The Most Important Elements in a First-Class Outdoor Kitchen

Do you want to make an outdoor kitchen a key feature of your new landscape and pool-building project? If you’re planning a significant renovation of your outdoor space, there are three things to consider because your choices will reflect on your lifestyle and the quality of your home entertaining.

We spoke with Christopher Lines, our Lead Designer, to discover more about these three elements along with current design trends in outdoor kitchens. He also explains how you can be certain that your new outdoor kitchen is truly a first-class outdoor dining and entertaining experience

Christopher has 25 years of experience in designing and pitching projects large and small including plenty of luxury pools with outdoor kitchens. His work extends from the Bay Area of California all the way to the Third Palm Island in Dubai.

One of the biggest mistakes he’s seen is when an inexperienced builder puts up a pergola and a barbecue with a countertop and calls it an “outdoor kitchen.” He explained to us that a kitchen is designed to prepare food, but it’s also a place to gather and even eat, or it can serve as a staging area for a separate dining area.

When moving the experience of preparing and eating food to the outdoors, Christopher reminds us that we must start by considering how much of your dining experience you want to take out of the usual indoor environment to the outdoors. 

3D Design / Rendering of outdoor kitchen project.

Three Levels of Outdoor Dining

Consider your purpose and lifestyle preferences, do you prefer:

  • Cooking outside
  • Dining outside
  • Or cooking and dining (your entire entertaining experience is outside)?

When you start by knowing your purpose, you’ll always make the right choice of elements to put into your outdoor kitchen, from just basic needs to fully functional.

“Your outdoor dining can be a complete experience where you have your outdoor kitchen, dining room table, a sideboard, and a countertop. You could create a little more of the European ‘al fresco’ experience with a bar top setting,” says Christoper, “You may want to retire inside to a dining room table or use a shade covering to connect your outdoor dining with your home as well as bring in lighting, heating and sound.”

Existing structures, space available and client preferences all come into play for our designer. Christopher starts the design process for any project, including outdoor kitchens or outdoor dining areas, by asking clients these questions:

  • Do you like to just grill or do you want to prepare a meal?
  • Do you have a large family or a small family?
  • Do you want to entertain and dine outdoors?

Once you know your purpose, you can consider your space and the investment you are willing to make.

Image of an outdoor dining area with kitchen.

Three Levels of  First-Class Outdoor Kitchens

Will you have a grill, an outdoor kitchen or a complete outdoor dining experience? A true outdoor kitchen will incorporate the four fixtures that make up a kitchen: cooking appliance, refrigerator, sink, and prep area. By contrast, a complete outdoor dining experience incorporates the kitchen and the dining area along with shade or a cover element.

Christopher outlines three scenarios for your top-notch outdoor dining experience based on the space available and the size of your investment.

“When there’s little room, you see just a grill. That's a lonely feeling for the person who's barbecuing. Sometimes there’s a bar top, where at least someone else can come out and lean on the bar and have a drink and keep the cook company,” says Christopher. “If you love to entertain and you have someone who is going to cook or grill, you don't want them to be isolated from the rest of the group. Bring everyone outside by integrating the lounging / dining / entertaining area so that no one is separated.”

You want your outdoor space to become an inviting part of your home that brings everyone together. To go beyond the isolated outdoor grill, an outdoor kitchen should allow for multitasking and be designed so that everyone has access and movement. Otherwise, your chef goes outside, opens and shuts the grill before retreating to a different location to enjoy, relax and mingle with other people.

“We want to create an area that is a destination: to see, watch, eat, enjoy and drink. So, for example, we’ll add a buffet counter to serve the outdoor dining room or the nearby indoor dining area,” says Christopher.

The elements also depend on the amount of space you are allocating to the dining or outdoor kitchen area. Here are a few options:

  • If you have a large space, up to 20’ x 20’: grill with side burners; sink; refrigerator; wine fridge; warming drawers; and a bar with shelving for glasses. Create the total outdoor dining experience with a cover - either a pergola, trellis or other shade or rain cover - lounging area with sectionals and a coffee table or a full outdoor dining room set; and a flat screen TV with sound system.
  • If you have ~25 linear feet available: grill with a side burner; warming drawers; refrigerator; sink with faucet; and wine fridge. Incorporate a bar for company or for food service. An outdoor dining area may be part of your landscaping or seating is available around the poolside.
  • If you have ~15 linear feet: grill; warming drawer; refrigerator; small sink or other side unit. Set up your outdoor kitchen so that it is in a convenient location for accessing your indoor dining or other outdoor seating option.

3D rendering of an outdoor kitchen and dining area.

Outdoor Kitchen Finishing Elements

Your outdoor kitchen isn’t done when the design and layout are completed. You want to make sure that your final finishing elements contribute towards creating a first-class experience.

Finish materials are one of the best ways to make your outdoor kitchen look either dated and cheap, or top-notch. Likewise, quality appliances not only contribute to the appearance of your outdoor kitchen but also the utility. The outdoor kitchen should be taken as seriously as the indoor kitchen.

“Keep it simple, go with art or a tile mosaic but whatever you do, it needs to be thought out. Look at the architecture or theme of your house and spend a little bit of time, thought and money on the materials,” says Christopher. “Too many times I see tiles that are just outdated, or they're just a really odd color combination to the house. Match your materials. You don't want a stucco barbecue on top of, say, a flagstone patio. These are the finishing details that matter.”

Closeup of an outdoor kitchen featuring stone tile and granite counters.

Finally, consider your view. You want something that you don’t mind looking at from your window. If you “hide” the kitchen in a side yard or away from the house, you’ll also make it less accessible for entertaining. You want something beautiful and functional. Something that encourages interaction and beckons you to enjoy it while making memories with family and friends. Creating outdoor spaces for enjoyment and entertainment is our goal at Artisan Home Resorts.

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