Among the options for cabinetry are those available from some of the appliance manufacturers that have expanded the grill to encompass an entire module that incorporates cooking equipment, storage space and a usable work surface. Others are available in stainless steel, and some come in teak, cedar or other rot-resistant woods, as well as rot- and UV-resistant polymers. I would advise that kitchen and bath designers be sure that the cabinetry is intended for outdoor use, and that all of its components and adhesives will withstand the exposure to the elements, especially if extreme and inclement weather conditions are a possibility at the site.
It’s also helpful if all of the cabinet doors have latches and gaskets or are otherwise constructed to keep out dust, dirt, moisture and critters. For example, some cabinetry is designed with interior drains to allow wind-driven rain to drain out if it does get in.
The best outdoor floor and counter surface options are often natural, such as granite or slate – products that are used to the wear and tear of outdoor exposure. These are generally best chosen in lighter colors so as not to absorb as much of the sun’s heat. Concrete and stainless are also good choices, and certain tiles can be more durable than stone, particularly for the floor.
Environmental controls and systems such as ventilation, heat, sound and light are often neglected when planning the outdoor kitchen, yet these are essential elements to the success of the overall space.
To that end, the first consideration must be how the outdoor system will be powered. Therefore, consider powering the outdoor kitchen either through a common wall with the house or, if in a remote location, through buried cables and lines that are carefully regulated. If the grill is to be enclosed, it must be vented just as it would be indoors. If it is not enclosed, it should be planned away from the very center of the social space and, if possible, downwind to avoid having smoke blowing back at those dining.
In climates that can benefit from this sort of application, one heat supplement is the propane-free standing heater, and another possibility is the fireplace or pit, both of which give off at least a sense of warmth. In some cases, radiant heat can be run beneath a patio floor or under the countertops – an expensive but effective option.
Sound systems also greatly expand the social aspect of the outdoor space and can either be wired to connect to the in-house stereo system, or in other situations, wired to act independently. Incredible speakers have been created to work off of iPods and similar storage devices.
Finally, good lighting is critical to the success of an outdoor kitchen. Just as with the indoor kitchen, there must be ample amounts of ambient and task lighting. Often, the ambient lighting is remembered, but the task lighting is not, and it can be tough to control the cooking process if the cook cannot see the food. In addition, motion-activated lighting to guide the way to the garbage or back to the house can be helpful, providing added safety.
The more I write about this space, the more I realize this is just the beginning of the story of design for outdoor kitchens. In a future column, we’ll look more closely at other guidelines for design of the space and storage, as well as the aesthetic of the outdoor kitchen.
Happily, outdoor kitchens are not going away. These spaces are an opportunity and a challenge for us as designers. I’m sure that, as their uses continue to expand, we can build on the basic ideas presented here and create even more dynamic spaces in the future.