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Outside Investment

Fully equipped outdoor kitchens offer sophisticated, convenient and flexible entertaining spaces, often mirroring indoor elements of design.

authors Elizabeth Richards | February 10, 2020

Outdoor entertaining has evolved in recent years, with homeowners increasingly investing in their outdoor kitchens as they extend their personal style beyond the confines of the interior of their homes.

“The investment homeowners are willing to make in outdoor kitchens continues to rise, with outdoor being the biggest growth area for many appliance industries,” says Heather Shannon, senior brand marketing manager at Milwaukee, WI-based Perlick Corp. “Millennials are staying home more than older generations and want to entertain in the comfort of their own space. Therefore, they are willing to spend more to create their ideal entertainment space that fits their family’s specific needs,” she states.

High quality products that stand the test of time are trending in these outdoor spaces. “Professionals and homeowners alike are spending smarter – investing in quality materials with a higher upfront cost but stronger return on investment, ensuring long-lasting style that requires little maintenance, repair or replacement,” says Mitch Slater, CEO and founder of Brown Jordan Outdoor Kitchens and Danver Outdoor Kitchens in Wallingford, CT.

Robert Woolley, director of marketing for Wolf Home Products in York, PA says, “Builders are noticing consumers’ interest in the value and benefits of having outdoor cabinetry and are beginning to offer outdoor kitchen options as part of their home packages.”

Outdoor entertaining increases available square footage for hosting and allow hosts to be an integral part of the action rather than spending their time indoors doing prep work. This means that full outdoor kitchen setups are becoming increasingly popular.

Outdoor kitchens are often an extension of the indoor entertaining areas, and a full range of options is incorporated into the space, including multiple cooking appliances, cabinetry, refrigeration, dishwashers, comfortable seating, shade and fully equipped bar areas. These options must be flexible, convenient and especially durable to hold up in all types of weather. That’s according to manufacturers recently surveyed by Kitchen & Bath Design News.

Relaxing in the Great Outdoors

Outdoor kitchens are functioning like additions to the home, which means design elements often carry over from inside to the outdoors. Just as they are inside, these kitchens are set up in unique configurations depending upon the personal taste and lifestyle of the homeowner. A common thread, according to manufacturers, is that the space be peaceful and relaxing, with a natural look and feel.

“Homeowners want to extend their living space, and therefore, their actual home, to the outdoors. Rather than viewing it as a ‘patio,’ people now consider outdoor spaces extensions of their homes, so they design it to look like an actual home,” Shannon says. “Outdoor kitchens have varying atmospheres as more and more homeowners personalize their outdoor spaces to meet their family’s needs,” she adds.

Larry Lozar, v.p. of sales & marketing, residential products for Scotsman Ice Systems in Vernon Hills, IL says the outdoor space is an extension of a homeowner’s home and personality. “They want a quality, unique experience that makes them feel good, and provides their guests with the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors. This enhances the total experience for both the homeowners and their guests.”

Clean lines with contemporary aesthetics are popular in these outdoor spaces, says Katie Congress, Americas marketing leader, Corian Design at Wilmington, DE-based DuPont Protective Solutions. “Colors tend to be natural and neutral to blend in with the outdoors. Some people add pops of color through small accessories or accents on their furniture,” she says, adding that rich, darker colors like dark gray or black are popular.

Congress also notes that it’s important for the design to feel like the outdoors, while creating this relaxing space. For countertops, this means a natural aesthetic. “It’s okay if the material is manufactured, as long as it mimics nature and has a natural look. You don’t want it to look too out of place outdoors,” she says.

“Consumers and designers have increasingly embraced color and texture within outdoor finishes, turning to powder coated stainless steel cabinetry for a wide range of available colors and styles, all with low-maintenance durability,” notes Slater. “White remains among the most popular finishes for both indoor and outdoor kitchens; black is becoming an increasingly popular neutral outdoors, while deep blues, like Pearl Night Blue, continue to gain traction as well.

“Contemporary design in outdoor kitchens continues to evolve,” adds Russ Faulk, chief designer and head of product at Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet in Chicago, IL. “While clean architectural lines are still a strong theme, we’re seeing a softening of materials and edges,” he explains.

The atmosphere of the outdoor kitchen varies from client to client and home to home, Faulk says. “Some aspire to a spa-like atmosphere; some to recreate the feeling of their favorite destination, [while] some want it to feel like the outdoor version of their family room. What I believe most have in common is the context of relaxation and celebration.”

Flexible, Customized Options

Because outdoor kitchens are used in multiple ways, the elements incorporated differ with each space. Manufacturers agree that being able to set up the space according to personal preferences is critical, as is ensuring that the options selected reflect how the space will be used.

Faulk sees the list of available options for outdoor kitchens continuing to grow, meaning there are products to meet just about any need. “The grill remains the heart of the outdoor kitchen, while dedicated smokers and pizza ovens add to the cooking possibilities. Media options abound, including resonant surface audio or in-counter wireless charging for devices,” he says.

David Carr, director of product & marketing for U-Line and director of product at Marvel at U-Line Corp. in Milwaukee, WI notes that some of the most commonly requested options for the outdoor kitchen are various cooking methods, food and beverage refrigeration, ice for beverages and beer on tap. “Customization is key, especially in an outdoor space. Making sure the kitchen meets their needs and fits the space is just as important as providing ample seating in a comfortable atmosphere,” he states.

“Appliances have also become increasingly advanced within outdoor kitchens, moving beyond traditional barbecues and grills to specialty offerings like pizza ovens, kegerators and wine refrigerators,” Slater says.

Lozar notes that while most people are more focused on cooking and refrigeration products being important to the outdoor experience, dedicated, quality ice machines are definitely a product category that should be considered. “Outdoor entertaining is all about the experience of the guests, which includes serving various beverages. Drinks taste better and the flavor is enhanced when ‘clear’ ice, or ‘chewable’ ice, is provided,” he says.

“As the popularity of the ceramic grills continues to grow, we’ve seen increased interest in cabinetry that incorporates these into an outdoor kitchen,” Woolley adds, noting that the traditional Shaker door style, which has enjoyed popularity in the kitchen, is beginning to find a place in outdoor cabinetry as well.

A Cohesive Relationship

Manufacturers cite an undeniable relationship between indoor and outdoor kitchens and entertaining spaces. In order to provide the outdoor space clients desire, it’s essential for designers to work with that relationship.

“People are moving toward having a similar kitchen and bar setup that mirrors what they have indoors,” believes Carr.

“Consumers and designers are seeking outdoor kitchens that look, feel and function like what they have inside, while offering durability to withstand the elements with minimal maintenance,” says Slater. “As an outdoor living space is an extension of the indoors, the ultimate goal is a seamless transition and aesthetic between the two.”

“We are seeing more and more homeowners wanting to match their outdoor kitchens and entertaining areas with the look and feel of their indoor kitchen. Some are even going so far as matching the counters and the tiles,” notes Shannon.

“Aesthetically, outdoor kitchens have traditionally felt like an extension of the exterior design of the home and the landscape. More and more, however, the design details are becoming an extension of the home’s interior as well,” Faulk points out.

Lozar adds, “Homeowners have developed their own style and design requirements in the indoor area, and they want to expand this atmosphere to the outdoor area. I believe that they want a similar experience in both areas, and as such, design the outdoor area to complement the indoor experience.”

Congress sees two different approaches in the relationship between indoor and outdoor spaces. “Some people like to have their outdoor space be an extension of their indoor space, with similar aesthetics and feel. The styling should look like an extension of the indoor living space, visually creating a larger space and making entertaining easier,” she says. On the other hand, “Others like to have their outdoor space be completely different from what they would put in their house, a bit more of a fun, flexible space since, in most geographies, it’s only used for a limited amount of time.” Either way, she maintains, the outdoor kitchen should be “smart” and connected to other technology throughout the house.

Incorporating functional elements similar to what’s inside is also important, manufacturers say. “Outdoor kitchens are starting to include appliances that allow for a similar cooking and serving experience to cooking and serving indoors,” Carr states.

“Functionally, the indoor and outdoor kitchens typically work together,” adds Faulk. “Parts of a meal are often prepared in both kitchens. Design that makes this easier and more efficient can greatly benefit the client.”

Slater believes the outdoor kitchen should offer as much functionality as possible. “While outdoor kitchens often mirror the look and feel of the indoors, the space should operate independently from the indoor kitchen to help homeowners maximize time with guests and loved ones and avoid trips indoors. To do so, outdoor kitchens can be equipped with storage cabinetry, refrigerators, sinks, trash cabinets, countertop spaces and even dishwashers manufactured for outdoor use.”

Practical Considerations

Beyond the look and feel of the outdoor kitchen space, practical considerations are also important, manufacturers say. Products that offer convenience, flexibility and the ability to withstand the weather are key.

Shannon says homeowners are looking for convenience in their outdoor set-up. “After a long day at work, homeowners want to relax. For many people, part of that process is spending time outdoors. Whether that’s cooking, grilling, having a cocktail or eating a family meal under the stars, homeowners want to enjoy their free time outside without having to worry about going back inside.” That means from the beginning of the process, designers should talk through exactly what homeowners want to ensure the area is as convenient as possible for their needs, she says.

The popularity of ice makers is part of the trend toward convenience, Shannon adds. “We’re seeing that ice makers frequently aren’t part of the initial design of an outdoor kitchen or entertaining area, and based on the popularity of the product, we recommend designers plan for an ice maker to be part of the outdoor space they are creating,” she adds.

Lozar believes designers need to plan ahead when including ice machines in their design. There are many important things to consider, including space and utilities (such as inlet water, drain and power), where and how the ice will be dispensed and whether the customer wants “cube” or “nugget” ice.

Flexibility in the outdoor space is also important. Faulk says, “I’d love to see flexibility become an outdoor kitchen design trend in its own right. Movable workstations and expandable countertops help make the outdoor kitchen a more capable space when needed without permanently expanding its footprint. Hidden sinks give you the countertop space so desperately needed while still including the critical hand washing station.”

Slater notes that the multitude of configurations and storage options available has allowed outdoor cabinetry to perform the same way as indoor cabinetry, with the ability to hide appliances, and features such as nested drawers and soft-close doors. “Modular outdoor kitchens allow for a quick and easy installation and the ability to expand as needs or trends shift over time. Modular design allows for a sleek, furniture-inspired aesthetic and helps to continue the design flow from indoors to out to provide long-lasting style and bolstered resale value,” he adds.

Durability, of course, is important when making selections for elements to include in an outdoor kitchen space. Materials need to be both long-lasting and require minimal care, Congress says.

“When it comes to finishes and materials, some of the most popular indoor trends are not suitable for use outdoors due to the elements. In some cases, the availability of certain looks in an outdoor-suitable material simply lags behind the indoor design trend,” Faulk explains. “Be certain of the UV-stability and corrosion-resistance of every element specified for the outdoor kitchen,” he recommends.

Slater adds, “As the industry continues to advance, we look forward to further updates to maximize outdoor kitchen use over time and across seasons, to accommodate the growing consumer demand.” Powder coating provides a wide range of design options while preserving durability and low-maintenance benefits of stainless steel products, he says, noting that the aesthetic options are vast.

Covered spaces can be important, both to protect products and to allow the space to be used more often. “Many [outdoor kitchen appliances] are designed to operate in a specific environment, typically covered spaces that are not exposed to extreme temperatures and sunlight,” says Carr.

“You want to be able to use your kitchen even when the weather isn’t perfect, so depending on location, overhead coverings or other weather proofing are also popular,” Congress concludes. ▪

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