Qualified Remodeler

Outdoor Style

Outdoor kitchens mirror indoor spaces in style and functionality as the trend toward guests gathering in open air spaces continues to grow.

authors Elizabeth Richards 

When outdoor entertaining was in its infancy, a top-notch grill and some great patio furniture may have done the job. Today’s outdoor kitchen and entertaining areas are far more sophisticated, incorporating a full range of standard and specialty appliances. While designs are often enhanced with natural elements, styles aren’t limited to a rustic feel.

“Designers are beginning to integrate easy-install outdoor kitchen sets that blend outdoor textures with sleek appliances in a way that complements the natural ambiance of any backyard or other outdoor space,” says Sarah Lograsso, director of marketing at San Marcos, CA-based Eldorado Stone.

Cooking is just one aspect of entertaining outside. “We see homeowners creating outdoors spaces that expand habitable space by creating complete outdoor living areas, not just outdoor kitchens. Outdoor kitchens are now lifestyle centered,” says Chelsea McClaran, brand manager at True Residential in O’Fallon, MO.

Manufacturers recently surveyed by Kitchen & Bath Design News say that other top trends in outdoor kitchens include a cohesive design style that carries through from inside to out, customized entertaining areas, gathering spaces for a range of uses and durability in materials and finishes.

Smooth Transition

Indoor kitchens are often referred to as the heart of the home; outdoor entertaining spaces could well be considered the soul. The connection between the two should be apparent in designs that reflect the same overall style and personality, and practical elements that allow for the same level of entertaining wherever guests are gathering.

“People want an outdoor living space that includes the same amenities found inside the home, allowing them to cook, entertain and relax while enjoying the calming effects of nature,” says Lograsso.

Bringing the same level of comfort that indoor entertainment areas offer is important, according to manufacturers. “Creating an atmosphere that is purposeful, yet inviting, remains a top priority amongst many designers and homeowners,” states Shaun Lin, product development manager for Thor Kitchen, based in Chino, CA.

“Extending indoor living outdoors also means outdoor kitchens are more than just a functional space, they’re about creating an entertaining area,” says Russ Faulk, chief designer and head of product for Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet in Kalamazoo, MI. “When you’re hosting a party outdoors, people gather in the outdoor kitchen just like they do indoors. People like to ‘gather around the fire,’ and grilling a large cut of meat over an open flame certainly has a ‘wow’ factor that gets people excited and captures their attention,” he adds.

Stephanie Muraro Gust, product marketing manager at Perlick Residential Products in Milwaukee, WI says that the planning of the outdoor space is just as important as it is indoors. “The appliances chosen for these outdoor kitchens must allow homeowners the flexibility to serve the purpose of both day-to-day living and entertaining. For example, a Perlick outdoor freezer can be stocked with popsicles for the kids to enjoy poolside, and with the change of a shelf, can become a martini glass and liquor chiller for evening entertaining. These appliances need to keep up with the ever-changing food and beverage trends and continually perform on the hottest of summer days,” she notes.

The look of the outdoor space should also create the same feel as the rest of the home. Erika Egede-Nissen, director of marketing at Los Angeles, CA-based Walker Zanger says, “Designers and homeowners are essentially looking for an outdoor finish option with traction that they can apply to an indoor product in order to maintain the overall design aesthetic.”

Gathering Places

An outdoor kitchen space is just the beginning when it comes to entertaining outside. Interaction between host and guests is easier during food prep outside, where space isn’t as confining. But once the meal is cooked, it’s time to move to a more relaxing, comfortable area for socializing. These gathering spots need to blend with the overall ambiance, have a clear flow and incorporate all the essentials of indoor entertaining into the outdoor space.

Lograsso remarks, “Outdoor spaces are a prime location for entertaining as well. This translates into a desire for creating a warm and inviting atmosphere that’s multifunctional, elaborate and permanent.” These spaces often include entertainment options like large-format HD displays, surround sound systems and heating elements for comfort in cooler seasons, she says, and fire bowls or other fire features can serve as a focal point or calming centerpiece for any conversation.

“In terms of ambiance and flow, the focus is really on creating an environment for bringing friends and family together without segmenting them to different rooms. Whether that’s accomplished in the kitchen space itself or by cleverly structuring a series of open-air mingling zones, the goal is to inspire conversation and connection,” she points out.

Faulk sees more outdoor spaces designed with distinct zones that might include a prep area, cooking area and dining or grilling area, and then a separate seating area with a built-in fireplace or fire pit. “Each of these spaces allows people to gather and relax,” he says.

Mitch Slater, president of Danver Stainless Outdoor Kitchens and Brown Jordan Outdoor Kitchens, notes that his firm’s focus is on the entertaining space adjacent to the kitchen area, with requests from designers, architects and homeowners looking to create more than just a functional kitchen space. “That’s where the color and the style of the cabinetry become important, because they’re trying to make the space more functional for entertaining, regardless of whether there’s actual cooking going on or not. They want our cabinetry to add to the beauty of the space for entertaining,” he says.

Specialty Appliances

The move to outdoor entertaining has created demand for a wide range of appliances, including flexible refrigeration and multiple cooking options. “More often than not, we’re now seeing homeowners wanting to create a full outdoor kitchen that mimics the functionality of their indoor kitchen. That means utilizing all types of appliances from clear ice machines, to beverage centers, to dishwashers and full wet bars,” says McClaran.

“Food and beverage trends have made their way to the outdoor kitchen, and consumers want appliances that allow them to get creative when serving friends and family,” concurs Muraro Gust. “Having craft beer on tap, the perfect bottle of wine at the ready and fresh produce for summer salads all complement outdoor specialty cooking appliances such as pizza ovens, smokers and teppanyaki cooktops, creating memorable meals that rival anything prepared in a standard kitchen.”

“Along with the typical barbecue grills that are commonly included in many outdoor kitchen spaces, homeowners are also opting for specialty appliances such as undercounter outdoor refrigerators and professional-grade pizza ovens – perfect for entertaining and making an impression,” says Lin. He adds that, although pro-style appliances have long had a premium price tag that prevented many home chefs from having their dream outdoor kitchen, the popularity of these appliances means brands are offering the style at a fraction of the cost. “This allows for homeowners and designers to invest and reallocate renovation budgets to other areas of the outdoor kitchen remodel, without sacrificing the design or functionality of the space,” he notes.

“When it comes to specialty cooking, one of the biggest trends is cooking on an open flame,” Faulk states. “Live-fire cooking isn’t new; in fact, it’s the oldest form of cooking. But more recently, people are re-embracing wood-fired cooking and its primal nature.” This trend started with the chef community, he says. “It was all about capturing the char, smoke and unique flavor that comes when you grill using wood.”

Custom Arrangements

Customization is as popular in outdoor areas as it is elsewhere in the home, manufacturers agree. Customers are looking for options that reflect their personal style at a price point that allows them to choose exactly what they want in the space.

“Homeowners are looking for flexibility and customization in their outdoor kitchen, but also affordable appliances so they can build out an entire suite without missing out on other outdoor features like a full bar or beautiful patio with a fire bowl,” says Lin.

Massimo Ballucchi, executive director of marketing for Miami, FL-based Cosentino North America says homeowners are looking for a lot of flexibility in their outdoor set-ups. “They are looking for areas where they can cook, host and entertain [during] different seasons throughout the year. As outdoor kitchens are a growing trend that homeowners are adding instead of upgrading or renovation, customization and flexibility are paramount,” he maintains.

McClaran adds, “More people desire the ability to customize all aspects of their outdoor kitchen, just like they can their indoor kitchen.”

“Outdoor kitchens house much more than a gas grill and a mini bar; they can be customized to provide everything you want and need to cook a full course meal outside, from prep work to plating,” says Lograsso. “People love to customize their outdoor kitchens with a variety of specialty appliances such as pizza ovens, smokers and sleek, sophisticated cooktops that incorporate seamlessly within a nature-inspired setup.”

Elevated Style

Outdoor entertaining creates plenty of room for creative style and use of unique finishes, but designers need to ensure that the materials and finishes selected will hold up well when exposed to the elements of nature. They’re also charged with creating that cohesive feel between the indoors and out.

“People are looking to create a relaxing atmosphere outdoors with a subtle, elevated style, yet also need finishes and materials that are low maintenance while still complementing their design aesthetic,” says Egede-Nissen. Porcelain is popular, she says, because anti-slip finish options allow homeowners to use the same tile inside and out to maintain the overall look. Large-format tiles, like marble tiles measuring up to 36″ across, are also trending, she notes. “These large-scale, natural stone tiles are also in line with another hot trend, maximalism, where ‘more is more.’ Larger scale makes a bigger impact, yet the potential overwhelming nature of maximalism can be executed with a more understated feel when its dominant size is tempered with today’s trending cooler colors,” she explains.

Transitional and modern styles that are popular indoors are also showing up outside. “Homeowners are looking beyond the traditional offerings to bring luxury design to the outdoors,” says Ballucchi.

Faulk says indoor trends, such as transitional design, drawers in cabinetry rather than doors and color in the space are also moving outside. “No longer are people limited to just stainless steel outdoor cabinets; now they can choose from more than 200 colors or even a beautiful oiled ipe wood to create a truly custom look,” he says.

That doesn’t mean that stainless isn’t still a frontrunner in finishes, however. “Stainless steel is still king when it comes to appliance finishes, both inside and outside of the home. It’s durable, clean, timeless and assists in elevating many different design styles and tastes. Stainless steel is also weather-proof and can withstand the weather extremes brought about by the different seasons,” adds Lin.

Drawing from the natural world aids designers in creating the unified feel between inside and out, manufacturers say. “Products that draw inspiration from natural materials are in demand for outdoor kitchens, as they help make a seamless transition between the indoors and outdoors,” says Ballucchi.

“Stone and brick veneer are customizable to any design aesthetic and available in numerous configurations and colors that reflect the indigenous elements and architecture of regions throughout the nation, creating a polished look that blends the home and natural landscape,” adds Lograsso.

Timeless Durability

Setting up an outdoor kitchen and entertaining area is a sizeable investment, making durability and flexibility top priorities, manufacturers say. “The outdoor elements, including wind, rain, extreme heat and frost, need to be accounted for with materials that are built to last,” Ballucchi says.

Slater agrees: “If [designers] are trying to bring an indoor look to an indoor/outdoor space, then they want not only the look of indoor materials, but the durability of the product so it will last in an area where it’s exposed to an outdoor environment.”

Durability, freeze-thaw and timelessness are important aspects for designers to consider, Egede-Nissen says. “Natural stone delivers rich neutrals in white, brown, gray and black that act as neutral anchors for a designer’s palette through multiple remodels. It’s also an exciting time to use porcelain since it is now being manufactured for both indoor and outdoor use with the look of other materials such as wood or marble, yet the durability of porcelain.”

Because outdoor living spaces are popping up across the country, durability is essential regardless of climate. “Traditionally, the assumption has been that outdoor living spaces only make sense for luxury homes in sunny states, but now we’re seeing interest and activity in numerous markets and across various demographics nationwide,” Lograsso maintains.

“Due to weathering saltwater and beach exposure in coastal locations, homeowners are looking for UL-rated outdoor refrigerators and clear ice machines that can be integrated into an outdoor entertaining space and hold up in any environment,” McClaran says. “Reliability and performance are extremely important when considering appliances and materials for an outdoor kitchen. Depending on climate and region of the country, having an outdoor appliance that can withstand extreme temperatures and weather conditions is key.”

Because food and beverage trends are constantly evolving, future flexibility of appliances is another consideration, according to Muraro Gust. “Trends in finishes, hardware and overall aesthetics also change, so choosing panel-ready models that allow you to change the look of the appliances is also important.” ▪

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