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Creating an Outdoor Kitchen:

Weather can sometimes be hard to predict. But one thing is certain: Kitchens are taking the outdoors by storm.

"I'm certainly seeing an upsurge in requests for outdoor kitchens," says Cyndi Haaz, a Montgomeryville, PA-based designer. "Five years ago, nobody even heard of an outdoor kitchen. Now, people realize that they can spend four or five months outside here--and it's a lot more comfortable to entertain."

The outdoor kitchen is all about lifestyle, allowing you to bring both comfort and design to a natural setting. And an ever-growing variety of fixtures and accessories makes it easy to create a convenient cooking space. Outdoor refrigerators, storage drawers, sinks and faucets allow you to spend your time outside rather than running back and forth from the house to the grill.

"Many outdoor living rooms include lounges or sofas, televisions and/or sound systems, fireplaces or fire pits, and a pool or game area" says designer Kim Sweet. "Even if budget doesn't allow for these features now, proper planning can make them easier to add later."

Weather Matters

When it comes to planning an outdoor kitchen, homeowners are wise to start by considering their local weather patterns. Wind, rain, and humidity all play a role in determining your kitchen's site placement and design, whether you're planning new construction or adding on.

 

     
In the hot and humid South, for example, it's all about taking advantage of any and all available shade. "Consider shade cast by trees, buildings, or other structures/plantings," says Susan Serra, CKD, author of The Kitchen Designer blog. "Note the sun's exposure at your desired site ... an optimum design would have the kitchen situated in a northern exposure."

In Nashville, TN, comfortable outdoor living is limited to just a few weeks a year due to "bug infestation and high humidity," says designer Deborah Burnett. Nevertheless, she says that outdoor kitchens are a popular feature in the region, especially among homes that are larger than 5,000 square feet.

Although its weather varies depending whether you're in L.A. or Colorado, the West does have advantages. "The much lower humidity level is more tolerable and will allow a southern exposure in some areas that would otherwise be prohibitive in the deep South," Serra explains.

To minimize rain splash in the cloudy Northwest, Burnett recommends installing an 18" to 24" roof overhang rather than the usual 12" to 15" overhang.

For areas of the East and Midwest that experience wide-ranging seasonal temperatures, it's important to choose a spot that shelters from both hot and cold, snow and wind. Covered or shaded areas can help protect a kitchen in these extremes. If you're installing an outdoor faucet in an area that experiences low temperatures, make sure your drain pipes have a release valve to avoid bursting in the cold winter months.

Be sure to place grills out of the path of prevailing winds. This detail is often overlooked until smoke from the grill has already blackened nearby walls, seeped into the home, or bedeviled guests.

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Location, Location

If you're inspired to add an outdoor kitchen to your existing home, make sure it works with the home's overall style.

"Site selection is an important part of planning an outdoor kitchen," says designer Ann Porter, CKD. "The new kitchen should tie into the architecture and materials of the home. Careful planning and a little landscaping can make a new kitchen look like it's always been there."

Before you select your locale, think about how you will use your kitchen. Does your climate allow you to be outside frequently throughout the year? Do you plan to cook alone or will others help out? Do you need work stations for each stage of meal preparation? Answering these questions will help you determine how large your kitchen should be, and what to include in your plans.

 

     
Building onto an existing deck or terrace is an easy way to tie your kitchen into the rest of your home. Just be sure to keep the grill far enough away from the home to avoid smoke or heat damage. If you're planning to build in a city environment, be sure to check your local building codes. "An outdoor kitchen can be on the deck/lanai of a high rise building if an exhaust hood with a fire suppression unit is installed," says Porter.

If you plan on using your kitchen year round, you might want to consider an overhang to shelter the area from rain. Overhead lighting and a fireplace can create a comfortable atmosphere, even on chilly days.

Functional Features

Once you've chosen your location, it's time to consider features. At its most minimal, an outdoor kitchen can consist of a grill, work surface, and dining area, but additional amenities can maximize its use and appeal.

An outdoor refrigerator allows you to keep cold food and beverages right next to the grill or pool area. A side burner is another handy option--you can grill kabobs and boil corn without having to run back and forth to the house. And when it's time to fill pots or wash hands, a sink and faucet are welcome amenities--just be sure to accommodate water hookups.

When it comes to features, homeowners are tailoring their spaces to their lifestyles and including little luxuries. "Outdoor kitchens are becoming more personalized," says Porter.

     
"Cooks are adding pizza ovens, teppanyaki grills and smokers. [Many] also have weatherproof televisions and speakers."

Fancy features are great, but comfort is just as important. When considering seating and other amenities, think like you're designing a living room where you want everyone to be comfortable and relaxed.

Whatever furniture you choose, just be sure to blend your outdoor dining area with the surrounding landscape, as well as your home's interior.

Designing for the Outdoors

When planning an outdoor kitchen, it's important to remember that everything from kitchen style and faucet finish to grill placement and countertop material may be influenced by your weather trends. What works outdoors in San Francisco might not survive in Maine, so make sure your products and materials can stand up to the local climate. When in doubt, it's best to check manufacturer product warranties and consult your kitchen designer for advice.

Fortunately, more and more weather-resistant products are available to cooperate with your climate.

"Use durable, low-maintenance and weather-resistant materials" says Sweet. Stone, concrete, honed, stainless steel and solid surface or acrylic-based materials are both durable and easy to wipe down.

And don't be afraid to use a bit of color. A sand-toned sink blends in better with the outdoors than stark white. But again, the most important thing is to match your fixtures with your existing home décor.

When it comes to the faucet, matte finishes like brushed nickel or oil-rubbed bronze can help hide the natural collection of dust and debris that gathers in the outdoors.

The trend in outdoor kitchens is headed for "bigger, better and more of them," says Haas. "People are realizing that they not only expand the size of the living space, but having two kitchens adds to the value of a home."

In California, outdoor kitchens are so much the rage that realtors are factoring them into the square footage of houses, taking the notion of "bringing the outdoors in" to a whole new level.

Kitchen Design

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