Well-being is a trend that is on a meteoric trajectory. Relaxing, communing with nature and spending time with loved ones are all elements that enrich the spirit.
Surprisingly, the one area of the home that delivers on all of these ideas is not actually within the four walls, but rather outside of them. When designed to its full potential, the outdoor living space can be an oasis from life’s storms, a retreat into nature and a bustling entertaining center.
Just as the indoor kitchen is considered the heart of the home, the outdoor kitchen is the crux of a larger space. It is a central gathering spot for cooking, entertaining and relaxing.
In addition to entertaining, one of the ways people use their outdoor space is for their after-work cocktail, notes Mary Kathryn Reese, CEO, Kitchen Design Concepts in Carrollton, TX. “Instead of standing around the island in the kitchen, they go out to the outdoor kitchen and relax,” she reports.
And, as lifestyles are reflecting a more relaxed attitude, so is the design of the outdoor space. “As our industry has adapted to more casual styles and design influences throughout the entire home, the same desire for comfortable and stylish spaces for family and friends to enjoy outdoors has become a very popular topic for our prospective clients,” stresses Keith Levine, designer and owner, Schrapper’s Fine Cabinetry in Jupiter, FL.
While many people are still embracing the idea of the outdoor kitchen and entertaining space as a possibility, designers who have these rooms as part of their repertoire are already noting changes in their look and function. The traditional design of the kitchen wrapped in stone is still requested by many clients taking the leap to the outdoors, but more and more, designers are noting the transition to a sleeker, more modern aesthetic.
“The outdoor kitchen began as a barbecue built into a stone island so people had counter space. They added doors below to try to utilize the space,” relays Perry Michael Reinstein, CKD, owner/designer, Evo Design Center in Huntington Station, NY.
But early renditions were susceptible to spiders and insects, he notes, so manufacturers began to construct cabinetry out of stainless steel and plastic products, and added better sealing systems to “try to control critters,” which increased the real usefulness of the outdoor cabinetry. “These new materials also made it easier to hose clean the insides,” he explains.
“Appliance companies increased their offerings to include many more outdoor-rated products, and this snowball effect [helped fuel] the rising interest in outdoor kitchens,” continues Reinstein.
“Grills, warming drawers, refrigerators, ice makers, power burners, Kamado grills and even dishwashers are some of the available items that make the outdoor kitchen function like an indoor kitchen,” adds Eddie Casanave, CGR, CAPS, EIT, manager, Distinctive Remodeling and Distinctive Outdoor Kitchens in Raleigh, NC. “Having all of these appliances made it difficult for masons to plan for all the different appliance specifications. That is where outdoor cabinetry makes it easier and better to house all of the different appliances.”
“People are crisping up design elements,” reports Reese, noting that she is seeing a lot of slab Shaker doors in outdoor kitchens. “There is less stone – that’s a move from the inside kitchen.”
“One of the biggest challenges for me is that I don’t like stainless steel, and I don’t like building cabinets into stone walls,” remarks Laurie Haefele, owner, Haefele Design in Santa Monica, CA. As a result, she has been using solid acrylic, as well a material used for yachts and sailboats. “So, I am able to use a very durable painted finish with a special proprietary PVC material for the carcass boxes.”
One of Haefele’s kitchens with the yacht finish has a detail on the door that she designed to match the clients’ Mediterranean tile work throughout their backyard. “The custom door is really beautiful,” she relays.
“For those kitchen and bath dealers that provide outdoor product, we tend to cater the designs to lifestyle and know how to coordinate materials to properly complete a design,” Levine stresses. As an example, he notes that, even if a design does not accommodate refrigeration, he tries to incorporate “ancillary” refrigeration inside the home that is closer to the outdoor space to alleviate congestion in the main kitchen and provide easy access to refrigerated drinks and other items.
Reese notices that outdoor spaces never seem to be big enough. “Typically, they are linear, so it’s kind of a small space to work with,” she reports. “People want a kitchen, not a 30″ grill. They want a trash can, sink, counter space, Big Green Egg, refrigeration – all in a small space, and that’s very challenging. So, we have to start compromising. A lot of times we will put refrigeration just inside the door on the inside, so that it’s easily accessible but not actually in the outdoor space.”
“We’ve done some outdoor kitchens where the barbecue is part of the kitchen, where there’s a piece of glass and the barbecue is on the other side of the glass. It’s basically an extension of the kitchen,” states Haefele.
While the indoor kitchen is often an anchor for the outdoor version, the two spaces are usually different in style and overall concept, note designers. The indoor kitchen has an oven, range and microwave as the cooking center, whereas the grill is the main cooking station outdoors. And, the cooking area is often the space where people will congregate in the outdoor kitchen, which is not the case inside.
“With these basic differences, the design clearly comes from an entirely different place,” observes Reinstein. “With indoor kitchens, I am concerned about people flow and ergonomic use of the cabinets for usefulness. In an outdoor kitchen, my initial concerns might be the grill’s location to seating and the house with respect to the smoke from the grill, as well as the ease of bringing food out to the grill area, because most perishable foods will be prepped and stored indoors.”
“We design and build both indoor and outdoor kitchen, so we ask our homeowners many of the same questions when designing them,” offers Casanave. He notes that most of it comes down to how they want to use the space, who will be using the space, how many people they want to accommodate, what appliances they prefer, what type of cooking they do, what their normal daily routine is like and much more.
Location of the outdoor kitchen on the property is also a consideration, adds Casanave. “If the client has a space that is down a long flight of steps, they will need different solutions than a home that has easy access to the indoor kitchen.”
“We like to find out how they live, and then make a space that best fits their lifestyle,” he stresses. “We have customers who say they use their outdoor kitchen 200 days a year. That is a testament to a design that fits their lifestyle.”
The evolution of outdoor kitchen design is being partially driven by the development of new and improved products for the space. From cabinets to appliances to fixtures to countertops, an ever-widening array of amenities is allowing for increased creativity and function in design.
“The most important item to consider when designing an outdoor space is to use ‘forever’ cabinetry, meaning a product that is designed to last in adverse weather and exposure to the elements,” stresses Levine. He notes that they only use resin-based or stainless steel cabinet products, and typically use Dekton by Cosentino for countertop surfaces. “Dekton and Brown Jordan Outdoor Kitchens have even partnered to share and mimic some colors in an effort to add flair to any design,” he remarks.
“The challenge with outdoor cabinetry is weather and humidity,” concurs Casanave, and the solution to that is stainless steel or aluminum cabinetry, he adds. “But those alone are difficult to keep clean, so the solution to that is powder coating the metals.
“Powder-coated finishes are extremely durable finishes available in a multitude of colors, including wood grain finishes,” Casanave continues. “This allows homeowners to really personalize the way their outdoor kitchens look and coordinate with their home style.”
“We’re also seeing a lot of use of color [in cabinets], and we can do custom colors. We’re seeing powder-coated cabinet doors,” Reese agrees. Kitchen Design Concepts is a NatureKast dealer, which manufactures outdoor cabinetry, and the company just launched a Euro line – a slab door in a range of distinctive colors and wood styles.
When there is a transitional indoor kitchen, Haefele reports that she will design the outdoor one to be highly contemporary. “I really believe that outdoor kitchens should be very sleek and simple, with a flat, high-gloss door that cannot be damaged by any weather,” she states. “It’s going to be the easiest to keep clean and maintain.
“If it’s a wood door and it has detail on it, you’re going to get a lot of dirt and stuff [accumulating], and it’s not going to weather as well,” she adds. While it’s also about aesthetics, she notes, durability is the number one priority.
One of Reinstein’s clients opted for shelving instead of closed cabinetry. “We just did open mahogany shelves, which matched the mahogany decking,” for a cohesive look, he states.
Though cabinetry is the leading consideration, the heart of the outdoor kitchen is the cooking area. This area can include not just a grill – such as a charcoal, gas, Kamado or other – but a smoker and flat cooking appliance.
“A 36″-wide grill is the most typical size that we find that works for most any design,” states Levine. “Like the cabinetry, these grills should also be considered ‘forever’ grills, and spending a few extra dollars on these cooking appliances goes a very long way to the enjoyment of a new outdoor living area. Beyond standard grills, we have seen a keen interest in the large EVO grills and some of the open rotisserie grills.”
Haefele often works with Caliber Appliances to customize grills for a personalized look. In an all-black kitchen she recently designed in southern California, she incorporated a custom Caliber barbecue that had a 1980s-style custom handle that’s black and square. “It’s a very contemporary handle,” she notes.
The kitchen features a sleek design with integrated handles, and all of the appliances had cabinet panels. She used the Perlick ADA outdoor ice maker, which has a shorter carcass height, and integrated a horizontal handle above it for a seamless look, she states. Haefele is a fan of the MGS telescoping outdoor faucet, which was used here in black, paired with a black Silgranit sink from Blanco. The countertop is porcelain from SapienStone.
Refrigeration of all kinds – undercounter, icemakers, beverage centers, drawers and even wine coolers – is being requested, and all must be UL-listed for outdoor use.
In addition, “pull-out trash cans and recycling drawers are designed into most of our projects,” reports Casanave. Other items he has incorporated into outdoor kitchens and surrounding spaces include space heaters, WiFi extenders, televisions and firepit tables. “This makes the outdoor living area usable nearly year-round,” he stresses.
“We’ve incorporated infrared heaters and mosquito systems,” notes Reese, which helps extend the comfortable use of the space throughout the year. She has also incorporated bi-fold doors to connect the interior space with the outside.
There are a wide variety of pizza ovens available, both built-in and countertop models, “for a tasty addition to an outdoor kitchen,” notes Levine. “We also see a great advantage to considering a sink that will allow you to clean up all this fun, but also perform as a work station for food prep and overall entertaining. The Galley Workstation is an amazing way to accomplish this while creating a truly dynamic element for any outdoor living project.”
Reinstein incorporated an ice sink in one of his designs, which includes a tray in front of it for liquor. “It acts as a serving bar,” he says. “It has a cover, so the ice is covered, and it’s insulated, so it keeps the ice from melting. And, it also drains like a sink.”
Keeping up with the needs of today’s entertaining spaces, Haefele is including multiple electrical outlets with USB connections. She notes that, in the black kitchen, there are 10 chargers, including pop-up versions in the countertop, and she had them powder-coated black to blend into the design. “And all of them have been in use during a party!” she reports. ▪