When we talk about designing an outdoor kitchen, the first question our landscape architect is going to ask is: “What’s it for?” We want to understand exactly how you see yourself and your family using an outdoor cooking and dining space.
The next two questions usually are: “How big will it need to be, and, how often do you plan to use it?” Of course, we want to build your outdoor kitchen to exactly the right size, to exactly suit the needs you anticipate. And, by all means, we want you to be out there enjoying it frequently—not just once in a great while.
So, we believe it’s important to ask good questions early in the planning stage. The more clear you are going into it, the less likely it is that you will be surprised or disappointed later due to an oversight.
The most important thing to us is that, whatever you do, you get out there and enjoy it fully. So let’s not over design and over build if your needs are simple. On the other hand, if we are going all out to create an outdoor kitchen and dining area to accommodate large gatherings, let’s make sure we don’t forget anything.
And with that, here is the Surrounds list of outdoor kitchen design essentials for your consideration.
Convenience. It usually makes sense to have the outdoor kitchen located close to the house for convenience. Even though you will have a sink, fridge and storage outside, you still have to bring some things out from the main kitchen.
Wind Direction. The smell of steaks sizzling on the grill is great, but smoke in your eyes (or inside the house) isn’t. So prevailing wind direction will have a bearing on where you install the grill.
Views. Your outdoor kitchen is going to be attractive and visually appealing. But, when you look out a window, you don’t want it dominating the entire view. So we want to think about what we see from the house when we locate the kitchen.
Shade. If possible, we place the kitchen where it will get natural shade from the afternoon sun. We can build a pergola or pavilion to create shade if none is available naturally.
Equipment. What type appliances and accessories will you need? What sized grill? Will it be gas or charcoal fired? How much food & beverage storage will you need? Sink and faucet? The choices you make about type and number of amenities will determine the size of your outdoor kitchen.
Big Picture. Consider how the kitchen could fit with other landscape features such as fireplace or pool patio. Think about the kitchen as part of an outdoor room that includes multiple activity areas that relate to each other: kitchen, fireplace, dining patio, bar, spa, lounging area and so on.
Task Areas. Just like an indoor kitchen, a kitchen outdoors needs defined task areas for food storage, food prep, cooking, plating, serving and clean up. Not enough counter space is the most common mistake. In addition to the task areas, you may want to include a split level counter in the design to provide bar seating for guests who want to talk to the chefs while they work their magic.
3-Lighting & Electrics
In an open-air kitchen, lighting can be tricky. You need task lighting to illuminate work surfaces. Lights built into the backsplash are a great solution. We can also can fix spotlights on the house (or a nearby tree) that focus down on an area. We wire those lights to a switch near the grill area so that they are easily controlled. Also, a lot of the newer grills have built in lights so when you lift the hood you can see inside. A lot of grills come with a rotisserie so you will need at least one outlet on the backsplash. You’ll need another below the counter for the refrigerator. And usually you’ll place an outlet on the side for convenience.
Most of the time we tap a water line off the irrigation system or a hose bib because it is the easiest and least expensive way. We usually install and on-demand water heater (insta-hot) because it can easily fit right under the sink. If you want continuous hot water for your outdoor kitchen, then we’ve got to bring it from inside the house. That’s more involved than is usually necessary.
5-Materials and Accessories
We use stone that is the same as, or complimentary to, materials used for patio and landscaping. We also try to pick up on the aesthetic of main house, so it blends together and makes visual sense.
Countertops. There are two ways to go. Most of the time, we use Pennsylvania flagstone for the patios. So that’s what we use on the countertops. It comes in huge stone slabs that we cut into a shape on site. Flagstone blends in beautifully with landscaping. However, it is a bit rough to touch. So if people don’t like that, we go with granite.
Grills. Let’s face it. Your outdoor kitchen is designed around the grill. Gas, electric, wood-fired? You have choices. The size and type of grill you choose will determine the size and layout of the rest of the kitchen. Here are some Surrounds recommended manufacturers. None are perfect, but all are well made and reliable. We’ll help you decide which one is best suited to the installation.
Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet
Viking Outdoor Range
Fire Magic Grill Collection
Big Green Egg (This is a specialty ceramic cooker)
Sinks. We like to use boulder sinks. Stone Forest, an Arizona company, makes all sorts of garden accessories including sinks that are carved from solid granite. They actually take a whole boulder, cut it in half, hollow it out and polish it on the inside. It blends in naturally outdoors.
You don’t want outdoors features to look like indoors–and stainless steel undermount sinks look out of place outdoors. Howard Cohen, RLA
The farm style stone sinks are best because they integrate very well with the thick (2”) stone countertops. It’s hard to get a two-inch slab to work with an undermount sink because it has to be cut close to the front edge of the counter. You just can’t cut a two inch thick stone on that thin of an edge. A drop-in type stone sink or farm house style sink works naturally and beautifully. They are more expensive–but worth it.
So there you have it. A short list of outdoor kitchen design essentials drawn from conversations our landscape architects have with their clients. It is by no means a complete list, but enough to get you started out on the right foot. Contact one of our landscape architects to learn more about how an outdoor kitchen might fit into your landscape design theme.