Restoration Guide: Kitchen and Baths Overview

Susanne Clemenz

Editor's Note: This is article 2 of 8 in Chapter 6: The Kitchen and Baths Guide of Old House Web Restoration Guide. This guide was developed and edited for old homes from original materials in the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Rehab Guide.


Kitchens and baths are two rooms certain to be used by all residents in a house. Their central role in a home makes them ripe targets for home restoration projects. Humidity and food or toiletry residues can degrade countertops, cabinets, and floors. Additionally, fixtures and appliances may become out-dated or fail, necessitating repair and replacement.

Because these rooms are so essential, remodeling projects need to integrate functionality and design. Some major considerations for kitchen and bath renovations include:

  • Function
  • Layout
  • Accessibility
  • Safety
  • Storage maximization
  • Product options

Section 1--Elements of Kitchen Design

A cornerstone for kitchen design is to maximize efficient use of sink, refrigerator, and stove. A triangle between the three elements adheres to the following goals:

  • Triangle legs are 4 to 9 feet long, reducing footsteps needed for cooking and cleaning
  • Traffic patterns to stair cases, other rooms, or the outside avoid the triangle
  • Kitchen activity centers for dining, home office, guests, and media avoid the triangle

Unlike Grandma's little kitchen, today's kitchens multi-task, and family and friends gather there. Kitchens may need to be re-designed to meet the above goals, but the increase in functionality is often well worth the effort. Adding an island can increase your usable counter space and improve the flow of your kitchen. If possible, design your home restoration's work triangle away from the breakfast bar, TV/audio system, office, homework, and storage spaces.

Section 2--Remodeling an Old House for Today's Time-Efficient Lifestyles

Anything that facilitates the use of kitchens and bathrooms for every resident, regardless of age, stature, and physical abilities, is desirable. Whether it's parents getting kids ready for school, or a handicapped couple living independently, efficiency is the key.

Advances in technology mean kitchen and bath fixtures can more easily accommodate a variety of functions and abilities. Sinks and work surfaces can be installed at various heights, microwaves and quick-on rangetop technologies facilitate cooking, and wide corridors enable easy access. In a one-bathroom house, consider replacing a bathtub with a shower. Add a seat and grab bars to increase accessibility, while dual shower heads, soap and shampoo dispensers, or steam can enhance comfort.

When selecting appliances and evaluating potential layouts for these key rooms, consider these principles:

  1. Universal use: Most householders can use a feature or product without modification.
  2. Flexibility: The preferences and abilities of all householders are accommodated.
  3. Simple to use: It doesn't take a rocket scientist to use it. Inexperience, lack of knowledge, and inability to stay focused aren't major inhibitors to use.
  4. Easy to perceive: Usage is fairly intuitive even with less than perfect conditions or sensory abilities.
  5. Error tolerance: The design won't be hazardous in case of accidents or unintended usage.
  6. Minimal effort: Fatigue doesn't set in before the desired action has been achieved. Use is comfortable.
  7. Appropriate size and space: The function can be performed with adequate work space, reach, and ability to manipulate by people of most sizes, postures, or mobility.

Preservation of the charm and feel of an old house does not preclude designing for every age and degree of mobility. Design, fixtures, and appliances must be chosen with an eye to wheelchairs, walkers, baby gear, and motorized chair scooters. Fortunately, design concepts and equipment that adapt to the user, rather than the other way around, are widely available today. They enable your home to grow and age with your family.



About the Author
Suzanne Clemenz designed her passive solar home and interacted with the contractors every day of the 6-month project. She started drawing floor plans and making models in the early '70s after purchasing several building lots. Recently she expanded and remodelled her newly-purchased home, working with contractors on the floorplan, electrical changes, painting, installation of wood laminate flooring, flood prevention walls and stonework, major drainage issues, an irrigation system and a landscaping. Researching and keeping up on issues and products related to home design and maintenance is an ongoing avocation.

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