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Get those upper shelves in reach!

Reaching the upper cupboard shelves in the kitchen can be a challenge for everyone but this is especially true if you use a wheelchair.

I recently sold a pre-construction condo that included a wheelchair accessible kitchen. The buyer is a cooking enthusiast with paraplegia and while he is excited to have a kitchen with lowered counters, roll-under sink and cook top, side opening wall oven, and drawer dishwasher, he also wants use of the upper kitchen cupboards.

This inspired me to do some research on lowering the upper kitchen cupboard shelves. In my search I found both manual pull-down options and fully automated options.

Manual Pull Down Options

There are a number of manual pull-down shelf options available in the marketplace and all of them require some arm strength. You’ll need to open the cupboard door and reach up and pull out and then down on the inner shelf handle. The shelves are attached to the sides of the inner cupboard by mechanical arms that have springs or gears that allow the shelves to extend out and lower down.

A company called Richelieu sells pull down shelves from a variety of manufacturers. They have a showroom near the Toronto Pearson airport where I was able to try four different brands of pull-down shelves. The only pull-down option that I’m going to highlight is the Rev-A-Shelf 5PD Series. This shelf can be installed at the lowest point of the upper cabinet and it has a rubber handle grip attached to two shelves that pull out 14 ¾” and down 10” towards you. When the shelf is lowered it locks into place. To unlock it, you just need to give the handle a tug and the shelf raises itself back into the cupboard without any further effort required.

Automated Options

I’ve seen two kinds of automated upper cupboard shelves. The first kind is where the whole cupboard (doors and shelves) lowers down. The second is where just the shelving unit lowers down.

Lowering the Whole Cupboard

When the whole cupboard is lowered it is brought down to the counter height by a mechanical frame that is attached to the back of the cupboard and powered by a small electrical motor. The overall cupboard depth is reduced to accommodate this frame. The counter top needs to be clear of any items so the cupboard can sit flush on the counter.
For ease of removing or replacing items in the cupboard you’ll want to have additional counter space nearby that can be reached when the cupboard is in the lowered position and the doors are open.

Lowering the Shelf

Similar to the manual pull-down shelf option, lowering just the shelf keeps the cupboard doors in place and brings only the interior shelf to a lower level.

Simple Freedom Design Ltd. is a Canadian company located in South Western Ontario and they can create a custom solution to automate your existing cabinets. They retain your existing cabinet doors and appearance, but they will remove the internal shelving and replace it with a fully automated system. The upper shelf will be reduced in size to make room for the motor. This system will allow you to remotely lower and raise the shelves. Each installation is customized for their specific client.

I met Yves Trottier, one of the two Principal Partners of Simple Freedom Design, last November at a home modification conference. He brought with him a prototype of an automated cupboard. Yves has worked for many years in the automation and robotics sectors and, together with his business partner Stephen McDonald, they have developed a line of fully automated furnishings. They like to ask the question “why reach for the cabinet when the cabinet can come to you?”

A company in Sweden called Granberg Interior manufactures a line of automated kitchen cupboards and shelves. They don’t have a distributor in North America but their products can be purchased in Ontario through Versatile Accessibility, a home modification company located in Markham Ontario.

All of the automated options require access to an electrical plug. For aesthetics, having the plug located on top of the cupboards will allow the wires to remain hidden. I encourage new home builders and home owners that are renovating to plan ahead and install extra plugs above the all upper cupboards. This will make it much easier for future automation.

Whether you choose the manual pull-down shelf option or the automated option, it’ll be much easier to reach items in your upper kitchen cupboards.

Get more information:
Rev-A-Shelf: Angie Nellis 514-386-3600
Simple Freedom Design: Yves Trottier 905-464-0818
Granberg Interior: Doris Hanlon Versatile Accessibility 905-604-8199

Jeffrey Kerr, Barrier Free Real Estate Specialist, RE/MAX Unique Inc., Brokerage

Jeffrey Kerr | Winter 2020

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