Homeowners are always looking for ways to improve their kitchens. While expanding the footprint of the kitchen may be less in vogue due to the economy, outdoor kitchens are opening up a new world of entertaining possibilities.
“Creating the outdoor kitchen expands on an ideal home entertaining venue,” says Lara Snyder, brand manager for U-Line in Milwaukee, WI.
Much of the growth in this market can be attributed to increased awareness and popularity of outdoor living and outdoor kitchens. “What was once a Southwest and Sun Belt state trend has become a major category,” says Brian Eskew, marketing director for Lynx Professional Grills in Commerce, CA. “Outdoor kitchens are becoming convenient necessities for homeowners who want to make the most of the outdoor living season.”
Eskew believes that trade professionals are driving awareness of this category with their clients. “If you’re planning an outdoor living space, the outdoor kitchen is a must,” he says.
Outdoor kitchens and living areas have also proven to be a well-executed investment with high returns upon house appraisals when it comes time to sell the home. “Many people have become very mindful of investment versus return,” says Jason Grant, general manager, southern region, DCS Appliances in Huntington Beach, CA. “If homeowners cannot build or move to the home of their dreams, they will bring the home of their dreams to their current dwelling.”
Bigger is Better
With regard to trends in outdoor kitchens, probably the most obvious one, according to Pat Byrne, executive v.p. for Atlantis Outdoor Kitchens in Roanoke, VA, is larger and more expansive projects. “When we introduced Atlantis some five or six years ago, we thought the majority of installations would be a grill with a couple of cabinets on either side,” he says. “While we still sell that type of project, more of our orders are for much larger installations, with many cabinets and a number of outdoor appliances besides a grill – side burners, refrigerators, bar units, etc.”
Don Norton, regional sales manager for DCS Appliances agrees that “bigger is better” seems to be the trend. “As more accessory items become available, more users are turning their outdoor kitchens into their primary kitchen when the weather cooperates.”
Grant believes the outdoor living kitchen “is about creating an environment that adapts to your lifestyle. A complete outdoor kitchen allows homeowners to have access to all of their cooking needs outside their home.”
But Grant says that it’s about more than just cooking. The outdoor kitchen serves as a gathering place where friends and family can come together.
“People want to enjoy being outdoors with all of the conveniences of indoors,” says Brian Bevan, president, In & Out Cabinetry in Oneco, FL. “Rather than just cooking the food out on the grill and bringing it into the kitchen, they are bringing people to the outdoor area.”
Customers also want flexibility in their outdoor kitchen. While the grill is still at the heart, Lynx Professional Grills has increased its focus on the entertainment accessories, according to Eskew, with new category offerings such as outdoor heating and outdoor refrigeration to meet consumer needs.
Brent Spann, v.p. marketing for Eldorado Stone in San Marcos, CA adds: “We believe outdoor fireplaces, fire pits and water features will grow because they add value and beauty. They also extend the outdoor living experience.”
Elements such as fire and water not only add ambiance to an outdoor space, they draw people together. “I believe that products that incorporate these elements will grow significantly,” says Michael Zimber, president of Stone Forest in Santa Fe, NM. “Consumers are asking for more architecturally aesthetic pieces that add to the luxury of the outdoor kitchen experience,” he says.
Bringing the Inside Out
One very strong trend is to try to replicate the indoor kitchen outside. Customers want to prepare, cook and serve the meal without having to run back and forth between inside and out. They want storage, appliances and heaters. Simply stated, they want everything, which is why the market is booming.
“We’re seeing a trend of 48", 36", 30" DCS Grill Heads built above convenient access drawers,” says Grant. “We see our Dual Side Burner and Griddle Head being placed right next to the grill. This offers much flexibility.”
Grant adds that warming drawers are becoming common these days. “When hosting a party and cooking many dishes, it is imperative to keep all food warm until dinner is served,” he says. Refrigeration drawers, beer dispenser units, ice machines and even a full refrigerator can also be added. And when the sun goes down, the party can go on, thanks to grills with external lights attached and patio heaters and fire pits.
While new products are all the rage, improvements on older ones are catching the public’s fancy, as well. “Pizza ovens grew drastically in recent years, but now we hear homeowners challenging the idea – asking if they will really use them when it takes several hours to prepare wood ovens for use,” explains Russ Faulk, v.p. product development for Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet in Chicago, IL. To address this, Kalamazoo’s Artisan Fire Pizza Oven is ready to perform in less than 30 minutes, Faulk notes, adding that people are embracing more of an artisan approach to cooking.
Weather or Not
Naturally, there are concerns when installing an outdoor kitchen.
Grills that not only have powerful gas burners, but also face intense charcoal and wood fires, are quite an engineering challenge. Refrigerators with compressors powerful enough to guarantee food-safe temperatures in ambient heat of 110 degrees Fahrenheit, while also being Energy Star qualified, are more costly to build. Weather-tight cabinets require painstaking fabrication steps.
Stylish yet weatherproof materials are critical, and Byrne says teak doors and drawer heads are the most requested door style for outdoor cabinets. While the full cabinet is made of a High Density Polyethylene (HDPE), doors are available in either HDPE or real wood.
“The option to have real wood doors and drawer heads continues to be very popular, even though it means that some maintenance of the wood is required, versus the HDPE doors that need no attention and carry a lifetime warranty,” says Byrne.
While manufacturers offer many products that will stand up to all weather conditions, some projects just aren’t possible.
“We’ve been asked to offer soft-close drawer slides on our base cabinets,” reports Byrne. “We’d like to, but those are not available in a weatherproof variety. Likewise, we’ve been asked for doors in wood species normally found in interior kitchens, but we’ve had to decline because they won’t stand up to the weather.”
In & Out Cabinetry is using a product from the marine industry to withstand the elements. “This allows us to build actual cabinetry with most of the amenities that you have indoors,” says Bevan.
Most of the products in Stone Forest’s Outdoor Room are made of dense granites or basalt, meaning few durability or maintenance issues occur. “That’s the beauty of working with natural materials,” states Zimber.
Although U-Line refrigerators, ice makers and ice machines have been used in outdoor applications for the last few decades, the company now has a specialized line for outdoor applications. These products come with an outdoor warranty, and are fully wrapped in stainless steel to protect them from harsh outdoor elements, according to Snyder.
Only the Beginning
While the outdoor living market is gaining ground, most believe it is far from reaching its peak.
Norton believes the future of this market will be in the premium products that offer more performance and fewer maintenance issues. “I expect that customers who went ‘cheap’ on their initial purchases will step up to better products,” he says. He believes products such as undercounter accessories, drawers, doors and island accessories such as cocktail stations and prep stations will see significant growth.
Grant sees the industry putting more emphasis on aesthetics while concentrating on fit, finish and quality of the product. “I could see outdoor dishwashers being in tomorrow’s outdoor kitchen,” he says. “I also expect to see growth in items like refrigeration, warming drawers, ventilation, power burners, access drawers and bartender service stations. The outdoor kitchen is an extension of an entertainment room in the home.”
Eskew concludes: “The outdoor kitchen is a category with national acceptance and unstoppable momentum.”
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