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Design your outdoor kitchen

  • Story Highlights
  • Outdoor kitchens are extensions of homes' living space
  • Zoning laws may restrict size and location
  • Lighting should be designed to brighten key activity areas
  • Companies are now turning out prefab outdoor islands
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Adapted from an article by Amy R. Hughes
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(This Old House) -- Nothing makes dining outside easier than a fully equipped kitchen just steps from the house.

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Outdoor kitchens can cost between $3,000 to $15,000.

More than a basic barbecue grill, an outdoor kitchen may have a sink, refrigerator, wet bar, even a fireplace or pizza oven. And while a grill is still central to an outdoor cooking space, it's likely to come fitted out with side burners, a warming shelf, and a roasting spit or smoker.

"The outdoor kitchen has become an extension of the home's living space," says Paula Blanchfield, a landscape architect in San Mateo, California. "Today, homeowners want the same kinds of amenities outdoors as they're used to indoors."

A custom design by an architect or landscape professional with the works -- deluxe appliances plus weather-resistant cabinetry, stone countertops, lighting and plumbing -- can run as high as $60,000. On a more modest scale, new prefabricated units combine grill, accessories, and storage in one. (Location, layout and other considerations)

Read on for a variety of design ideas.

Design Basics are typically built onto existing patios, decks, and pool areas, for two reasons: to provide easy access to the house for ferrying food and supplies back and forth and to tie into existing utilities. Tapping into the house's gas, electrical, and plumbing lines is most practical when the kitchen is situated alongside the house or attached to a back wall (otherwise, the cost of running new lines may be prohibitive).

Here are common features to consider:

1. Lighting
Lighting should be designed to brighten key activity areas; for safety, add low-to-the-ground lights on pathways to and from the kitchen. All fixtures should be approved by the Underwriters Laboratories for outdoor use.

2. Shelter
A pergola creates dappled shade in a sunny setting without blocking breezes. In rainy or colder climates, a pergola topped with Plexiglas panels or a solid roof supported by columns provides added protection from the elements. Retractable awnings and patio umbrellas offer simpler, less expensive overhead shelter for dining areas.

3. Countertops
Larger kitchens with U-shaped configurations can feature distinct prep and serving or dining surfaces. In a smaller kitchen setup, a couple of feet of countertop could suffice.

4. Hearth
An 8 -foot-wide-by-6-foot-deep wood-fired pizza oven is the focal point of this kitchen. Custom-designed around a prefabricated oven kit from Fogazzo, the wall has built-in storage spaces for firewood, a holding shelf for hot pies, and a chimney vent at the top. A masonry fireplace or a portable fire pit are other hearth options

5. Appliances
The workhorse of most outdoor kitchens is a gas or hybrid grill, which can be outfitted with a rotisserie, a smoker box for wood chips, and storage. Other popular appliances include undercounter refrigeration, wine coolers, ice makers, and warming drawers. Make sure they are UL-approved and that they plug into GFCI (ground-fault circuit interrupter) outlets. (Other popular appliances)

6. Materials
All-weather materials can be hosed down for easy cleanup. Concrete slab floors and concrete-block walls with faux veneers work nicely for outdoor kitchens. Surface materials must withstand the weather as well as heat from a grill. Good choices: poured concrete, granite, slate, stainless steel, brick, stucco, tile, and stone. In dry climates, rot-resistant woods like teak and cedar may be used for cabinetry.

7. Layout Pointers
Any good kitchen plan is configured to let the cook move effortlessly within the work triangle. Many outdoor kitchens don't have sinks due to the added expense of extending water and waste lines from the house, so your design should also create a path for transporting food from the work area to the dining table. In planning an outdoor kitchen, be sure to check local building and fire safety codes. Zoning laws may restrict size and location, and fire codes dictate clearance requirements between an open flame and a combustible surface.

8. On a Budget
Can't afford a custom-built kitchen? Companies are now turning out prefab outdoor islands that can be delivered straight to your backyard and set up for use in a matter of hours. You pick the size (from about 3 to 15 feet long), the mix of appliances, and the style. Choices range from a simple, square island with a built-in grill, base cabinets, and a small countertop, to a U-shaped island with grill, side burners, refrigerator, sink, ice maker, and ample bar seating. Surface options include brick, faux stone, stucco, and tile. Prefabricated kitchen islands start at about $1,000 and top out at around $30,000 for a fully loaded kitchen-and-sports-bar combo that includes a stereo, DVD player, and three mini flat-screen TVs. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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