Outdoor Kitchens in NY Times Homes Magazine

Move It Outside
For many families, the kitchen is the true "living room." So it's only natural for gleaming summer kitchens to take center stage for family gatherings and entertaining in the great outdoors. Long a hallmark of Mediterranean cultures, the outdoor kitchen remains an enduring trend in new-home construction and all types of residential renovation projects from coast to coast. People who love to cook, host casual parties or simply savor nature have discovered that luxury can be found in one's own backyard.

Cooking Under the Stars
The climate and relaxed lifestyle of Southern California, where the difference between indoors and outdoors can be as fluid as the difference in seasons, offer the perfect setting for a year-round summer kitchen. When designer Nicole Sassman set out to transform a contemporary Spanish-style house into her own family retreat in Malibu, she knew she would have to have a functional outdoor kitchen gracious outdoor living spaces. "I travel so much for work, when I come home I want to feel like I'm on vacation," she said. "The original structure didn't seem to know what it wanted to be, but I saw its potential and an opportunity to have some fun."

Sassman is one of those talented designers who don't follow a strict set of rules - except one: "Make sure the design, whether it's for your business card or bed linens, fits your own personal lifestyle," she said. For her outdoor kitchen, she carved out a comfortable series of rooms in keeping with her family's active way of life. To avoid major structural changes, she worked with the original footprint of the house and an existing patio, opening up the house with a series of bifold doors to blur the line between indoors and out. Taking into consideration the landscape and site orientation, she organized the convetional kitchen and interior rooms to ensure a welcoming flow and seamless connection with nature. The new open-air cooking area works as an extension for the indoor kitchen in terms of both function and aesthetics.

In the Details
But what fun is an outdoor kitchen without an equally engaging dining room to enjoy the feast? Echoing the home's interior neutral color palette, concrete surfaces, subtle textural finishes and natural woods animate the new dining area. A custom-designed table and chairs work with flowing weather-resistant draperies to create a private cabana in keeping with the spirit of an oceanfront getaway.

The right lighting is another component of a truly great outdoor room. "Dimmers to control the level of the outdoor lighting are key," Sassman said. A simple turn of a switch offers illumination during the preparation of the meal, then easily sets the mood for dining or entertaining. Adding to the drama and year-round functionality is a sleek, contemporary fire pit. "It's a focal point on cool evenings," she said, "and the children love it for toasting marshmallows in any season.

Now You're Cooking
No longer is the designated griller alone out back holding a platter of filets and fanning the coals. Today cooking and casual outdoor entertaining go hand in hand, and the chef is guaranteed to be in the middle of the action - whether it's a garden terrace, patio or poolside.

"Outdoor rooms are now considered part of the house, but once you are settled outside and the party has started, you don't want to go inside to get anything," said Sue Bailey, director of Go-to-Market for Viking Range, LLC. "Homeowners want all the functions of a full-fledged kitchen right at their fingertips."

A well-organized outdoor kitchen puts all the appliances and ingredients for preparation, cooking and dining close at hand. It can be as simple as a countertop and few cabinets or as ambitious as a full kitchen with state-of-the-art grill, smoker oven, side-burners and wet bar with a refrigerator and ice maker.

The Sky's the Limit
Architects and landscape designers are responding to heated demand for integrated outdoor kitchens and sophisticated outdoor rooms with brick hearths, stacked-stone fireplaces, refrigerators and custom built-ins.

"Not so long ago, a portable grill was about all that was readily available," said Bailey. Now an array of all-weather appliances, stainless steel storage cabinets and complementary products can be adapted to fir to any outdoor space and provide a fully functional outdoor kitchen suited to an individual homeowners's lifestyle. Planning an outdoor kitchen should be no different than planning a standard kitchen. "Think about what you like to cook and how you entertain," said Bailey. "Do you grill steaks or boil shrimp?"

No matter the flavor of the architecture or the menu, a convivial outdoor kitchen and gracious conversation areas will encourage friends and family to linger late into the evening. There's no reason to go inside, except to go to bed. Unless, of course, you've also built a sleeping porch.

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