Alfresco Attraction

More often than not, outdoor living space will include an open-air kitchen complete with top-of-the-line appliances and high-end finishes designed to be both functional and beautiful.

April 30, 2006

New Ideas for a Hot Market

Living space dedicated to outdoor entertaining continues to be on a meteoric rise in popularity across the country, particularly in the warm-weather climates where the outdoors can be enjoyed year-round. More often than not, this outdoor living space includes an open-air kitchen complete with top-of-the-line appliances and high-end finishes designed to be both functional and beautiful.

The key element in a great outdoor kitchen is a high-performance grill.

"We include an outdoor kitchen in literally every home that we build," says Houston based custom builder Brian Thompson, whose $2.7 million showcase home in Piney Point Village features a charming pool-oriented loggia that features its own amenity-packed grilling station and hearth-side dining area.

"Our mild climate is conducive to outdoor entertaining," says Thompson, "so this type of space is a must-have for our clients. And they are willing to spend a lot more money customizing their outdoor living areas these days than ever before. It is not at all uncommon for them to anchor the space with a high-performance grill that costs thousands of dollars. In our market, we are also doing a lot of built-in crab or shrimp boilers, custom vent hoods, and complete plumbing packages including garbage disposals and wet bars."

"We typically plan outdoor entertaining space to be at least partially under roof in order to provide protection from the hot summer sun," says Thompson. "But when you cover a space, you always have to worry about ventilation. You don't want it to become uncomfortably warm. We make every effort to position an outdoor room so that it has at least two open sides on it. This will promote natural breezes that help to cool the space."

Climate Doesn't Matter

Although a northern climate may limit its practical use to six to eight months of the year, the demand for outdoor cooking and entertaining spaces is on the rise in the northern states as well, says Charles Page, one of the Chicago area's premier architects.

"I am seeing more and more interest in outdoor kitchens all the time," says Page, who designs high-end residences for some of his market's most discriminating buyers. "I would say that nearly 100 percent of my clients want outdoor space where they can cook and entertain friends and family. For those that don't start out with it, I find that they're coming back to me to add it on later because they wish they had it."

Page uses the concept of a traditional screened-in porch to extend living space to the outdoors in the homes he designs for his upscale clients. "I include a screened porch on almost every home that I design because this is an element that is ideally suited to this area. They provide sun control, rain control, bug control and a sheltered space for an outdoor kitchen. If a client wants to be able to use the room all year round, removable window panels can be used to replace the screens and radiant heating installed in the floor will provide extra warmth on chilly days."

A Page-designed screened porch is anything but run-of-the-mill. Most feature beautifully detailed trim, volume ceilings, remotely operated gas fireplaces and custom-built masonry grill centers complete with granite countertops.

Water features such as ponds and waterfalls have replaced swimming pools as the focal point for outdoor living space in his market, says Page. "Pools were much more popular back in the '80s in this area than they are today. Homeowners who have them installed these days really want them."

In situations when a client's outdoor living space is not covered, such as for a terrace surrounding an in-ground pool, the cooking area is generally developed as an extension of the overall landscape plan, says Keith Appelhans of Wauconda, Ill.-based Apple Landscaping, which builds an average of 150 outdoor kitchens annually in Chicago's northern suburbs and southern Wisconsin. "Freestanding masonry islands that include a top-of-the-line grill, refrigerator, storage cabinets and even a sitting area or rounded peninsula at one end are very popular," says Appelhans. "We typically use granite for the countertop because it stands up well to all kinds of weather and still looks beautiful."

Appelhans says that some clients protect their high-end investment from the elements during the winter by installing a custom-built cover. "There are some appliances that are specially designed to handle the temperature extremes that we have in this area," he says, "but many times we will design the island so the appliances can be removed and stored elsewhere when not in use."


New Ideas for a Hot Market

"The outdoor living area is really the focus of explosive growth for the industry today," says Carol Kaplan, media and public relations manager for the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association. For contractors who want to keep pace with the newest trends in products, materials and installation techniques for outdoor living spaces, the HPBA Web site ( is a good place to check out.

The international trade association's membership includes manufacturers and their representatives, retailers, distributors, service and installation firms, and other companies and individuals with business interests in the hearth, patio and barbecue products industry. The HPBA also sponsors an annual Hearth & Home Expo where more than 500 exhibitors showcase and demonstrate the latest innovations and technology in hearth, patio and barbecue equipment and accessories. The 2007 HPBA Hearth & Home Expo is scheduled for March 14-17, 2007 in Reno, Nev.

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