The “new” retirement would wisely be called “annulment,” an extension of active, involved and decades-long life. The home will be the headquarters during this exciting time of life, and the kitchen will be the central command. From non-traditional living styles to universal design, the kitchen will be the first truly aging-free space.
The retirement age is steadily decreasing and even people in their twenties and thirties eagerly contemplate their passage into the phase of life that used to spell the end of everything that mattered. Not so in the 21st century; Retirement can bring new freedoms, lucrative ventures, broader horizons, personal fulfillment, and global connections, all while sitting at the kitchen table enjoying a morning coffee. Kitchens will continue to appear in all shapes, sizes, and price ranges. They will always be loved as much for their flaws as for their charm and convenience. Housing styles and development patterns that isolate residents and create urban sprawl will be replaced by designs and plans that are both environmentally friendly and human-friendly. A trend will shift couples and single homeowners towards new compact and eco-friendly homes and away from monster houses that consume a lot of energy. These small residences will not only be smaller, they will be smarter. For example, some homeowners may concentrate food production in the kitchen through hydroponic or soilless gardening in glazed extensions that double as dining rooms. Kitchen-centric multi-unit dwellings will become more common with home-like variations including:
- clustered houses built around central courtyards that function as common areas for al fresco dining and vegetable gardens,
- co-housing communities that integrate separate family units with communal dining and recreation areas to strengthen community connections, and
- Mixed-style high-rise units with private living rooms that radiate center kitchens and living areas to offer elegant and affordable lifestyles.
Our first ageless environments
Too often, thoughts about the future focus on how technology will change our lives, ignoring an important fact: we too are going to change. Every aspect of life will be affected as the demographic revolution represented by nearly 10 million Baby Boomers moves through life. Kitchens will be our first age-free spaces as they will be transformed into multipurpose and multigenerational work and entertainment spaces where safety and functionality are paramount for all sizes, shapes and abilities of users. Children and grandchildren, parents and grandparents, healthy people, and people with disabilities should feel comfortable socializing, cooking and eating at these activity centers. Age-Free environments have designed flexibility. Universal design, an emerging concept that will soon become commonplace, emphasizes removing all barriers to functionality and enjoyment for all. These Age-Free features range from wide hallways, lever door handles, and height-adjustable counters to an ergonomic design with visual prompts that applies to everything from control knobs to furniture. All this furnishes a kitchen that allows the pleasure of cooking to be the center of attention.
Voice-activated appliances with robotic functions for repetitive tasks such as cleaning and maintenance of equipment will be among future innovations that save time, effort and money. Comfort will be ensured by advancements in products and materials embedded in computer chips, such as chameleon wall surfaces that change color on demand to suit the mood and climate, and heated floors that recognize to the walker and automatically adjust the room temperature to suit that person’s preprogrammed preferences.
Room for improvement
Homeowners and renters will continue to live by a personal balance of affordability and luxury in their homes. Not all families or communities will have access to the same levels of technology and design sophistication; there will still be room for improvement. Here are some improvements that may be available to you:
- Grocery shopping will go from being a time-consuming physical task to an automated electronic task. Appliances that continually monitor freshness and inventory levels will automatically order from grocery stores and food distributors to ensure you never run out of anything.
- Cooperative and bulk ordering arrangements for the purchase of food and other goods will reduce costs and support essential local infrastructure within subdivisions, condominium complexes and neighborhoods.
- Systems and equipment will have backup capacity to protect food during power outages and failures. Some kitchens may be designed to function as a safe and self-contained living environment in times of natural disasters, pandemics, or interruptions to municipal services.
- Your refrigerator, through its wireless connection to the health monitor you’ll be using, can keep track of calories, salt, or other health issues and give you suggestions or warnings when you open the door. Particularly outside urban areas, online medical services will reinforce the connection between nutrition and well-being by using the kitchen as a health center. No aspect of the home and dwelling will see as much change as the multipurpose kitchen in the coming decades. Since the origins of the word “kitchen” relate only to the kitchen, these evolving spaces may eventually even earn a new name.