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NUTS & BOLTS / PATRICK MOTT

Designing a Kitchen in Which Left-Handers Can Work Right

October 24, 1992|PATRICK MOTT

I've always stood a bit in awe of left-handed people, mainly because they have the ability to do something I can't; that is, use their left hands.

I am so thoroughly right-handed that I list to starboard. Mosquitoes biting me on my left side can do it with impunity because I don't have the coordination to brush them away with that hand. My TV remote has nothing but right-hand paw prints all over it. If someone tossed me a wad of hundred thousand dollar bills and said I could keep it if I could catch it in my left hand, I wouldn't even bother to try.

So, naturally, I'm completely at home in the average kitchen.

The world, left-handed people will tell you, is set up to confound and frustrate them. Every tool, device, appliance or piece of household hardware seems manufactured specifically to force the use of the right hand.

The fact that most lefties have learned to cope with this cultural snub, most to the point of using both hands with equal facility and some even favoring the right, is a marvel. If I were forced to operate everything, for even one day, with my left hand only, I'd be balled up in the fetal position by noon, sucking my right thumb.

Why should lefties have to suffer so? Why shouldn't they be able to stack a few cards in their own favor, especially in their own homes?

Actually, they can. It may involve a bit of remodeling and rearranging, yes, but the truly committed left-hander can make his house, and his psyche, run more smoothly with a few basic changes.

"The kitchen is a working environment, and it ought to be adapted to the people who are living in the house," said Mallory Reynolds Warner, the principal owner of the Washington-based firm of Hickok-Warner Architects. "You must view the kitchen as a machine for preparing food that is operated by a human."

To that end, he said, efficiency is the key, and a lefty can't be efficient if he's always tempted to reach across his body with his left hand rather than use his right. But, said Warner, it may be a mistake to make absolutely every item and appliance in the kitchen conform rigidly to left-hand use, because both lefties and righties don't favor their dominant hands all the time.

"I don't think you can go out and say, 'This is the ideal design of a left-handed house,' " said Warner. "A home is a very, very, very personal design problem."

Still, there are a few broad kitchen design concepts worth exploring, and possibly altering.

The modern kitchen is, or ought to be, built on the "work triangle" model for ease of motion: the refrigerator, the sink and the stove forming the points of the triangle. For a right-handed person (and this is the plan of most kitchens), the flow of the work traditionally moves from right to left--take the food to be prepared out of the fridge, move to the water source and adjacent preparation area and finally to the stove.

The sink/preparation/cleanup area should always be between the stove or range and the refrigerator.

For a lefty, the work flow is reversed, according to kitchen plans supplied by Lefthanders International, a Topeka, Kan.-based advocacy group.

Additionally, the plans include suggested placement for lefties of a dishwasher (to the right of the sink) and a microwave oven (to the right of the refrigerator). The plans also include provision for a countertop serving area, to the right of the stove.

In describing the ideal kitchen, Warner uses what he calls "a wonderful term: haptic. Your haptic sense." The word means having to do with the sense of touch, but Warner also takes it to encompass the "things you don't notice consciously" when you are moving instinctively--in this sense, around the kitchen. We instinctively know, for instance, that the hot water tap is on the left.

If altering your kitchen to fit your handedness sounds good, Warner suggested that the job not necessarily be a wholesale conversion. Suddenly finding an appliance in an unfamiliar place may be jarring if you've thoroughly adapted yourself to its current position. Think it through and, as far as possible, walk it through. How comfortable does it feel?

Would you like the refrigerator handle on the other side, for instance? Many manufacturers can re-hinge the door, said Warner. The same can be done for the cabinets. The position of the dishwasher involves more remodeling, however, and there are no dishwashers on the market with controls adapted for left-handers, said Warner.

If you're a lefty, and all this is starting to sound pretty hopeful, you're probably conditioned by your deprived southpaw past to expect a letdown. Here it is: a wholesale change to a left-handed kitchen may hurt the resale value of the home if a righty wants to buy it.

But don't despair. If a potential buyer sticks out his left hand for you to shake, don't let go of it until you drag him into the kitchen. Then hold firm on your price.

Go ahead, you deserve it. You've suffered enough.

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