The kitchen is a natural gathering spot in your home, whether for a family meal, a party or event, or just as the central hub for daily activities. Kitchens conjure up feelings of warmth and togetherness, and of course delicious things happening!
It’s only natural, then, that an outdoor kitchen should provide the same sense of family and community, as well as be the central hub for outdoor entertaining. Outdoor kitchens can expand your dining options, can add more livable space to your home, and can make socializing and spending time outdoors more fun.
With spring and summer upon us, our thoughts turn to the outdoors, and al fresco kitchens suddenly seem more appealing. And with some planning and the right design, you can enjoy your kitchen all year long. Here are some tips for creating the perfect outdoor kitchen for you, your family, and your lifestyle.
1. Plan The Location
There’s more to locating an outdoor kitchen than picking the widest, emptiest spot to start building. In fact, the location you choose can mean the difference between using your new kitchen regularly, and wondering why you bothered installing it at all.
Start by being mindful of the weather conditions in your yard. Locating a kitchen in full sun, for example, is not going to inspire you to get outside for a summer weekend brunch. For sunny spots, consider adding a roof, awning or pergola over your kitchen to provide shade for chefs and diners alike.
Other conditions will affect your use and enjoyment, too. Not just the amount of sun, but how it rises and sets is important. Nobody wants to be sitting to breakfast or dinner in that one blinding spot at the table.
Be aware of how the wind blows around your space. Locating a grill near a seating area is fine, as long as it’s not in the one spot where every breeze always seems to whip the smoke into everyone’s eyes.
And of course, make sure your new kitchen is located in a convenient place! It may seem like a good idea to put it off to one side, or somewhere behind the flower garden, but if you can’t get to and from it easily, you might just skip it.
2. Decide It’s Purpose
This is not a trick question! Yes, you will almost certainly want to cook in your kitchen, but there’s more to it than that. Your outdoor kitchen isn’t supposed to be a clone of your indoor one. Rather, decide what you’re most likely to use it for.
Will you be hosting large dinner parties, or small family meals? Are you planning to go gourmet with a seven course meal, or keep it simple with cocktails and bar snacks?
Knowing how you plan to use your kitchen can help you make better decisions. This is an investment, after all – in your home, your lifestyle and your enjoyment. A fully functional kitchen is going to have different requirements for appliances, space and even seating than one that is meant as a poolside snack bar.
3. Consider Seating
If you plan to eat outdoors, you’ll need seating. Sounds obvious, but it requires a bit more thought than you might expect. First, you’ll need to decide what type of dining experience you want. This goes back to the purpose of the space – will you be serving full meals, or cocktail-party-like h’ors oeuvres?
Next, you need to have at least some idea of how many people you’ll want to serve. Do you plan to host large neighborhood gatherings, family reunions, or book club parties? Or will you be enjoying regular family dinners and hosting small groups?
You may not be able to predict the future, but it would be a good idea to think ahead to how you realistically want to use the space. That will mean the difference between a long natural wood picnic table, and cozy bistro seating, for example.
Finally, consider the type of seating and the experience you want to create. There are lots of great seating options, and you may love that gorgeously plush outdoor sectional sofa, but will that really be the best option for guests trying to enjoy their steak and potatoes? On the flip side, tables and benches are nice, but how comfortable will they be for multi-course meals?
Be sure your family and guests are comfortable and that they can enjoy their intended meals, and you’re much more likely to use the space.
4. Choose Appliances
Remember the purpose of your space? That will help you choose appliances that will suit your lifestyle and planned experience. When it comes to outdoor kitchens, you can quite literally build one to be more elaborate and full-featured than your indoor one! The question is: do you need to?
Some options for outdoor kitchen appliances include ice makers, refrigerators, wine chillers, grills, stovetop burners, warming drawers, fireplaces, pizza ovens, smokers, sinks with running water and a garbage disposal, and that doesn’t count the myriad smaller or portable appliances you can add (blenders for margaritas, anyone?)
Even within appliances there are options. The humble grill comes in so many variations that the mere act of planning a burger-and-hot-dogs barbecue can be challenging when it comes to choosing! That’s why starting with your purpose is key.
Most outdoor chefs can benefit from a grilling area with one or more burners for side dishes and sauces, plus a warming drawer for food awaiting serving time if you have a larger party. If you want to expand you culinary skills, a smoker is a great option, and one you can only really use outdoors.
Keep convenience in mind, too. You may not need a full size refrigerator, but having a place to keep condiments, meats, vegetables or other perishables is going to be a whole lot easier than running back and forth to your indoor kitchen every time you need something.
If cooking outdoors requires you to spend half your time running back inside, you’re not likely to enjoy the experience or repeat it very often.
5. Add Creature Comforts
There are plenty of little details that can enhance your experience, make your kitchen area more functional, and increase the likelihood that you’ll use and enjoy the space.
For example, consider including cabinets or drawers for storage. You can keep supplies like tongs, grill brushes and cleaning materials, or store plates and utensils designed specifically for outdoor use. Not only will this keep your area neat, but it will be far more convenient than grabbing supplies from the house.
Consider not just cooking, but food preparation as well. If you love kebabs, for example, then plan a place where you can chop vegetables. It’s easier to do the prep work in your cooking area than to try to split your time between the indoor kitchen and your outdoor one.
While you’re thinking about comfort, consider how you might use your space all year long, not just during warm months, but through crisp fall evenings or even winter days. That may mean adding a fire pit or fireplace, or even an outdoor patio heater.
For summer, go for outdoor fans, and if you’ve got a roof or overhang, you can even install a ceiling fan to create a cool breeze during mealtime.
6. Light It Up
Adding lighting to your outdoor kitchen means that you can use and enjoy it all day _and_ night. In fact, once you experience dining under the stars, you may never want to return to your indoor kitchen again.
There are more ways to light your space than we can cover here, but we’ve written about them before.
From string lights to lanterns, moonlighting and shadowing, you can create effects and ambiance to suit your style. Lighting can enclose a dining area, making it feel friendly and cozy, and of course it will give you, your family and guests the illumination needed to enjoy dining.
Lighting also extends the use of your space. Add pathway lighting to encourage guests to explore your gardens after dark. Include pool lighting to create another evening entertainment hub. Light up ponds and water features to create focal points and offer unique experiences to enjoy in an entirely new way.
Finally, don’t overlook the importance of task lighting. It’s one thing to cook under the stars, and another to actually see what you’re cooking! Be sure that you have the right kind of lighting so that you can chop, prep, cook and serve safely and effectively.
7. Create Ambiance
Lighting is one way to create a certain type of atmosphere, whether romantic dinner for two, or energizing pool party. But there’s more you can borrow from your indoor experience that will make your outdoor one that much more enjoyable.
Music is a great addition to any space. Avoid dragging around portable speakers or tripping over rigged wiring systems with music that’s built right into the space. Speakers can be mounted in permanent locations, and for even more enjoyment, they can be embedded into gardens and hidden beneath plants or faux stone covers so your guests can enjoy some soothing tunes as they stroll your grounds.
For family nights outside or group gatherings, an outdoor television can provide entertainment in the form of movies or favorite sports games. Think back to how you plan to use the space – if a tiki pool bar is up your alley, then a television can add that extra bit of bar-feel you’re looking for.
Having an outdoor kitchen that’s fun, convenient, functional _and_ beautiful will encourage you to get outside more and enjoy the benefits of fresh air and Mother Nature’s bounty. Designing one to suit your lifestyle, needs and interests is key to that enjoyment.
If you’re thinking about adding an outdoor kitchen, whether your space is large or small, contact us for a consultation so we can start planning it with you.
We’ll look at your space, listen to your needs, make recommendations, and put together a cooking and entertaining experience that’s perfect just for you.