Kitchens are increasingly becoming the all-purpose gathering spot in the home, particularly with the popularity of open floor plans. Since this gathering space often extends to the outside, the outdoor kitchen area must now also function as more than simply a place to throw some burgers on the barbecue.
“Nowadays, homeowners are not just building outdoor kitchens, but creating an overall outdoor living experience,” says Stephen Schroeter, senior v.p. of sales and marketing at Ontario, Canada-based Napoleon Products.
That doesn’t mean, however, that food preparation is unimportant. Some trends continue to be driven by food preferences, so the need for customized options, particularly in cooking appliances, is still big. “Clients seek authenticity in their cooking. They gravitate toward products that reflect this desire,” says Russ Faulk, chief designer and head of product for Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet in Chicago. “Clients truly embrace the authentic cooking experiences that are best enjoyed outdoors.”
Another key trend is the move toward outdoor spaces that are more connected – both physically and stylistically – to their indoor counterparts. “Architecturally, one of the biggest trends we’re seeing is homeowners wanting to create a transitional space that ties in with the rest of their home and is truly an extension of their usable living space. This can be achieved by using similar materials both inside and outside to create continuity,” says Schroeter.
Other top considerations for the outdoor space include a sleek, contemporary styling and a demand for durable products that will withstand the more rugged outdoor environment. That’s according to manufacturers recently surveyed by Kitchen & Bath Design News.
THE HEART OF ENTERTAINING
While entertaining often centers around food, with the grill being one of the essential items in the outdoor kitchen area, it can’t end there. The outdoor space must be set up for optimal entertaining, often including seating areas and a heat source.
“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 Manufacturing in O’Fallon, MO.
Daniel Germani, an interior designer and architect who collaborates with Cosentino North America, in Miami, agrees. “I think the biggest shift in outdoor kitchen spaces is that now we’re designing multiple entertaining and seating areas, with tons of room for gathering and having fun,” he says.
Mitch Slater, president of Danver Stainless Outdoor Kitchens in Wallingford, CT sees outdoor entertainment areas becoming much larger than last year – and they don’t always focus on the cooking. “A lot of people just want a nice add-on to their house. So, they’re selling themselves short from a design standpoint if they’re only focused on the cooking,” he notes.
Designers also need to account for hosts’ desire to stay outside with guests. “In addition to cooking, people want a space to prep, serve and clean up so they can be part of the event,” says David Carr, director of product & marketing for U-Line Corp. in Milwaukee. “The process of preparing food and cooking together is a form of entertainment for many people,” he explains.
After making the investment to set up these spaces, homeowners want to be able to use them as much as possible – including multiple times per week, as well as earlier in the spring and later into the fall, according to Schroeter. For that reason, “Another major trend is the addition of fireplaces, outdoor heaters and fire tables to help extend the space’s usage into cooler seasons,” he maintains.
Mar Esteve, director of marketing for Neolith by TheSize, headquartered in Almazora, Spain, agrees that outdoor living spaces are no longer reserved for warmer climates. “As a result, homeowners are going beyond traditional kitchen elements to make outdoor living areas an extension of the home’s living space with features like fireplaces or fire pits and sitting areas.”
An easy flow from indoor to out is important, manufacturers say. The physical connection between the two spaces must be convenient and efficient, with easy access to all the elements found in a kitchen.
“The ease of having all appliances outdoors that are typically only available indoors is very desirable,” says McClaran. “Having a refrigerator within footsteps of the pool, an undercounter freezer next to the beverage dispenser to keep pint glasses frosty and a clear ice machine for cocktails are just some of the installations we see homeowners placing outdoors.”
Sometimes, these physical barriers between indoors and outdoors are becoming much less defined. “Something that has become very popular is creating an outdoor/indoor space with retractable walls,” says Carr. “This helps protect appliances and surfaces from the elements – which results in longer-lasting products, and is convenient for chilly nights.”
Matt Thomas, marketing manager, Nana Wall Systems, Inc. in Corte Madera, CA, confirms that, over the past three to five years, people have been spending more time outdoors. And homeowners are more often incorporating that outdoor space off the kitchen rather than the living room, he notes.
Rather than one specific style dominating, a key outdoor trend is to ensure that the overall look and feel of the space remain consistent with what’s inside.
“Style trends in outdoor kitchen areas typically align closely with one’s design style and personal preferences inside the home. For example, if a homeowner prefers a more contemporary look, the outdoor kitchen can reflect that with clean lines, metals and concrete countertops. For those with more traditional taste, stone construction or granite countertops might blend more with the overall aesthetic of the property,” says Schroeter.
Though there is still demand for a wide range of styles, many manufacturers are seeing a shift toward more contemporary clean lines and simplicity. “Contemporary interpretations of modernist home design are very popular right now, and I expect this trend in outdoor kitchens to continue for quite a while,” says Faulk.
Since last year, Slater has seen growing demand for cabinetry with flat door styles. “That’s a more contemporary trend. People are really embracing the indoor look outside,” he notes, adding that demand for more color is also on the rise as people try to achieve the unique looks they desire.
Carr sees the use of natural materials such as wood and concrete, paired with stainless steel appliances, being used to create a high-end, modern feel.
While designs depend on individual style, white continues to gain popularity, according to Esteve. In the U.S., she says, the classic white marble look continues to be a bestseller. “While these luxury marble-inspired looks remain popular, more modern, muted or dark tones are also trending, especially for outdoor spaces that are exposed to dirt and weather,” she adds.
It has become increasingly clear that, whatever the product category, people want what they want. Lifestyle choices, personal design preferences and the overall atmosphere they strive to create impacts trends everywhere, and the outdoor kitchen is no exception.
“Clients want to express their personal style while extending their living spaces to the outdoors,” says Faulk. “A key design tool for this type of customization is color and texture,” he adds. “Whether they’re bold, bright colors or more discreet earth tones that blend with the outdoor environment, it’s all about having more options to choose from.”
With this focus on customized space, the “must-haves” vary from kitchen to kitchen, primarily dependent upon how the homeowner intends to use the space.
“Outdoor kitchens vary widely in size and budget, but the must-haves remain the same. A grill for cooking, a sink for washing your hands, enough refrigeration to support a single meal, a little storage for the essentials and just about as much countertop space as you can squeeze into the plan,” explains Faulk. One popular add-on, he says, is the undercounter smoker. “Clients are looking for added capabilities in the outdoor kitchen, but prefer an integrated design approach. The way our smoker fits into the kitchen design so seamlessly has been a huge hit,” he states.
In addition to a sink, refrigeration, a great grill and durable countertops, Germani says that good lighting is essential. “Having good lighting allows you to create a mood, grill and entertain far after the sun goes down and the martinis start to flow!”
GREAT USE OF SPACE
People are looking for as much space as they can get in order to squeeze as many of the amenities they have inside into that outdoor space. But with deliberate attention to design, smaller spaces can be just as spectacular.
Utilization of space is a big factor, Thomas stresses, noting that joining the indoor space directly to the outdoor space creates an openness, even with smaller floor plans. “[The kitchen] becomes a centerpiece. That makes it the gravitational center point of where the family is going to go.”
“Available space may limit the amount of cooking appliances or cabinetry a client can squeeze into the kitchen,” says Faulk. But whatever the size, he adds, they view the grill as the heart of an outdoor kitchen. “It does not have to be big, but each client should select the grill they really want. Cutting corners here can lead to frustration and disappointment,” he adds.
Carr agrees that, with limited space, the focus is on the grill, along with the refrigerator. These are the must-haves, he believes, while secondary cooking items like smokers and wood-fired pizza ovens, along with icemakers and sinks, are left out when space is tight. “Space may limit your choices, but still leave you options,” he states. “You might want a 60″ grill and 24″ refrigerator, but settle for a 30″ grill and a 15″ refrigerator.”
“Thoughtful design becomes even more important as the space becomes smaller,” adds Schroeter. “Arguably, the most important components include creating a defined space with comfortable seating for socialization or relaxation, and a cooking unit. An outdoor kitchen isn’t necessarily defined by a built-in grill or pizza oven – a free-standing grill works as well.”
WITHSTANDING THE ELEMENTS
Though consumers want everything they have inside in their outdoor areas, too, it’s not as simple as moving the indoor products outside. Products must be specifically rated for outdoor use to offer the durability and high-quality performance clients expect.
Slater says, “The more cool features you see on indoor stuff, people now want to put outdoors.” However, he adds, “a lot of it is not transferable,” citing automatic opening drawers as an example: the non-stainless metals used simply can’t hold up to the weather.
Germani agrees that durability is an important factor, stating, “The best outdoor kitchen materials are designed to withstand inclement weather.”
“Reliability and performance are important when considering materials for an outdoor kitchen,” McClaran concurs. “Having an outdoor appliance that can withstand extreme temperatures and weather conditions is key.”
“Homeowners want a low-maintenance product that can withstand the outdoors, including precipitation and temperature swings,” says Esteve.
Schroeter concludes, “Investing in low-maintenance, high-quality materials and products is especially important to endure over time and to help people get the most out of their investment.” ▪
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