The Outdoor Heart of the Home

Whether one credits the perpetually growing interest in culinary expression spawned by reality shows and networks dedicated to all things edible or the inability to sell one’s house because of the down housing market, one thing is certain: Outdoor kitchens are trending upward.

In fact, the Washington, D.C.-based American Institute of Architects’ “Home Design Trends Survey” for second quarter 2010 highlighted outdoor-living spaces as a bright spot in an otherwise economically bleak report. The survey noted a scaling back in other special renovation project categories. Residential architects, however, expressed excitement and opportunity in outdoor-living-space projects in the survey, saying it rivaled only home offices in levels of popularity among home renovators.

As 2012 begins stronger economically than the past several years, it reasons that outdoor-living projects will spark even further interest within the home renovation industry. And, because kitchens are considered the heart of the home, most homeowners seem to look here first when wanting to replicate an aspect of their house in an open-air setting.

As with a more traditional interior kitchen, having a basic understanding of how the space for an outdoor kitchen will be used is integral to successfully approaching its design.

Typically, the design might flow around a cooking unit of some kind. While gas grills alone can run the gamut from inexpensive to luxurious, more considerations become possible all the time. Wood-fired pizza ovens are the latest craze, and some manufacturers are now making convection ovens and wood-burning rotisserie grills with features that make them suitable for outdoor use. In addition, identifying a theme—whether Tiki bar, palatial stone or wooded rustic—will help unite the overall direction of the project.

Of course, with an exterior space, bigger factors also must be considered. In what kind of climate is the home located? Location is not necessarily a limiting factor; outdoor kitchens can be created and utilized from Maine to California. However, understanding weather patterns for the area and what the owner expects from the space is critical to determining the appropriate construction and amenities. Incorporating a separate heating element may be desired to help extend the practicality of the space. Additions, like wood-paneled roofs, may be necessary to protect the area from precipitation and shade it in summer heat.

Landscaping is another factor not considered in the typical interior kitchen renovation, but critical to the exterior one. An outdoor kitchen should sustain harmony between the interior and exterior, perhaps through inclusion of elements of the structural exterior as well as the natural environs. Conferring with a landscaper in this regard may prove valuable to the overall process.

Depending on the space and budget, even more amenities can be added to provide the convenience of inside to an alfresco setting. Outdoor refrigerators, sinks and cabinets prevent the hassle of running back and forth for supplies or ingredients. Weather-resistant couches, lounge chairs and even televisions can create an entertainment venue. Adding an exterior sound system also cultivates a unique mood as does exterior lighting, like lanterns, spotlights or pagoda lighting, which should be chosen to match the developed theme.

Choose materials that are durable, low-maintenance and virtually impervious to weather. Concrete, marble, stainless steel, and solid-surface or acrylic-based materials are good choices. Now is a great time to be in the market for such items because more companies are identifying the outdoor-living trend and expanding their product lines to cater to this growing niche.

No matter what direction an outdoor kitchen project follows, opportunities abound to recreate the heart of the home—and enjoy outdoor living—virtually year-round.