Outdoor Kitchens

While the idea of bringing the outdoors in has long been a staple of designing for the home, bringing the indoors out is a newer concept. The desire for a healthier lifestyle and comfortable gathering space has spurred the popularity of outdoor kitchens, and kitchen and bath designers are embracing this segment as one that continues to grow – and boost profitability.

“An outdoor kitchen allows us to break the repetitive day-to-day menu and repetitive cooking and clean-up habits,” explains Dawn M. Whyte, president and principal designer, Designs by Dawn in Petoskey, MI. “It’s fun, it’s fresh and it feels good.”

In a tougher economic climate, outdoor kitchens are also a cost-effective alternative when looking to add living space. “You can expand your square footage and the use of your house for a lot less money than if you were actually adding on,” stresses Sandy Koepke, principal, Sandy Koepke Interior Design in Beverly Hills, CA.

Garden of Eating

The major challenge when designing an outdoor kitchen, according to Koepke, is making the area blend with the yard’s natural surroundings. “You’re going to be putting a lot of man-made, hard-edged, stainless steel appliances outside in the garden. Unless you plan carefully, they are going to look foreign in your yard,” she explains. “The challenge as a designer is trying to figure out how to integrate it gracefully, so that the kitchen looks like it belongs as much as possible to the garden.”

With regard to layout, sight lines are important to maintaining the relaxed aesthetic that comes with being outdoors. “We always take into consideration the view first – directionally how people want to sit and what they’re going to be looking at,” observes Lesly Maxwell, president, Lesly Maxwell Interiors in Jupiter, FL.

Other than the surroundings, designing the layout of an outdoor kitchen is similar to planning an indoor one. “You plan for function, space, work areas, utilities, lighting,” reports Koepke.

While layout and function may be similar to indoor spaces, the design of outdoor kitchens must also take into account what Mother Nature can dish out.

“All of the materials, even the appliances, have to be made of materials that can withstand the elements – the salt, the sun and the humidity,” reports Maxwell.

“Everything in the outdoor kitchen should be waterproof and UL-approved for outdoor use,” stresses Whyte.

Appliance Options

Stainless steel is the material of choice for outdoor appliances, and all outdoor kitchens basically start with a grill. “Consumers are educated and know what they want when it comes to grilling,” reports Whyte. “A high-tech grill is the space’s most popular item.”

Koepke recommends that her clients include a side burner with the grill if there is room. “It gives you more flexibility when preparing the meal,” she explains. “You can sauté, or make a sauce, or boil corn.”

A grill with a smoker function is a popular option for Maxwell’s clients. “You can put in mesquite or other chips for added flavor,” she reports. Rotisseries are another big item she offers her clients.

Where there is a major grill, there is a need for ventilation, note designers. “In the past, a hood was not a popular option, but with today’s built-in grills, it’s a must,” comments Maxwell. “Grills now are so big, and there is a lot of smoke that needs to be cleared.”

Pizza ovens are another major request for outdoor kitchens; this is an area where kitchen and bath designers can add significantly to the bottom line. “We’re doing a lot of pizza ovens outside, and they are definitely a big ticket item,” comments Maxwell. She notes that while she has also installed them indoors, they are much more costly and there are a lot more considerations inside, so people are moving them outdoors.

Since pizza ovens themselves arrive as a simple stainless steel box, a lot of consideration needs to be paid to how they will be situated in the design. Building a brick surround is a popular option, as well as cladding in stucco or another material. Regardless, the oven can be formed as a focal point for the space, and can be a major source of revenue for the designer.

Clearly, the outdoor space is no longer just a barbecue, stresses Maxwell, and appliance manufacturers have responded well to that idea, providing a range of products for outdoor use.

Refrigerator drawers are a great option, according to designers, and are finding a home in most of today’s outdoor kitchens. “You can store produce, as well as drinks, very easily,” notes Maxwell.

“Sauces and hors d’oeuvres can be placed in refrigerator drawers for easy access,” adds Koepke.

Additional options that often find a home in outdoor kitchens include undercounter ice machines, as well as beer taps.

Beauty and Function

While appliances may be the functional focal points of the space, amenities such as countertops, fixtures, seating and lighting are both functional and bring the whole area together.

The stone look is a popular choice when it comes to countertops and serving areas, playing on the natural surroundings and softening the hard stainless steel edges of the appliances. “There are so many great stone tops now – some real, some manufactured to look like stone,” comments Maxwell.

For a bar top or a countertop surface near the barbecue, Maxwell prefers to use honed granite. “It’s really the best surface because it’s very dense and not conducive to staining. It’s very hearty and it stands up to a lot of use,” she notes.

While Maxwell shies away from glass for countertops because they get dirty too quickly, she does like to use glass tiles for backsplashes. “Glass mosaic is very popular right now, and you can get great colors. Sea glass tones go well outdoors, and even the white has an iridescent look to it that looks beautiful in the sunlight,” she reports.

To add to the space’s functionality, Koepke insists that the area have running water. “I really think a sink is important, so there is an area for rinsing your hands,” she comments.

Koepke uses sinks made of more natural materials, such as copper. “Many manufacturers have come up with wonderful materials for outdoor sinks. They have the right look, and they fit right into the design,” she remarks.

One area that Maxwell believes is important to the space – and is often overlooked – is trash disposal. In addition to an area for regular trash, she likes to include a recycling cabinet, “where you can dispose of cans and bottles.”
Lighting is also an undertaking in an outdoor room. “A lot of manufacturers have come out with floor lamps that you can use in a damp location, so they can be used outside,” reports Maxwell. “So, this kind of makes it a true outdoor living space – where you can have ambient lighting instead of just overhead.”

In the entertainment and bar area, seating is a big consideration. “Manufacturers are doing a really great job of offering more choices of materials now,” states Koepke, such as vinyl that resembles wicker.

While Koepke does like to incorporate music into her outdoor kitchens, she does draw the line at plasma televisions. “I try to rein my customers in a little bit, so that they don’t want to put everything out there. It’s not like you’re supposed to bring your inside life outside,” she remarks. “You’re in the garden. It’s supposed to be a different experience.”

Still, Whyte believes that technology will be the largest improvement in outdoor kitchen design in the years to come. “We already have hybrid grills and televisions that are waterproof. Soon we will see some smaller electronics, such as a coffee pot or cappuccino maker that, once you are finished with it, will retract into its weatherproof casing,” she states. She believes outdoor kitchens will remain at the forefront of design trends for years to come.
“I think this area will definitely grow in the future,” adds Koepke. “It’s on everybody’s radar, and people recognize that it’s fun. It’s an easy way to throw the doors open and have the party go outside.”