island and base cabinets. Base cabinets are equipped with drawers for easy accessibility for all family members.

Appliance Access 

The real stars of the redesign are a cooktop and the adjacent sink on separate lifts, so they can be employed simultaneously by users with differing needs. The designer was cognizant that she had to create a design that would work for all family members. “I didn’t want to put everything down low for the daughter, then have the parents hurt their backs reaching down low,” says Marcet, owner of the residential construction consulting firm Adventure in Building. The remodeling work, which had a bid cost of $56,000, was done by Scott Ryan of SR Builders, in Orlando.

The painted wood base cabinets hide the lift mechanisms when not in use. The cabinet fronts swing up and in at an angle, then down and out of the way. A switch on the front of the cabinets operate the lifts, which move either up or down, with a total range of 8 inches.

The challenge with the appliances was finding a sink and cooktop shallow enough to allow sufficient knee room beneath the cabinet for a seated user. Marcet went with an induction cooktop, which is shallow, but finding a sink with a depth of just four to five inches and a drain positioned at the back (so the disposal wouldn’t compromise knee space) took more effort.

The new side-opening oven was moved to a spot by the sliding door to the porch. The side-opening design keeps users from stretching forward over a hot door as is the case with the traditional pull-down unit. It’s a better design for users of all ages and abilities, but especially so for a seated user, whose reach is already limited.

Next to the oven is a cabinet unit with a pull-out shelf, a good landing spot for dishes from the oven. And specifically for the father, Marcet added a built-in wine rack above the counter.

The old pantry with its bypass doors and wire shelving was demolished, the space slightly enlarged, and in the resulting 8-by-2-foot area the designer put in floor-to-ceiling cabinetry with a section of countertop and pull-out drawers.

Most gratifying to Marcet was the email she received from her client after their first holiday meal in the remodeled kitchen. “We had a wonderful Thanksgiving cooking in our new kitchen,” the mother wrote. “Our daughter made brandied pumpkin pie and turkey broth which we use for stuffing and gravy. The three of us were able to work in the kitchen simultaneously. I think the location of the oven prevented the room from overheating—great idea.”

—Kate Tyndall is REMODELING’s special reports editor. Follow REMODELING online via Twitter at @Remodelingmag.