The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

May 8, 2014

The evolving outdoor kitchen

MELISSA RAYWORTH Associated Press
The Clinton Herald

---- — For years, it was enough to park a barbecue grill next to a picnic table on a patio and call it an “outdoor kitchen.” But over the past decade, Americans have taken backyard cooking and dining to a new level, adding elaborate cooking islands, outdoor sinks and refrigerators, even outdoor TVs.

Unless you have a really tall fence, this is the one “room” in your house that neighbors will see whether you invite them to or not, notes designer Sarah Fishburne, director of trend and design for The Home Depot. That inspires many homeowners to pay extra attention to their outdoor entertaining area.

Many of us also love the appeal of cooking and entertaining in a space that’s relatively indestructible, says designer Jeff Blunkosky, owner of Pittsburgh Stone and Waterscapes.

“If kids spill cake or Kool-Aid on your patio,” he says, “you just pull out your hose and hose it off.”

Here are some thoughts from Flynn, Blunkosky and Los Angeles-based designer Brian Patrick Flynn, creator of the design blog FlynnsideOut.com, about the elements that make a useful, beautiful outdoor kitchen without huge expense:

BUILD AN ISLAND

About a decade ago, Blunkosky says, many homeowners began feeling that “a stand-alone grill just kind of standing there” didn’t look that great in their backyards. Plus, it provided little workspace for prepping food. The answer was to build around it, incorporating the grill into a stone base with a countertop and drawers underneath — pretty and practical.

Costs vary around the country, but these designers say an investment of $3,000 to $5,000 will cover a simple, 6-foot-long cooking island with a basic grill embedded in it and a 2-foot-deep countertop area. The countertop serves as cooking prep space, and usually extends out so that bar stools can be pulled up underneath to create a bar area for guests.

BRING THE HEAT

As people spend more on their outdoor kitchens, they want to use them for as much of the year as possible — no matter where they live.

Fireplaces, fire pits and heaters, either freestanding or wall-mounted, are good ways to extend the season for your outdoor kitchen. Outdoor pizza ovens also have become popular.

And grills have come a long way since the days when we poured lighter fluid on a pile of coals.

Fishburne says the new generation of outdoor cooks wants more than steaks, hamburgers and hot dogs. “They’re thinking about Korean barbecue,” she says, or asking, “How can I make breakfast outside?”

FRAME THE SPACE

Outdoor draperies can add privacy, inject color and pattern, and set off your dining area as a distinct space, Flynn says. They also can make a small patio feel larger, he says: If you hang curtains that are 7 or 8 feet tall, “you will emphasize the height of the space rather than emphasizing how small the footprint is.”

Pergolas achieve the same effect, and used together the two elements can create a dining area that feels luxurious, at minimal expense.