Trends in Outdoor Kitchens
AUTHORS Jamie Gold
Snyder Diamond has been selling outdoor kitchen products for more years than many readers have been breathing, much less designing. The Santa Monica-based high-end appliance and plumbing retailer got into outdoor kitchens more than 40 years ago, says company President Russ Diamond.
Of course the business has changed quite a bit since then: “Vendors such as Charmglow, Ducane and Weber were dominant, and most of the products were domestically produced,” he recalls. Then the big box stores came in, expanded outdoor as a category, and much of the manufacturing moved to Asia.
“We began our Home Design Trends survey in 2005, and outdoor living at that point was already a popular trend,” observes Kermit Baker, chief economist with the Washington, DC-based American Institute of Architects. “Almost half of responding architects indicated that it was growing in popularity at that point,” he adds. The recession hit this trend, as it did home building and remodeling altogether, but Baker has seen this category recover along with the rest of the market. “Beginning in 2011, interest in outdoor living began to increase again, and steadily grew through 2015.”
“Today,” Diamond shares, “outdoor has really morphed into a lifestyle category, with other elements such as furniture, lighting and home accessories that are specifically made for the outdoors.” Are you getting any of this business?
OUTDOOR KITCHEN EVOLUTION
For Del Mar, CA-based Design Line Interiors, the answer is a resounding yes. The firm has been incorporating outdoor kitchens into its warm climate residential projects since the company started in 1985, says founder and CEO Dawn Davidson. But, as Diamond pointed out, the category has dramatically expanded over time.
“It hasn’t been until the last 10 to 15 years that exterior design has evolved to a whole new level with appliances, smokers, pizza ovens and, in the last five years, with creativity and livability that truly brings outdoor living to an exciting and innovative new experience,” Davidson relates. She estimates that 90% of her firm’s warm-weather residential projects today include an outdoor kitchen, and they’re very tied visually to what they’re doing with the indoor kitchen.
The outdoor projects have grown in size, style, scope and budget, she observes. “The costs mimic the costs of an indoor kitchen, and the appliances and interactive experiences are limitless. Take the pizza oven or the grill, for example. They bring excitement around food collaboration and creativity into the mix. Outdoor kitchens are not just a place to barbecue. They offer an experience where families and friends celebrate with each other in a relaxed, fun and unplugged way.”
“No fully-equipped outdoor kitchen lacks a pizza oven,” Diamond declares. Whether built-in or freestanding, they have become a must-have, the appliance pro comments. He’s also seeing teppanyaki cooking surfaces, space-saving refrigeration, beer taps and ever more stylish cabinetry. “Trends in outdoor kitchens are going more toward full service for the outdoors.” He sees this trend increasing for at least for the next three to five years.
So does Russ Faulk, chief designer and head of product for Chicago-based Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet. This premium American brand is well-established in the Sunbelt, but also gaining fans in colder climes. “The regions showing the most rapid growth are further north and inland, including Canada. These are newer to outdoor kitchens, and people realize they can have the outdoor kitchen they dream of, regardless of climate. We’re seeing more and more clients grilling year-round and really making the most of their outdoor kitchens.”
What they want is authenticity, he says. “The biggest trends in outdoor kitchens right now are being driven by the food itself. Dedicated smokers for traditional American barbecue, specialty wood-fired grills for Argentine-style cooking [and] intensely hot pizza ovens for perfect Neapolitan-style pizzas” are the features inspiring the high-end outdoor kitchen buyer.
Decision makers are not just patio daddy-o types focused on cooking heat today. “The selection of the grill still seems to be male-centric,” Diamond says, “but women have been more involved with the aesthetic and design of the outdoor space. We have seen, when a woman is directing the purchase, they are orchestrating the space or plan more for lifestyle purposes or for entertainment.”
Kalamazoo’s female clients are very hands-on in the selection, Faulk shares, which can be good news for the typical indoor kitchen designer who frequently works more with that half of a couple. “There are often differences in how a man and a woman think about choosing a grill. For example, it is more common for a man to ask, ‘How many BTUs has it got?’ A woman is more likely to ask about the capacity of the rotisserie spit, which I personally find to be a more important question.”
Men and women both care about quality, design and performance. They both care about versatility. And they both want to create an outdoor kitchen that adds to their quality of life. “When you look at these priorities, any traditional gender differences become relatively unimportant,” Faulk maintains.
Where once masonry structures topped by granite or tile dominated the outdoor kitchen category, today you’re likelier to see sleek outdoor cabinets with new outdoor countertop surfaces like porcelain slab and outdoor-rated composites like Cosentino’s Dekton.
Porcelain is also gaining in popularity for indoor-outdoor flooring surfaces. “We love to see the inside blend with the outside. Choosing stone or wood [look] tile that has texture for safety is the trick. You can run the product throughout the interior and to the exterior. Visually, this doubles your space and creates a seamless transition from inside to out. There are countless amazing porcelain surfaces available that are affordable and durable,” shares designer Davidson. Doors and windows have also shifted to accommodate easy, spacious transitions between indoor and outdoor.