Cooking Outside the Box

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Men laying new hardwood flooring

Photo courtesy of HighGrove Partners

Many have discovered that a great way to add living space to their houses is to think outside the boxexpanding their homes beyond the walls. An outdoor kitchen can create a new gathering place ideal for grownups wanting fresh air and conversation and children wanting to play and explore under watchful eyes. With a range of price levels and styles from easy-to-install prefabricated units to elaborate custom designs, outdoor kitchens are a fun and feasible option.

Spot selection
The first step to building an outdoor kitchen is choosing the right location. According to Eric King of Piedmont Landscape, location is the single most important element. Consider the kitchen and the views it will createboth the view from the house to the kitchen and the view from the kitchen to the rest of the yard. Make sure it will flow well with the rest of the house.

The kitchen needs to be constructed on a flat surfacea concrete slab is best. Some smaller units might work on a deck, but kitchens are heavy, and concrete on the ground provides the most stability.

Kitchen configuration
Outdoor kitchens range from small islands to large custom unitsjust like indoor kitchensso there is not one standard design. If a smaller kitchen fits best with your yard, many companies offer prefabricated units from about 4 to 8 feet. They have room for appliances and come in tile or cement with finishes that look like brick, stone and stucco. Some of the materials can be painted to match your house. Prefab units can be delivered and installed in just a few hours with minimum interference. Thats the beauty of the prefabricated [models], says Mark Roberts of World of Outdoor Living on the Carpets of Dalton campus. They dont tear up your yard.

But if you have room in the yard, time for building and a larger budget, custom outdoor kitchens can be magnificent. Prefab units cannot be more than about 8 feet long because they would be too large and heavy to deliver and install.


Outdoor kitchens are a great way to expand your living space, and they make it easy to enjoy cool summer nights outdoors.
Photo courtesy of Piedmont Landscape

Practical points
Because building custom outdoor kitchens is very labor-intensive, you should seriously consider the nature of the kitchen and how much you will use it. King recommends choosing an area close to the house, since it will be more convenient to use and easier to run utility lines.

With custom-made kitchens, the possibilities are endlessfrom countertop material to built-in seating, accent lighting, and fire and water features. These kitchens are often part of a larger yard installation and, since they are built on-site, take about two to three weeks to complete.

With a prefab unit or custom design plan selected, utilities will need to be considered. Depending on the appliances included in the kitchen, you might need water, gas and power lines. Some grills can run on propane alone (or even charcoal), but others require a gas line. If you have a grill that can do rotisserie, it will probably need electricity. Sinks and refrigerators with icemakers require water. If possible, these lines should be ready before kitchen installation.

Appliance options
A wide variety of appliances can be included in an outdoor kitchen; just make sure theyre all outdoor-rated, says Sean Maguire of Southern Leisure. Some standard inclusions are refrigerators, sinks and grills. Grills can be found with various options, such as a convection-oven, which can use propane or natural gas, allowing you to actually bake a cake or pizza in your grill, Maguire says.

Appliances allow you to truly personalize your kitchen. Choose between a wine cooler and a beer tapor get both! Beyond grills and oven features, stovetops are also available. Sinks with running water, ice chests and warming drawers are popular. A brick oven for baking pizza is a true specialty item. Youre virtually taking the kitchen outside, says Brian McMillan at Georgia Backyard. Just about anything you can have inside, you can have outsideand more. Decorative features like waterfalls and fireplaces complete a spectacular environment. And for those who have little countertop televisions in their indoor kitchens, how about a 42-inch pop-up version outside? Speakers are another option that can add to the atmosphere.


Tons of options are available for customizing your outdoor kitchen, from rotisseries and pizza ovens to speakers
and televisions.

Photo courtesy of Viking

Mixing materials
Designing your outdoor kitchen can be a source of inspiration. Mixing materials and including lighting lead to a truly one-of-a-kind area. Countertops in natural stone, tile or concrete with backsplashes (to hide wires) can accent the exterior of the house. King particularly likes concrete for its adaptable nature. It is less slick than other materials, can be mixed with rocks and pebbles and can fit any shape. Concrete also creates a nice look when it is poured as thick slab countertops. Mixed with other materials such as a corrugated metal backsplash, concrete can be very design-friendly.

The design planning stage is also the right time to consider lighting. Waterproof LED rope lights use little energy and come in cool colors like red and blue. These can be placed under the cabinets and counters and are easy to install, especially in concrete, if placement is determined in advance. Whatever style options you choose, tie all the materials together and repeat them in the area. Look at everything from a distance to make sure the kitchen blends well with its surroundings. Make sure its a well thought-out and integrated design, King says. Too many materials can make the space look too busy.

Cost considerations
Just as the styles and sizes of outdoor kitchens vary, so do the costs. Small prefab units can start as low as $2,500, and extravagant custom designs might run you up to $45,000. A more typical price range for custom units is $5,000 to $10,000, not including appliances. Keep in mind that a grill can cost anywhere from $1,000 to $6,000. And dont forget to include the cost for the new utility lines.

Outdoor kitchens are a fun way to expand living space and create a new area for family and friends to gather. Cooking outdoors is simpler than running in and out between the grill and the supplies, and outdoor kitchens also can be made into visually stimulating areas that complement the house and the yard. Seen from the window at night, features like waterfalls and special lighting make outdoor kitchens enjoyable year roundeven from inside.

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