For years, it was enough to park a barbecue grill next to a picnic table on a patio and call it an outdoor kitchen. But over the past decade, Americans have taken backyard cooking and dining to a new level, adding elaborate cooking islands, outdoor sinks and refrigerators, even outdoor TVs.
Here are some thoughts from Fishburne, Blunkosky and Los Angeles-based designer Brian Patrick Flynn, creator of the design blog FlynnsideOut.com, about the elements that make a useful, beautiful outdoor kitchen without huge expense:
Build an island
About a decade ago, Blunkosky says, many homeowners began feeling that “a stand-alone grill (is) just kind of standing there” and didn’t look that great in their backyards. Plus, it provided little workspace for prepping food. The answer was to build around it, incorporating the grill into a stone base with a countertop and drawers underneath – pretty and practical.
Costs vary around the country, but these designers say an investment of $3,000 to $5,000 will cover a simple, 6-foot-long cooking island with a basic grill embedded in it and a 2-foot-deep countertop area. To turn a cooking island into a full-service kitchen, add a refrigerator, sink and ice maker, plus more storage drawers. That involves running a water line and power line out to the structure, so costs rise. And installing an elaborate cooking island surrounded by paving stones can take as long as putting an addition on your house.
Bring the heat
Fireplaces, fire pits and heaters, either freestanding or wall-mounted, are good ways to extend the season for your outdoor kitchen. Outdoor pizza ovens also have become popular. And grills have come a long way since the days when we poured lighter fluid on a pile of coals.
Grill quality is important, Blunkosky says, especially in areas with harsh weather. But if you’re trying to be strategic with money, Flynn points out that even a nice grill and other outdoor appliances might need to be replaced within five years. He recommends investing more in the permanent things (a higher-end cooking island or paving stones) rather than a hugely expensive grill.
Frame the space
Outdoor draperies can add privacy, inject color and pattern and set off your dining area as a distinct space, Flynn says. They also can make a small patio feel larger. Pergolas achieve the same effect, and used together the two elements can create a dining area that feels luxurious at minimal expense. A pergola also gives you more options for built-in lighting. A chandelier or hanging pendant light over the dining table can make your outdoor space feel like a true dining room.