Creating and capitalizing on outdoor kitchens
Chris Mordi -- Casual Living, 1/1/2012 2:00:00 AM
Picture a man standing alongside a flaming hot grill in a white apron, burger flipper in one hand and tongs in the other. It's a stereotypical picture that at least one designer thinks defines homeowners' views of cooking outdoors.
"Many still think the outdoor kitchen is a thing where you grill out and then you bring things inside and clean them up," said Dena Brody, principal at Dena Brody Interiors, a Houston-based interior and kitchen and bath designer. "It's not that way anymore. It's much more."
In its most recent Residential Trends Survey, the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) shows its membership agreeing with Brody. The survey finds many components that make up a modern outdoor kitchen are rated as somewhat or very popular, including grills, counterspace, storage, sinks and refrigerators. "Despite the economic climate, homeowners continue to reconnect with their outdoor space," said Nancy Somerville, EVP and CEO of ASLA.
In an article for Builder magazine's website, Amy Albert, design editor, recently rated the outdoor kitchen as one of the 10 top trends of 2011 and sees outdoor kitchens continuing to be popular through 2012 and beyond. "I continue to be amazed at the evolution from just a grill and prep area into something that is so complete," she said.
|A solid understanding of kitchen design principles such as work zones and the proper amount of counter space to accommodate landing areas is equal in importance to knowing the array of equipment available for outdoor kitchens. (Photo courtesy of Housewarmings Outdoor)
The pros know
The rise in the popularity of outdoor kitchens is in "direct response to the economy. People can't afford to move into bigger homes," said Albert. She also says the appeal of outdoor kitchens is that it blurs the line between indoor and outdoor living.
"People want to enhance their lifestyle and enjoy their lives at the home they have," said Shiva Noble, EVP of Cal Flame. "They want it to look like their indoor living room, but they want to sit outside. It's all about increasing livable space in the current home."
Russ Faulk, VP of product development for Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet, said the rise in the popularity of outdoor kitchens is due "partially to a new foodie being born every minute and partially because the nesting trend continues, and because of what it does for your quality of life and time spent with friends and family."
Bud Renfroe, VP of Housewarmings Outdoor, sees the rise in popularity a little differently. "The main reason for the past five or six years is that people are not taking vacations - they're staying at home more and they are not staying indoors," he said.
Homeowners have already done their basements and kitchen and now they want to carry the indoor look outside, Renfroe added. "It's why this market has grown where others haven't," he said.
Outing the in crowd
Helping a homeowner design an outdoor kitchen can be a delicate and time-intensive process. "This is still a new market, homeowners don't know it," Renfroe said. "They don't [even] know that an outdoor refrigerator is available."
"Consumers don't really know what they want," said Ted Scott , national sales manager for Napoleon Gourmet Grills. He said the outdoor kitchen is a sale that requires a different type of knowledge. "When selling a lifestyle - people gathering in the backyard, etc. - you have to present an expertise to sell the whole package. This means having to think beyond your comfort zone and take on a new personality, like that of a landscape designer."
Faulk said the definition of an outdoor kitchen can be a loose one. Some define it as "any space where you can do outdoor cooking," he said. For those in the industry who have to help homeowners put together outdoor kitchens, he offers a more strict definition: An outdoor cooking area that features almost all or any of the capabilities of an indoor kitchen, centered on the grill.
|Outdoor kitchens have become popular because they offer added enjoyment, luxury and relaxation for the homeowner. They expand a home’s livable square footage and their return on investment is comparable to an indoor kitchen remodel. (Photo courtesy of Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet)
Designing an outdoor kitchen requires uncovering a homeowner's cooking and entertaining personality. "You have to understand the customer's lifestyle," Renfroe said. "It has to be defined by the occasion. Do they entertain a lot of friends or is it just family? The needs of the two are polar opposites. You need to open up their minds, get them to share their lifestyle."
Renfroe added when people are spending thousands of dollars they have to feel confident. "You must be able to say, ‘Mr. Smith, based on our conversation, this is what you need.' Being the expert is very important," he said.
Faulk is emphatic when he says that to properly design an outdoor cooking space, a strong understanding of kitchen design principles is a requirement. He points out that knowing about proper amounts of counter space, landing areas and work zones are critical to helping a homeowner create an outdoor kitchen that will be efficient and enjoyed for years.
"No two outdoor kitchens should ever be the same because everyone has different entertaining and cooking styles," Noble said. "The key to defining an outdoor kitchen is to let the consumer decide. The consumer's visit should be like seeing a psychologist. By being asked the right questions, they can be guided into what fits their needs."
In addition to being able to ask the right questions, Faulk says an understanding of products that are available and the potential of the space are critical knowledge points. Last year, Kalamazoo introduced the first outdoor dishwasher. Other companies continue to expand their offerings with new refrigeration, smoker and grill options.
Noble said one of the newest trends that directly relates to outdoor kitchens and is routinely forgotten is connectivity. "While outdoors, [people] don't want to give up watching any football games or see what's happening with the stock market. They still want to be connected to the world. This is where the future is. We're connected all the time. They want to buy features that will allow them to do so," she said.
|There are two types of outdoor kitchens: satellite and independent. Satellite kitchens are less expensive to build, but rely on the indoors to provide some important functions, such as prep and refrigeration. Independent kitchens are more expensive and include items such as refrigeration, wine chillers, storage cabinets and more. They don’t rely on the indoors and offer the homeowner freedom to spend more time outdoors with friends. (Photo courtesy of Housewarmings Outdoor)
Interior designer Brody recommends thinking even further beyond the cooking space. "When people entertain outdoors they tend to have more guests," she said. "It's casual. You don't have as much pressure, so you can invite more people. You have to have a place [for them] to eat."
Brody said casual furniture businesses need to ask the right questions of themselves and their merchandise mix, making sure they have access to or carry products that accommodate these larger gatherings. For several projects, she has been unable to purchase products from local businesses because they didn't have what she needed. "There's just a limited size of tables. And they really are not the right sizes for entertaining," she said. She added she needed tables ranging in size from 96 inches to 120 inches.
Another "understanding the potential of the space" example Brody gives relates to barstools. In many outdoor kitchen designs there will be a bar where food or drinks can be served and guests can be close to the host while she or he prepares food. "I was looking for barstools that didn't take up much space and were the right height. All I found was low lounge furniture," she said.
|Materials used in an outdoor kitchen matter as much as the appliances. They should be chosen based on their ability to endure the weather extremes of the area. (Photo courtesy of Housewarmings Outdoor)
Some savvy casual businesses have begun striking relationships with design professionals in order to build their outdoor kitchen design knowledge and expertise. "The connection makes sense because the outdoor kitchen has changed," Brody said.
A heart aflame – choosing the right grill
One of the most important pieces to get right in outdoor kitchen design is its heart -the grill. "You have to have a ‘badass' grill," Noble said. "It's the focal point."
Faulk said getting the grill right is "absolutely critical" to a homeowner's overall satisfaction with their outdoor kitchen. "It's where the cooking occurs," he said.
Asking the right questions helps uncover a homeowner's cooking personality. "Are they doing straight grilling? Smoking? Barbecue? Roasting?" are the questions Faulk recommends asking. "Different grills have different strengths," he said.
"Understand the grills, know the different technologies," Scott said. "You're selling a lifestyle experience, not just dollars and BTUs."
Renfroe said knowing the importance of the grill to a homeowner's cooking style can lead to some unexpected design results. "We have done outdoor kitchens for $10,000 with a $700 grill head. Others that are $9,000 have a $7,000 grill head. It's hard to understand," he said.
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