Homeowners continue to invest in outdoor living spaces at a rapid rate, but they are not just splurging on the traditional barbecue.
“People now have a more sophisticated focus on the space outdoors to where it’s more of an outdoor living room,” says Mitch Slater, president of Danver Stainless Outdoor Kitchens. “They’re trying to create an entertainment space and some of it includes cooking, but not all of it.”
Increased innovation in nontraditional appliances and more indoor commodities available for outdoors create a cooking hub, while features such as shade systems, heaters, fire elements, and lighting inspire entertaining.
Elevate grill cooking
“When people think about outdoor kitchens, their natural tendency is to think about the grill first,” says Michael Mahan, general manager for GE Monogram. “However, we now call them cooking centers because it really is more than a grill at this point.”
Although freestanding grills are still common in backyards, manufacturers have seen built-ins become almost synonymous with outdoor kitchens.\
Danver Stainless Outdoor Kitchens: www.danver.com
Eldorado Outdoor: www.eldoradooutdoor.com
GE Monogram: www.monogram.com
Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet: www.kalamazoogourmet.com
Sub-Zero & Wolf: www.subzero-wolf.com
“The built-in barbecues are growing in popularity, and especially those that have extra burners and a high-BTU burner,” says Michele Bedard, vice president of marketing for Sub-Zero and Wolf. “These are perfect for boiling a big pot of water for corn or some specialty cooking.”
Along with high-BTU burners, homeowners want to experiment with cooking beyond gas.
“We’re seeing a trend that goes toward artisan cooking,” says Russ Faulk, vice present of design and grill master for Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet. “We’re seeing a lot more people interested in cooking with wood and cooking with charcoal.”
Kalamazoo’s tri-fuel capabilities allow for the same grill to be used with wood, charcoal, and gas.
The idea of adding a tandoor or a pizza oven alongside the grill or in a separate area of the outdoor space has also grown across the board, according to Faulk.
Maintain indoor kitchen comforts
In addition to incorporating new appliances, many homeowners want their outdoor kitchen to stand alone, with no ties to the indoor kitchen.
“We’re eliminating the need to go back and forth by having an outdoor refrigerator built and tested to sit outside all year long,” Mahan says. “It all comes back to this growing idea of how does the consumer make the kitchen feel as complete and as full as the indoor kitchen.”
Refrigeration is key, with numerous under-counter options to fit the homeowners’ entertaining needs. GE Monogram sells a 24-inch-wide refrigerator that slides under the counter and has a lock on it to keep the neighbors out when you’re away.
Wine chillers, beverage centers, and ice makers have all made their way to the outdoors with wide acceptance. Even compact freezers have found their place in a niche market.
“If you have a whole outdoor area or a swimming pool, it can be very nice to keep ice cream and things like that outside,” Faulk says. “The freezer is less about the cooking and more about outdoor living in general.”
Another small but growing number of people are interested in outdoor dishwashers. With watertight stainless cabinetry, homeowners can safely store dishware in their outdoor kitchen.
“We’ve had the outdoor dishwasher for a year and a half now, and it’s been really popular,” Faulk says. “It was kind of the final piece in the puzzle for those who want to do everything outdoors that they do indoors.”
Entertain in style
The rest of the living space is taking just as much of the spotlight as the outdoor kitchen.
“The kitchen is still an integral part of the design, but it’s the area surrounding the kitchen that gets people excited: seating areas, conversation spaces, some sort of water or fire elements,” says Susan Nadolski, product manager for Eldorado Outdoor.
Whether a large space or a small one, people are creating mini retreat areas almost like separate rooms that aren’t attached to the residence, according to Bedard.
Adding a roof or other shading system is a great way to conceptualize the different spaces and also allows guests to enjoy the space in the highest sun of the day and during the evening, rain or shine. Additional benefits, however, are far-reaching.
“A roof is a good place to mount heaters, and it makes heating more effective when you have a roof to capture that hot air,” Faulk says. “It’s also a great place for mounting things like ceiling fans to keep you cool on hot days.”
Although outdoor roofs have gained popularity throughout the country, they especially make sense in the Northern areas.
“People in what I would call the colder areas or shorter summertime areas extend their living space by adding more heating, even using radiant floor heating,” Nadolski says.
Another way to add heat outside of the kitchen area is with fire. Of the initial designs Eldorado sees for an outdoor space, 75 percent of them have some type of fire element with a seating area, according to Nadolski.
These elements could include fire bowls, fire pits, and fireplaces. Homeowners are choosing gas, wood burning, or biofuel based on their design, layout, and setup requirements.
“The fire pit and fire table have been going strong for years and these create a gathering area also,” Slater says. “The type of fire depends on if it’s in a closed environment or outside and opened up, but some outdoor spaces have more than one fire feature.”
Incorporate technology and lighting
Another one of the benefits of an outdoor roof is the ability to install task lighting, an increasing priority for many homeowners looking to extend their cooking and entertaining well into the evenings.
“People are now starting to pay more attention to lighting not only because you might be cooking a steak when it’s dark out, but also lighting throughout the design,” Nadolski says.
For those looking to have a midnight barbecue, many grill manufacturers have thought of this as well.
“Our cooking centers have integrated illumination,” Mahan says. “You can cook in the dark without the flashlight strapped to your head.”
Even in spaces with good overhead lighting, some spots such as the cabinets may be difficult to see. Kalamazoo has added full-extension shelves to its outdoor cabinets, so homeowners can glide the shelves all the way out and use the task lighting from the rest of the space.
Technology advancements inside the home continue to move at a rapid pace, and the outside is no exception.
“Electronics are changing outdoors,” Nadolski says. “We’re no longer tethered to a cord to have music or a TV or our laptop computers.”
Some people may choose to bring their televisions in the house when it snows, but both Northern climates and Southern areas alike have seen this growth. Having the design to support the technology, whether it’s the surround-sound system or the TV, is crucial to many homeowners.
Focus on aesthetics
Homeowners want a clean look and sophisticated design to complement all of the added features in both the kitchen and conversation spaces. Although outdoor materials can vary widely from stainless steel to stone to polymers, manufacturers have seen an interest in color.
In the luxury market, Danver has seen a huge gain in its powder coat finishes, which include 11 standard painted colors and eight standard wood species.
“We used to be painting about 20-to-30 percent three years ago, but in the last few years we’ve seen a dramatically increased percentage,” Slater says. “We’re painting about 70 percent of the kitchens now that we put out there.”
These finishes allow homeowners to maintain the same durability and low maintenance of stainless steel cabinets without the industrial look that comes with the material.
For the cabinets, Danver is mainly seeing the requests for earthtones, browns, grays, tans, and metallics, according to Slater. They are looking to blend into the décor of their home and geographic location.
In the stone arena, Eldorado Outdoor is seeing a desire for color contrast.
“People are looking for a lot of the contemporary, long, linear, lighter colors with perhaps a darker countertop,” Nadolski says. “Some type of contrast is key.”
An easy way to add contrast without long-term commitment is in some of the more temporary or smaller design elements.
“The trend for 2014 is really pulling in color through patterns, pillows, and shading, and landscaping and vegetation,” Nadolski says. “The beauty of adding color is that you can switch it up, and it still looks like part of the design.”
As people are choosing to invest more in design outside the home, it looks like outdoor living spaces will continue to evolve to fit different lifestyles.
“The move to outdoors is not a fad; it’s absolutely where people’s focus continues to go,” Nadolski says. “People will continue to stay in their homes longer and feel better about investing in the outdoors.” PR
Outdoor living spaces are combining fully equipped kitchens with multiple conversation areas and innovative elements.