The “new” retirement would wisely be referred to as “unretirement,” a decades-long, active, involved extension of life. Home will be headquarters during this exciting stage of life, and the kitchen will be command central. From untraditional housing styles to universal design, the kitchen will be the first true age-free space.
Retirement age is dropping steadily and even people in their twenties and thirties eagerly contemplate their move into the phase of life that used to mean the end of all that mattered. Not so in the 21st century; unretirement can bring new freedoms, lucrative ventures, broader horizons, personal fulfillment and global connections – and all this as you sit at the kitchen table enjoying a morning coffee. Kitchens will continue to come in all shapes, sizes and price ranges. They will always be loved as much for their flaws as 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 sound and people friendly. One trend will shift couples and single homeowners towards compact, green new homes and away from energy- hungry monster houses. These scaled-down residences will not just be smaller, they’ll be smarter. For instance, some homeowners may concentrate food production in the kitchen through hydroponic or soilless gardening in glassed-in extensions that double as dining rooms. Kitchen-centric, multi-unit housing will become more common with home-like variations that include:
- cluster homes constructed around central courtyards that function as common outdoor eating areas and kitchen gardens,
- co-housing communities which integrate separate family units with communal recreation and eating areas to strengthen community connections, and
- mingle-style high-rise units with private bed-sitting rooms radiating off central kitchens and living areas to offer affordable, elegant lifestyles.
Our First Age-Free Environments
Too often thoughts of the future focus on how technology will change our lives, ignoring an important fact: we’re going to change, too. Every aspect of life will be touched as the demographic revolution represented by almost 10 million Baby Boomers moves through life. Kitchens will be our first age-free spaces as they transform into multi-purpose, multigeneration work and entertainment spaces where safety and functionality are paramount for all sizes, shapes and abilities of users. Children and grandchildren, parents and grandparents, the able-bodied and those with disabilities must all be comfortable socializing, cooking and eating in these activity centres. Age-Free environments have flexibility designed in. Universal Design, an emerging concept that will soon become commonplace, stresses the elimination of all barriers to functionality and enjoyment for everyone. These Age-Free features range from wide hallways, levered door handles and adjustable-height counters to visually-cued ergonomic design applied to everything from control knobs to furniture. All of which furnish a kitchen that allows the joy of cooking to be the focal point.
Voice-activated appliances with robotic features for repetitive tasks like cleaning and equipment maintenance will be among future innovations that save time, effort and money. Comfort will be ensured by advances in computer-chip embedded products and materials like chameleon wall surfaces which change colour on demand to match mood and weather, and heated floors that recognize the walker and automatically adjust room temperature to suit that person’s preprogrammed preferences.
Room for Improvement
Home owners and tenants will continue to strive for a personal balance of affordability and luxury in their homes. Not every family or community will have access to the same levels of technology and sophistication of design–there will still be room for improvement. Here are a few improvements that may be available to you:
- Food shopping will shift from a time-consuming physical task to an automatic electronic undertaking. Home appliances that continuously monitor freshness and inventory levels will automatically place orders with grocery warehouses and food distributors to ensure you never run out of anything.
- Bulk ordering and cooperative arrangements for purchasing food and other goods will cut costs and support essential local infrastructures within subdivisions, condominium complexes and neighbourhoods.
- Systems and equipment will have back up capacity to protect food during power brown outs and failures. Some kitchens may be designed to double as a self-contained safe living environment in times of natural disaster, pandemic or interruption of municipal services.
- Your refrigerator, through its wireless connection to the health monitor you’ll wear, may keep track of calories, salt or other health issues for you and make suggestions or issue warnings when you open the door. Particularly outside urban areas, online medical services will reinforce the connection between nutrition and wellness using the kitchen as the health hub. No aspect of home and housing will see as many changes as the multi-purpose kitchen over the coming decades. Since the origins of the word “kitchen” relate only to cooking, these evolving spaces may eventually even earn themselves a new name.