During the past few years, when many retail categories were standing still, outdoor kitchens were a major bright spot. The category was not only posting gains, it was poised for significant future growth.
The outdoor kitchen trend transcends the boom and bust cycles of our economy, reports Matt Chadwick, president of Chadwick Outdoor Kitchens, in Naples, FL. "When the real estate boom was at its peak, people were building outdoor kitchens to add value to their homes. Now, people are looking to stay in the homes they have and improve them. Outdoor kitchens are a great way to add a new functional space to the home without building a single wall."
"Homeowners are looking for ways to maximize their living spaces and the enjoyment of their homes," concurs Dawn Whyte, president/principle designer, Designs by Dawn, Inc., in Petoskey, MI. "A new outdoor living space is a great way to update the home and make it feel new and exciting again."
"People are entertaining in their homes more frequently, rather than going out," adds Whyte. "Outdoor kitchens and living spaces can help create the feeling of a vacation at home, and also provide excellent spaces for entertaining family, friends and neighbors."
While the range of products for outdoor living spaces seems to grow daily, the cooking center is still the most fundamental part of the overall design. Cabinets, food prep areas and seating also play a significant role.
A professional-style grill - whether gas or a gas/wood hybrid - is usually number one on a client's wish list. "A quality grill is the centerpiece of the outdoor kitchen," stresses Chadwick.
He strongly recommends going for the best quality grill the customer can afford - "even if it means losing that side burner or getting rid of the turbo-powered margarita maker," he remarks. "You want a grill that has at least a 15-year warranty and uses 304 grade stainless steel, so it won't rust."
In addition to the grill, a single- or double-side burner is suggested. "It enables the homeowner to boil a pot of corn while the meat is grilling," comments Whyte.
While earlier outdoor cooking areas pretty much stopped at the grill, today the cooking station is surrounded by cabinetry specifically made to stand up to the elements.
"Customers realize the importance of good, weather-resistant cabinetry that can withstand the changes in seasons and temperatures, while still protect their contents," offers Whyte.
Today's outdoor cabinets are made of everything from marine-grade wood, polymer materials and stainless steel to cypress, cedar, teak and bamboo.
Stainless steel cabinets are still a front-runner for many designers due to their durability. The newest versions of these cabinets feature powder coatings in hundreds of colors and even wood-grain looks.
To blend the stainless steel look with the natural surroundings, many designers are opting for stone/stainless blends. "We're doing more things like stone enclosures, and we're putting stainless steel inserts within the enclosures - an insert of drawers or a pull-out trash can," reports Randy Shaw, president and owner, Nordic Kitchens, in New Orleans, LA. "It softens the industrial look of stainless."
"Since outdoor cabinets are a fully custom product, our customers can personalize their design with details such as etched or stained glass inserts and shelving, louver doors, natural stone and surfaces and other custom details," adds Vance Chason, v.p. and designer/planner, Outdoor Kitchens & More, in Miami, FL.
For cabinet interiors, pull-out trash cans are a popular amenity. Other requests include deep drawers and pull-out shelving for ease of use.
In addition to cabinets, customers are looking for ample counter space for food preparation. "Homeowners are also asking for islands when space permits so guests will have a place to gather while the food is being prepared," Whyte states. "Just as guests tend to gather around the main kitchen island, an island in an outdoor kitchen is also a popular ‘hang out' spot."