Build kitchen counters, cabinets around the sizes of their users

The Baltimore Sun

We're about to choose cabinets for the kitchen of the home we're building. Can you give some general suggestions regarding materials and function? We'd also like advice on open shelving and storage units for other parts of the house.

The United States is blessed with an abundant and sustainable supply of hardwood. It is used more extensively in commercial furniture in this country than anywhere else in the world.

So you'll find many kinds of hardwood cabinets and shelving to choose from as you make the rounds of furniture stores. This natural material is worth considering for many reasons, including its versatile appearance. Wood surfaces can be finished in many ways - from very dark to medium and natural and all the way to bleached. Aniline stains in particular produce brilliant and clear colors. And by painting and wiping, you can change the color of wood while allowing its natural grain to still be seen.

As for functional factors, the height of counters and cabinets in bathrooms and the kitchen should be based on the sizes of their users. Because you're building your own home, you've got the ability to meet the physical needs of everyone who will live there. Taking account of such differences comes under the heading of universal design. All counter surfaces don't have to be all the same height. With variable counter heights, everybody benefits. Whoever does most of the cooking, for example, will be pleased to look inside the oven without inviting back strain and to peer into pots at the rear of the stove top without standing on tiptoe.

Details make a big difference: Toe spaces on cabinets can be recessed to accommodate wheelchairs. D-shaped cabinet pulls help avoid rips and bruises. And shelving of varying heights makes everyone feel welcome in the kitchen, as the photo of a pullout cutting board suggests. By the way, a similar feature can be incorporated in bookcases or night tables. A pullout shelf offers a convenient place to put a book without cluttering the main surface.

Rita St. Clair is a Baltimore-based interior designer. Readers with general interior-design questions can e-mail her at the above address.

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