Outdoor Expansion

by Ashley Lapin Olian

More and more often, consumers are looking for ways to expand their entertaining space. One of the best ways to do so is to take the party outside. Far beyond a backyard grill, these outdoor entertainment areas often incorporate a full kitchen, seating and shade options.

“As consumers spend more time entertaining and relaxing outdoors, they want to have the same amenities in their exterior spaces,” says Lorenzo Marquez, v.p. of marketing for Cosentino North America in Stafford, TX. He adds that homeowners want a seamless transition from the indoor kitchen to the one outside, which can mean replacing stand-alone grills with high-performing ranges designed to withstand the elements, along with full kitchen set ups that help to create a true outdoor modern kitchen.

Andrew Shead, marketing specialist at True Manufacturing in O’Fallon, MO, says that people are trying to bring everything they have indoors out. The functional trend, he says, is to have an outdoor kitchen that is always ready for use. “Time is more precious than ever, and no one wants to have to spend time getting a space ready to enjoy,” he notes. With the ability to have the kitchen stocked and ready to go, time with guests can be more easily enjoyed whenever the mood strikes, he adds.

Customer needs are specific and customization of these spaces is very important. Stephanie Muraro Gust, product marketing manager for Perlick Residential Products in Milwaukee, WI, says, “We are seeing a lot of creativity in how designers create spaces specific to the exact wants and needs of their clients. Rather than just specifying a refrigerator, they are specifying a freezer for frozen treats, a beer dispenser for draught beer and beverage centers that store wine and beverages. Outdoor kitchens are becoming more elaborate because people are looking at it as another living space, not just a backyard.”

And these outdoor spaces aren’t necessarily more casual than indoor entertainment areas. “Homeowners are inclined to build an outdoor oasis that combines the conveniences and modern style of an indoor kitchen with the open-air feeling of the great outdoors,” says Jim Ginocchi, president of Coyote Outdoor Living in Carrollton, TX. “There are different dynamics a [designer] has to work with: background environment, sight lines, cooking and food prep, seating, heating and cooling elements, lighting and furniture areas.”

This rise in outdoor entertaining creates a demand for spaces that are flexible, durable and comfortable. The growing desire to personalize this space means a wide range of outdoor-rated products must be available, in styles that match that of their indoor counterparts. That’s according to manufacturers recently surveyed by Kitchen & Bath Design News.

PERSONALIZED SET UP

Designers are tasked with setting up an outdoor space with all of the appliances and accessories needed to allow homeowners to entertain in exactly the way they want. And not every outdoor kitchen will include the same elements – those will vary with the way a homeowner likes to prep and cook – but multiple options must be available.

“The great thing about outdoor kitchen environments is that a consumer can have either a full range of appliances or a smaller, customized setup,” says Ginocchi. No outdoor kitchen would be complete without a grill, he states, and often homeowners are looking to accessorize these grills. “The incorporation of additions that customize the cooking experiences maximizes [consumers’] initial investment,” he states.

David Domos, director of marketing for Atlantis Outdoor Cabinetry, a division of Custom Wood Products in Roanoke, VA, says more consumers are looking beyond simply having a grill. “Consumers are designing their spaces to include items such as pizza ovens, smokers, outdoor beverage centers, sinks and functional storage. Outdoor kitchens have become a place to gather and entertain,” he notes. Additional storage is of great interest, he adds. “When cooking outside [consumers] would like to reduce the number of trips they need to make into their house. So they look for familiar functionality like drawers to hold cooking utensils and a place for a pull-out trash can.”

“Outdoor kitchens vary widely in size and budget, but the must-haves remain the same,” says Russ Faulk, chief designer and head of product at Chicago, IL-based Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet. “A grill for cooking, a sink for washing your hands, enough refrigeration to support a single meal, enough storage for the essentials and as much countertop space as you can squeeze into the plan.” He adds that big trends are driven by the food itself. “People are craving authenticity in their cooking. Dedicated smokers for traditional American barbecue, specialty wood-fired grills for Argentinian-style cooking, intensely hot pizza ovens for Neapolitan-style pizzas – these are the things getting Kalamazoo clients the most excited about their projects.”

Emily Holle, trend & design specialist at M S International, Inc. in Austell, GA, says more consumers are seeking a full range of appliances and entertainment centers in the outdoor space, as well as seamless integration of interior design themes and elements that flow to the outdoor space. With an increase in overall square footage, these spaces are including all of the things needed to keep the entertaining outdoors, including large surfaces for serving and preparation, electronics like flat-screen televisions for watching the “big game” and organic gardens in raised beds close to the grill, Holle notes.

MAKING THE MOST OF SPACE

Large or small, whatever space a homeowner has to set up outside is being used to its fullest potential. The size of the outdoor entertainment space is often dictated by the way the property is set up, says Mitch Slater, president of Danver Stainless Outdoor Kitchens in Wallingford, CT. Zero lot line homes or multi-family homes typically have a smaller kitchen with a grill, refrigerator and possibly a bartending station and/or sink, he says.

Large properties, on the other hand, often include several cooking products, one or more refrigeration products, such as drawers, beverage center or ice maker, and many storage cabinets. In addition, he explains, more people are sheltering their outdoor areas with pergolas, pavilion roofs or roof extensions to create a separate indoor/outdoor entertaining room.

Shead says that the size of the outdoor kitchen space also depends upon the consumer’s desires. In refrigeration, there are those who can entertain well with just a 15″ glass door refrigerator and a 15″ ice machine. Conversely, there are customers putting in four or five different refrigeration units. This might include freezer drawers, which have garnered a lot of attention since their introduction last year, along with a drawer for marinating meat, a glass door refrigerator, ice machine and dual-tap beer dispenser.

“Homeowners want to make the most of their space, but still want to customize the way they store and serve food and beverages,” says Muraro Gust. The firm has seen a rise in the addition of multiple point-of-use refrigeration units outdoors. Rather than bringing items outside from the main kitchen, homeowners fully stock the outdoor kitchen so that everything they need to prepare an outdoor meal is available at a moment’s notice. “Having a variety of sizes and styles gives customers the freedom to store and serve their food and beverages no matter what their space limitations are,” she adds.

CUSTOM STYLE

Just as the indoor kitchen is a reflection of homeowners’ personal tastes, the outdoor area should spotlight these preferences, too. That means that manufacturers have to offer plenty of different looks in materials and finishes.

Faulk says, “The range of finishes and styles is broader than ever. The biggest expansion has been options geared toward the modern aesthetic.”

“Homeowners still want to be able to select from different style doors, materials and colors,” says Domos. “Color is always a key driver,” he adds. “Color is often the most important consideration for a consumer when making an interior or exterior cabinet purchase.”

Shead says a trend that has taken off is lighting in the outdoor space, which helps extend the use into the nighttime hours.

He adds that glass-door refrigerators are the top choice among True’s customers, but the firm has also seen designers using panel-ready refrigeration to create the style the consumer wants. “Having that panel ready available for outdoors has been great for the designers we work with,” he says.

A natural stone look is in high demand, says Marquez, but homeowners also expect livability and zero-maintenance surfaces.

In countertops, says Holle, natural stone is the best option since quartz and other solid surface materials may fade in the elements. “The introduction of stacked stone panels cut from natural stone has made installation much faster and easier,” she says, and the palette of colors and looks is vast.

Holle sees colors shifting toward white, cream and gray. Advancements in technology allow for the use of colors and materials that are more challenging to maintain outdoors through porcelain options, which are exceptionally durable, realistic, slip-resistant and easy to maintain, she notes.

 FLEXIBLE FUNCTION

Choice is important not only in the aesthetics of the outdoor space, but in the functionality as well. This creates a demand for products that offer flexibility.

“Flexibility is crucial,” states Muraro Gust. “As trends in food, beverage and design change, [people] want products that will evolve with their needs.”

In addition to many cooking options rather than an all-in-one grill, Slater says people are looking for bar options and trash cabinets for prep, cooking and bar areas. Having multiple outdoor gathering areas is also on the rise, and homeowners want a consistent look throughout each area, he says.

“Flexibility is very important to outdoor trends,” agrees Marquez. “Well-designed materials must be seamlessly incorporated into the overall design of the space, as well as contribute to its functionality. The flexibility of the materials – and ability to be used both indoor and out – goes beyond the aesthetic. It must complement the homeowners’ lifestyle.”

STANDING UP TO THE ELEMENTS

Slater sees a big trend toward having the outdoor space look like it is indoors. This is driving demand for products that can withstand the elements, while also having all the style of their indoor counterparts. “We are seeing this all over North America, in the expected warm climates as well as typically colder climates like the northern tier of the U.S. and in Canada,” he says.

Durability is a key factor in selecting outdoor products. “In any outdoor kitchen, all materials and products should be able to withstand extreme temperatures and overall weathering,” says Marquez. “Ideal products are not only fully functional, but also extremely durable. Technological advancements in surfacing mean homeowners can bring the same level of finish in their outdoor spaces as they have indoors.”

Faulk points out, “The real purpose of the outdoor kitchen is to bring joy. That means it should be easy to live with. Appliances and finishes should be easy to clean and maintain, and impervious to the elements.”

Ginocchi adds that demand for durable, high-end pieces is at an all-time high. “Homeowners purchase grills as an investment and do not want to have to replace the item every few years,” he says.

Shead concurs: “You need the equipment that handles the job you are going to throw at it. The last thing you want is to figure out every spring what you have to replace or repair for the season.”

Muraro Gust believes designers need to do the research to find out what makes a product outdoor rated. “You want products that will stand up to the hottest of summer days and perform in the spring after a long cold winter. Look for products that are designed for all weather types, not just perfect weather days,” she concludes.

To see additional outdoor kitchen products, go to our Product Guide.

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