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Designing outdoor kitchens

Capitalize on new sales avenues by understanding this important trend

Stainless steelStainless steel is ideal for outdoor kitchen appliances. Soapstone and glazed lavastone work well for countertops.
IT IS a home feature that continues to grow in demand. A recent National Association of Home Builders study found that demand for outdoor kitchens in upscale homes is predicted to rise steadily over the next 10 years. Of those surveyed, 71% believe the outdoor kitchen will be a critical feature of high-end homes.
     Outdoor kitchens extend a home's living area, making it more functional. They provide added enjoyment, luxury and relaxation for the homeowner.
     "What began as little more than a built-in grill has now become a fully functional kitchen featuring refrigeration, sinks, prep areas and pizza ovens in addition to the grill," said Russ Faulk, vice president of marketing and product development at Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet.
     The NAHB survey concurs with Faulk, saying that in addition to the grill, sinks, refrigerators, beer dispensers and/or wine coolers are now seen as critical features of the modern outdoor kitchen.
     The trend will continue, especially as the outlook for the economy improves, Faulk said. Those in related industries who want to capitalize on the trend will need to understand how an outdoor kitchen is designed and how it should work, which could lead to increased sales opportunities.
     Faulk has developed a list of guidelines that help jump-start a better understanding of outdoor kitchen design.

1. Satellite or independent
• A satellite kitchen relies on the indoor kitchen for most of the prep-work and refrigeration.
• Independent outdoor kitchens feature all functional zones, necessary equipment and supporting utilities, making it completely independent of its indoor cousin.
• This is the most important decision to start the design process.

2. Working in harmony
• Functional zones are the areas of the kitchen where different prepping, cooking and serving activities take place.

Outdoor kitchensOutdoor kitchens expanded from built-in grills to include prep areas, sinks, refrigerators, pizza ovens, warming drawers, shade structures, entertainment systems and other features high-end homeowners desire.
There are four zones: cold (refrigeration), hot (cooking), wet (washing, food prep), and dry (food prep, storage of serving dishes/ utensils). They must all work together in proper proximity, each with an appropriate amount of space. Lack of proper space for each zone makes the outdoor kitchen inefficient and hard to enjoy.
• A landing area is open countertop flanking the kitchen's work centers. Without enough room around a grill or a sink, the homeowner does not have an area to use for food platters, dishes or other items.

3. Living together
• Dining, lounging, cooking and pool areas often coexist. Opportunities should be created for interaction and conversation within the outdoor kitchen and between other areas.

4. Make it low maintenance
• An outdoor kitchen has to be easy to care for and clean. Materials that are grease-and stain-resistant and suited for the elements work best. Stainless steel is ideal for appliances. Soapstone and glazed lavastone are strong performers as countertops. Reclaimed brick and unglazed porcelain work well as flooring.

5. Complement the home

Design outdoorDesign outdoor kitchens to complement the style of the home.
• An outdoor kitchen should not look like an addition to the house. Use finishes and materials that complement the home. The same holds true for outdoor furniture and accessories used in and around the outdoor kitchen.

6. Extend outdoor entertaining/make it comfortable
• Shelter is one of the fastest growing trends in outdoor kitchen design. It protects from sun and rain and helps the homeowner get the most from their outdoor kitchen investment. Sheltering structures include large umbrellas, pergolas, roofs and screened-in areas.
• Radiant heaters provide comfort deep into fall and allow homeowners to open kitchens earlier in the spring.
• Sheltering structures can be a home for several amenities, including ceiling fans to provide cooling breezes and discourage insects, tucking radiant heating units under eaves and more opportunities for lighting locations.

7. Light it up
• The appropriate amount of task lighting is an absolute necessity for cooking after dark. Pay particular attention to properly illuminating the grill.
• Ambient lighting helps illuminate the kitchen, dining and living spaces. It also creates drama throughout the entire area.

8. Incorporate music and other entertainment
• Audio and video entertainment is an important consideration for many outdoor kitchens. Many homeowners are having TVs, MP3 docks and speakers installed for use at all times in the outdoor kitchen. Others want to use their TVs only on a temporary basis, using them outdoors on special occasions. Plan cabling, power supply and installation hardware as if these items were going to be installed permanently.
• As people further integrate computers into their lives, data lines or wi-fi boosters become important considerations, especially if the home's indoor wireless signal, if it has one, may not be strong enough to connect computers when they are outdoors.

Chris Mordi is vice president of communications, Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet.

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