Expand your living space with an outdoor kitchen & bar

With most of us having spent more time at home over the past several months due to the COVID-19 outbreak, we’ve likely thought a lot about getting out of the house. And not that any of us want to see another pandemic in our lifetimes, but this situation also has more people thinking about opportunities for “getting out” of the house while staying home.

Updating outdoor living spaces has gained popularity in recent years, but these updates vary widely in scope and cost. While expanding and upgrading decks and patios are common home improvement projects, many homeowners are taking it to the next level by building outdoor kitchens and bars.

These additions represent a true expansion into outdoor living and entertaining. After all, if you’re constantly having to return inside for another beverage or to prep the burgers for grilling, you’re missing out on time to relax or interact with your guests.

Think beyond the grill

Many homeowners consider a grill – or two – as essential components of any patio or backyard space. If you’ve perused a home improvement store or website, you know there are options for every taste and budget. And while the appliances themselves are important, think bigger. Asking yourself some key questions about layout and materials at the outset should help guide the design process and ensure your space is both beautiful and functional.

Outdoor kitchens should be designed with indoor kitchen principles in mind. The main differences between the two are typically the materials used (durability to withstand exposure to elements) and shelter considerations. You still need to consider the location and the preferred/allowable space for your new kitchen (L, U, galley, 1 wall/row), proper flow, where you want to do your prep, which areas will need plumbing and electrical/gas connections as well as your actual cooking and dining locations and components.

While retailers do sell outdoor kitchen units that range from a simple bar cart to more elaborate configurations, many homeowners prefer custom-built spaces using brick or stone. When selecting materials for countertops, natural stones or stainless steel are great for outdoor spaces. For flooring, pick materials with a matte or honed finish and some texture to avoid slips. Porcelain tile, stone or brick pavers or even concrete are good options. Teak or stainless steel work well for cabinets/storage areas.

Don’t forget indoor amenities

If you truly want to get the most out of your investment in outdoor living, don’t skimp on the amenities that often keep us inside – lighting, heating/cooling and entertainment options. Many homes incorporate an open floor plan, which means those doing the cooking and meal prep indoors are often interacting with friends and family in the living room. You may want to think of your outdoor space with a similar floor plan in mind.

Consider features that protect you from the elements and keep you comfortable most times of the year. Awnings or other overhead coverings can keep you dry during rainy seasons. Ceiling fans, fire pits and propane heaters can help you forget what season it is by regulating the temperature. Just keep in mind proper venting for your cooking/fireplace areas. Cooktops/venting should never be beneath trees.

Whether you’re looking for utilitarian options that help you see while you prep and cook, or ambient lighting for your guests, don’t get left in the dark. After all, you’ve invested in your new space, so make sure you can show it off at any time of the day – or night! Just be sure to include wet-rated options – even if much of your new outdoor space is covered, moisture is an inescapable part of life outdoors in the south, especially near the lake.

Incorporating speakers and TVs during the design process can save you the hassle of adding those items later, even if they seem like afterthoughts in the beginning. Keep in mind your television will need to be secured, protected from the elements and positioned in a spot that doesn’t prevent it from being seen on a sunny day.

Outdoor kitchen & bar checklist

  • Use our handy checklist to ensure you don’t forget to plan for each component you want/need in your new living space.
  • Location – Will your kitchen/bar be attached or detached from the house? Will it be under a covered porch or pergola?
  • Non-cooking spaces – Prep space (including small refrigerator), serving space, eating/sitting space
  • Grilling stations – What type/size grill(s)? Need space for a Big Green Egg? Pizza oven?
  • Storage/cabinets
  • Countertops
  • Sinks/Clean-up areas
  • Beverage cooler/beer taps/ice maker
  • Ceiling Fans
  • Electrical outlets
  • Fireplace or firepits (wood-burning, gas or infrared)
  • Furniture – Bar seating or tables? Sofas/chairs?
  • TVs, speakers

Just like indoor kitchen space, the options for your outdoor kitchen and bar are almost endless. Cheers!

Sara Bagwell is a designer for Tracy Tesmer Design/Remodeling in Gainesville. This article originally appeared in the June edition of Lakeside News.