Outdoor kitchens topped the project trends list in the latest American Institute of Architects’ survey, which is not terribly surprising, given people’s love of living outside. But the survey didn’t go into detail on what homeowners are putting into those spaces. As we move into the warmer months, it’s worth looking at what’s popular for outdoor kitchens and their related living areas.
Luxury moves outdoors
“Homeowners are seeking the sanctuary of outdoor living spaces – both for entertaining and unwinding,” shares Atlanta-based landscape designer David Bennett. These spaces are likely to have architectural structures like pergolas, walls, custom fireplaces, hedges and varying elevations to create privacy and distinct rooms with a natural indoor-outdoor flow, he notes. “Divided living spaces encourage conversation gathering, including screening areas for watching the big game or a movie, and heating and cooling systems to ensure year-round use.” These outdoor rooms may also be equipped with water, light and fire design features, as well as heating and cooling systems for year-round use, he says.
“In the past, many homeowners focused solely on their grill, and perhaps some outdoor seating,” recalls Mary Hannah Fout, senior marketing manager with Ferguson Bath, Kitchen & Lighting Gallery.“Today, many homeowners are accompanying the grill with a fully functioning built-in kitchen complete with sink and faucet, refrigeration, dishwasher, ice machine, beverage unit, pizza oven, weather resistant cabinets and more. Smart appliances are becoming very popular and it comes as no surprise that smart technology is also trending in the outdoor kitchen,” she comments. “Many grills and smokers are now wi-fi enabled, some even have voice recognition,” she adds.
Even with all of the extras, the grill is still king of the outdoor kitchen. “No longer is stainless steel the only option,” Fout declares. “Grills are available in bright red, sunny yellow, royal blue, hunter green, and more! The ability to customize your outdoor space allows the homeowner to complement the surrounding landscape and views or extend the home’s décor into the exterior.”
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This is also true for flooring that can extend seamlessly from interior to exterior, coordinating cabinetry and wall-width, track-free doors that completely open rooms to each other. “Exactly as the interior kitchen and bathroom design trends have shifted towards more sleek and modular aesthetics, so too have outdoor designs,” comments landscaper, contractor and designer Joe Raboine, now director of residential hardscape for outdoor products manufacturer Belgard. “To mirror the look inside the home, homeowners are choosing longer, linear plank pavers outdoors, and playing more with texture and color than in the past. This trend extends beyond modern homes, with this look translating to every home style.”
“There is a growing awareness about the importance of individuals being connected to nature,” Raboine observes. “That is why you see vertical gardening and the integration of container gardens adjacent to outdoor cooking areas. There is also an increased awareness of how an outdoor space can enhance the habitat, specifically through permeable pavers and plant choices, which can help with water drainage and more.”
Cassy Aoyagi, president of Los Angeles area-based FormLA Landscaping. acknowledges the strong nature connection, too, especially for cooking. “What we see now is increased interest in having edibles integrated into gardens, particularly in areas close to their outdoor kitchens,” she shares. “This has taken the form of grape vine fencing and raised beds where grabbing herbs for the table requires just a step or two.”
An outdoor living area’s natural elements might hide speakers and wiring, as well as irrigation and security tied to smart home controls. According to CEDIA, the association for home technology professionals, homeowners and their consultants are taking on far more projects and spending far more money outdoors than in past years. Outdoor televisions are a major category. So are outdoor speakers.
While outdoor kitchens and living areas are trending strongly and richly, with more enhancements than ever before, there are still many homeowners who are likely to drag a comfy chair and portable grill out on the porch or deck. It’s all about enjoying life outdoors, financing nice, but not necessarily needed, for life’s simplest pleasures.