Midwestern summers are short. If the weather is warm, we want to be outside enjoying it, which means many of us are evolving the way we use outdoor space. Well-appointed outdoor kitchens mean we don’t have to go inside, even at mealtimes. Here, local outdoor design specialists give us the scoop on the latest al fresco kitchen trends.
Even the Kitchen Sink
Backyards have become an extension of the family living space, growing to include many of the conveniences we enjoy indoors. Homeowners are increasingly adding comforts like “lighting, music systems and island seating,” says Chuck Hyams, a designer from Lake Bluff-based landscape architecture firm Scott Byron & Company.
Outdoor kitchens are keeping pace, growing in size and capability to include refrigerators, wine coolers, dishwashers, icemakers, warming ovens and elaborate cabinetry. Accessibility and accommodation are key.
Beyond the Grill
“The deeper interest in artisan cooking has lead to more specialty equipment,” says Russ Faulk, Vice President of Design at Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet, an outdoor kitchen products manufacturer. Pizza ovens and smokers are some of the most popular outdoor cooking items. Even grill functionality has evolved to include infrared burners, motorized rotisserie spits and multiple sources of heat including charcoal, gas and wood.
“Outdoor kitchens used to be universally rustic, but now more modern elements are being embraced,” says Faulk. Popular countertop materials include poured concrete, wood-form concrete and large-format porcelain slabs. Split-face stone and ipe (pronounced “ee-pay”) wood are contemporary wraps for external surfaces.
Rick Glickman, President and Founder of Dream Kitchens, a Highland Park-based kitchen and bath design studio, notes that stainless steel cabinets can be powder-coated to match specific outdoor furniture pieces, creating an easy flow between outside cooking and living spaces.
Homeowners who invest in and enjoy their outdoor space don’t want it to sit dormant nine months of the year. In addition to a fire pit or outdoor fireplace, offering partial protection from the elements creates an exterior space that’s a true extension of the home.
“Building a roof or adding one or two solid walls extends its use to three seasons,” Glickman says. “A well thought-out outdoor space encourages family and friend time, and ultimately, impacts our quality of life.”