Many designers are busier than ever, creating spaces that reflect client personalities and needs. Moving beyond the kitchen and bath, designers are now tasked with updating rooms throughout the home, as well as outside its walls. Homeowners are spending more time outside, and designers are creating alfresco kitchens and lounging hideaways that take living to the next level.
It’s natural to consider outdoor living in warmer climates like Arizona.
“We have five to six months of the year when it’s especially nice weather,” says Kameran Schaffner, owner/principal designer, K Design in Litchfield Park, AZ. “The rest of the months we can be comfortable with a fire or a pool. Having the ability to have a party, without having people in your home, is really important here.”
Floridians also have a climate that is favorable to outdoor living.
“We can use our outdoor kitchens all year,” adds Arlynn McDaniel, interior designer, Freestyle Interiors in Bonita Springs, FL. “Sometimes our lanais are larger than our indoor spaces. It’s been interesting to watch outdoor spaces evolve. We’re starting to design them to function like those indoors.”
Even colder environments have seen the popularity of outdoor spaces grow, especially since the onset of the pandemic.
For John Starck, president/CEO of Showcase Kitchens in Manhasset, NY, the number of outdoor spaces he designs has quadrupled since the beginning of 2020.
“With the COVID situation, a lot of people are doing outdoor spaces,” he remarks. “People want to entertain, and entertaining indoors isn’t ideal, so we’ve been doing quite a few more outdoor kitchens as a way to help them navigate the current scenario.”
Sonny Nazemian, MCKBR, MCR, C.I.D., GCP, UDCP, Michael Nash Design Build & Homes in Fairfax, VA used to design about three or four outdoor kitchens each quarter. Now, he’s getting requests for about 10 to 12. Much of that growth he also attributes to the pandemic.
“People can get together with their friends and maintain social distance outdoors,” he stresses. “Ten years ago, an outdoor kitchen didn’t have a clear definition. It was basically grilling on a deck. COVID-19 has given the outdoor kitchen a new meaning, with much more clarity. Now it has evolved to include a grill, a smoker, a pizza oven, a side burner, a refrigerator, an ice maker and even a sink and faucet. It has changed tremendously. Now, people are investing almost as much money outside as they are inside.”
Replicate the Indoors
There is little in the way of amenities that aren’t included in a recent deck-turned-outdoor kitchen, which – thanks to a roof, retractable screens, a heater and a ceiling fan – is virtually year ‘round living space, even in its colder climate location.
“Our clients wanted the space to replicate an interior kitchen, but with an exterior flair,” offers Nazemian, noting that all four zones of kitchen design – hot, cold, dry and wet – are represented.
The array of appliances includes a traditional barbecue grill and a ventilation hood, a side burner, a smoker, warming drawers and a beverage refrigerator. Plus, the homeowners can cook a pizza in less than two minutes thanks to the natural gas-powered pizza oven that can heat to a blazing 900° F.
“You cannot achieve that indoors,” he stresses, adding that pizza ovens have become more popular with his clients given their more affordable price tag.
Additional comforts include a sink and faucet that ease cleanup, stainless steel cabinetry that withstands the elements and an island that offers seating for guests so they can easily converse with the cook.
While this kitchen spared little in the way of indulgences, Nazemian indicates that functional and comfortable outdoor spaces can be accomplished with less.
“Even people in small townhouses can do a nice, affordable outdoor kitchen,” he says. “There are a lot more price ranges so people can be basic or fancy…and still have the amenities they are looking for.”
Minimally that usually means a grill, side burner and some sort of cooling element via a refrigerator, portable cart or cooler. Such was the case with another recent outdoor kitchen that was part of a new patio and pergola addition. Appliances, including a grill and side burner, beverage refrigerators and warming drawers, fulfill the cooking needs. Drawers beneath the grill provide storage and a pull-out trash bin simplifies cleanup.
These functional services adjoin the pergola, which – with its focal-point wood-burning fireplace – steals the show. A fire pit with a tabletop furthers the ambiance.
“This outdoor space has fewer appliances, but it is uniquely designed to meet our clients’ personal needs so it is meaningful and useful,” he says.
Grills are still an essential component of any outdoor kitchen, but now they are often built into cabinetry and accompanied by ventilation hoods, as well as a laundry list of other appliances.
“People are wanting to add in more and more appliances,” observes Hattie Collins owner/lead creative of Hattie Sparks in New Orleans, LA. “Now we see a lot of pizza ovens, charcoal and gas grills and beverage stations with wine coolers and ice machines. In general, we’re seeing a lot more variety when it comes to appliances.”
Such was the case with a recent renovation, where she transformed a relatively simple patio/pergola into a living space where the barbecue grill, along with a kamado-style grill, takes center stage against a backdrop of stacked stone with accents of marble and hand-painted Mexican tile. The latter pays homage to her clients’ Texas roots. To expand cooking capabilities, she also included a griddle.
“They had an existing structure and a huge backyard with a pool,” she relates, adding that the family also has two young children. “During COVID, they were spending more time outside, and they weren’t going out to eat much, so they wanted their outdoor space to be more functional.”
Since entertaining was also important, Collins included seating – both bar and lounge, a flat-screen television, a beverage cooler and a pullout trash container.
“Entertainment elements in outdoor kitchens are popular,” she notes. “People want to sit outside and hang out to watch TV. It’s similar to interior spaces where people gather in the kitchen.”
For aesthetics, Collins maintained the existing posts, which she wrapped in pickled wood to emulate the trunks of the nearby Crepe Myrtle trees and to conceal their previously elaborate decorative elements. Haint blue paint brightens the ceiling and pays homage to the South.
Seamless Indoor/Outdoor Transition
When Eve Lowey, ASID, president/founder of Chameleon Design, purchased her home in Costa Mesa, CA, she wanted a more useful outdoor living space that functioned seamlessly with the interior spaces.
This scenario is similar to what other designers are experiencing with their clients, and even themselves.
“This is California,” she emphasizes. “The weather here is really good for much of the year, so the most important part about this design was making the patio more usable. That’s a key part of designing any exterior space…making it feel like actual living space and of primary importance, rather than as a secondary thought.”
The ‘before’ space was rather basic with a grill, some chairs and a table with an umbrella.
To elevate the indoor/outdoor experience, Lowey worked with architect Jeffrey Riggs and Molly Wood Garden Design to include folding glass door walls that provide a visual and physical connection between the outdoor kitchen and the indoor kitchen/family room.
“When we are set up to have a party, people can freely flow in and out of the house to the outside,” she reports.
To boost the kitchen portion of the exterior space, she included a barbecue and a few drawers for storage. Both are tucked beneath the second-story overhang to offer some protection from the elements.
“Our indoor kitchen is nearby, but it’s still nice to have a place for storing utensils that are used with the grill,” she explains.
To boost the living portion of the exterior space, Lowey added lounge chairs and a long bench that can double as seating and as a place to set food. Both are positioned in close proximity to the centrally located firepit, which offers warmth for cool evenings where breezes blow in from the bay.
“There’s nothing more lovely than watching a fire dance,” she says. “It’s both beautiful and relaxing.”
Focus on Fire
Fire was also an emphasis in a recent patio renovation where Schaffner gave the outdoor living area a focal-point fireplace accented with graphic fire-safe brick. A television, a dining table and a quintet of multi-sized rattan pendants complete the central focus.
“This outdoor renovation was part of a whole house remodel, where we essentially tore down the house to its foundation,” she reports, noting a collaboration with Sunburst Landscaping and 360 Construction. “As part of the rebuild, my clients wanted to optimize the outdoor space and have a backyard that made sense and was cohesive.”
Because they like to entertain and host dinner parties with friends and neighbors, she located a cooking station along one perimeter. It includes a barbecue grill, a griddle and storage within stainless steel doors and drawers.
“It’s great to have storage near or underneath the grill so pots, pans and utensils don’t need to be carted out each time you want to use them,” she says.
While important for the functionality of any outdoor living space, refrigeration considerations can be challenging given Arizona’s excessive heat, which can be hard on cooling appliances, Schaffner indicates. Some of her clients opt for drawers – rather than undercounter models – which offer guests easy access to beverages, without having to stoop.
“People don’t have to crouch down, which can be especially important if there are a lot of people moving around in the area,” she remarks.
These clients, however, opted to forgo an electrical cooling appliance altogether and chose a covered drop-in cooler for keeping food and drinks cold. To promote symmetry, Schaffner added bar stool seating located directly across from the cooking station.
“This seating area wasn’t included in the original design,” she indicates. “But we had some extra space, and it’s great for larger parties. It also gave the area a more defined boundary.”
To provide protection from the elements, especially the harsh summer sun, Schaffner covered the entire area. While not included in this renovation, she also often recommends the inclusion of misters. An electric heater takes the chill off cooler days and nights to extend the area’s usability day to night.
Entertaining Every Day
When your clients are huge sports fans, especially of the Arkansas Razorbacks, the outdoor entertaining space needs to reflect and accommodate that enthusiasm.
“These clients are the party people of the neighborhood,” offers McDaniel, adding that they have hosted parties, even a wedding reception, for as many as 150 people. “They entertain ALL the time. They truly enjoy cooking, entertaining and spending time with family and friends. This is their dream home and they wanted everything to be exactly as they desired.”
Designing a space with such status is no small undertaking.
“They cook as much outside as they do inside, so we knew the outdoor kitchen had to function as well as the indoor one,” she reports.
To accommodate, the designer included an extensive list of appliances, all of which are selected to survive the elements.
“Our weather is really tough with the heat and humidity, and even the salty air, so we have to be careful with appliance selection,” she explains. “We’re finding that clients want more appliances outside, but they have to be able to withstand the harsh environment. We’re always looking for the next best thing that won’t rust, mold or mildew.”
In this kitchen, McDaniel included a traditional barbecue grill and ventilation hood, flat-top grill, power burner, wok, warming drawer and multiple beverage refrigerators. The piéce de resistance, an Italian wood-burning pizza oven, is showcased floor to ceiling with teal blue tile that echoes the home’s pool and lakeside location. The adjacent serving buffet counter includes a drop-in cooler, equipped with a drain. A sink enhances functionality of the 13′ island.
“A sink is a ‘must’ for cleaning grill grates, pots and utensils,” she stresses. “Beverage centers are another essential, so when kids get out of the pool they don’t have to go inside.”
In this outdoor kitchen, weatherproof cabinetry is painted white and topped with recycled glass.
“A lot of my clients don’t live here year ‘round, so it’s important to have products that are durable and maintenance free, and it’s great that manufacturers are keeping up with colors and door styles that make an outdoor space look like a kitchen,” she says. The cabinets can easily be cleaned with a hose when needed.
Like McDaniel, Starck recently created an outdoor oasis that includes a generous list of appliances for his client who is an avid cook and entertainer.
“He’ll have 100 kids over for an Easter egg hunt!” he remarks, noting a collaboration with Ron Zakary (architect). “He’s quite the chef and he loves to entertain.”
Central to the outdoor kitchen is the brick-lined, fieldstone-accented hearth, which houses a wood-fired parrilla grill with an adjustable grate – for more or less heat – and a pit for whole animal roasting. Both celebrate the homeowner’s South American heritage.
“It’s very popular for his family to roast an entire animal,” he explains.
Additional cooking apparatuses around the kitchen’s perimeter include a traditional barbecue grill and a wok burner, which offers flat-top, griddle cooking. Burners in the island give him the flexibility to sauté and boil sauces and other foods.
“Our client has the ability to cook so many different foods, all at the same time,” comments Starck. “Someone can be at the traditional barbecue grilling burgers and franks. Another person can be cooking a whole lamb or pig and grilling on the wood-flame grill, while someone else can be sautéing or boiling something on the island burners.”
A warming drawer enhances his culinary versatility, as do multiple sinks, beverage refrigerators and an ice maker. An adjacent bar area boosts entertainment capabilities.
“I’m a big fan of warming drawers outdoors, especially if someone is cooking for a lot of people,” notes the designer. “I actually consider it a necessity. If you’re cooking grilled chicken, sausages, steaks, burgers and franks, they can’t all be ready at the same time. Warming drawers help stage each part of the meal by maintaining heat of cooked food, without overcooking it. Everything can be ready, and at serving temperature, at the same time.
“Ice makers are also great for entertaining since you don’t have to buy ice,” he adds. “It’s also nice to have a side burner for heating foods. While this kitchen has multiple sinks, not everyone has the space or the budget to include one. A sink is a big undertaking, with plumbing and waste considerations.”
As an outdoor space, ease of cleanup was also addressed with the inclusion of wood-look concrete countertops, concrete floors and custom, outdoor-rated cabinetry. Retractable screens keep critters, as well as insects, at bay.
“The entire area can be hosed down,” he says, noting the inclusion of multiple drains throughout the space. “It’s fun for us as designers to pull together a space that is highly functional. This client had a lot of wish-list items that we were able to check off. It’s a great entertaining space with many different functions that he is able to use eight or nine months of the year.” ▪