Today's owners of luxury homes are looking for all of the amenities of the kitchen, but with a twist: They want them outside as well as inside the home.
Americans are spending more time in their kitchens – and outdoor kitchens have become a natural extension of the trend toward home entertaining. This holds particularly true for owners of luxury homes, according to Real Living sales professionals, who say the affluent want to extend all aspects of entertaining to their outdoor spaces.
"Anything that brings the family together seems to be the big thing right now," says Brian Bevan, president of In & Out Cabinetry, Inc., in Oneco, Florida. "And what do we do when we get together?" he asks. "We eat."
The outdoor kitchen, like the one inside, also makes a style statement. Moving on from the ultra-premium kitchen, affluent homeowners have begun looking for the next step. Kitchen designers - already specialists in creating beautiful, functional kitchen spaces perfect for entertaining - are taking their skills to the great outdoors and focusing on outdoor kitchens, America's newest "trophy room."
Manufacturers say they can now duplicate for outdoor use whatever amenities consumers can imagine for their indoor kitchens.
According to Don Henry, president of BKE Supply, in Indio, California, stainless steel is the look that most people want in their indoor kitchens, and they will continue to want it in outdoor kitchens, as well. "It has the durability and style," he says.
While outdoor cooking once meant a basic grill, a bag of charcoal and a bit of sunshine, the current trend in outdoor kitchens is moving away from the skinny and toward the whole hog, with weather-resistant cabinets, built-in refrigerators, sinks, ambient lighting, and, as the centerpiece to all this, a high-quality built-in grill.
"The whole concept has grown beyond barbecue in the backyard," attests Henry. "Homeowners are looking for things like trash shoots, trash compactors, side-burners, bar systems and infrared technologies."
Jennifer Uihlein Straszewski, executive vice president, U-Line, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, says, "A satellite kitchen allows [the consumer] to spend time with guests rather than running back and forth to the house to prepare and serve the food and drinks." That means the space should be designed with everything needed to prepare and serve a completed meal, from refrigerator to utensil storage, so the primary chef can remain with guests throughout the meal.
But there's more. At the ultra high end, designers are increasingly seeing demand for custom-built islands with pop-up boxes for plasma televisions, surround-sound systems, rafter-mounted heaters, fire pits and martini-glass chilling racks inside professional-grade freezers for the perfect luxury outdoor experience.
Multifunctional elements, such as a table with built-in cooktop, are gaining ground in outdoor kitchens, just as they are in indoor designs.
"You have these beautiful extensions of the home with quality furniture, quality cooking appliances, quality plumbing products and lighting like you've never seen before," says Ann Rottinghaus, program manager-residential markets for Elkay Manufacturing Co., in Oak Brook, Illinois.
"Homeowners are going to great lengths to transform the traditional patio area into a fully functioning outdoor room," adds Straszewski.
While outdoor kitchens were once exclusively the purview of those lucky enough to be living in climates that remain warm year-round, patio heaters, rolling carts, modular cooking stands, weather proof materials and other innovations have made the outdoor kitchen more appealing to even those who live in cold weather climates.
"In climates where outdoor kitchens are already prevalent," says Straszewski, "we expect the outdoor living areas to become even more elaborate." She's confident that, as the trend takes hold nationwide, more homeowners in colder climates also will want to create outdoor living spaces that work for them.
Looking toward the future, Jane Zalesdak, with Texas Pit Crafters in Tomball, Texas, believes that, because of all the new-home construction these days, consumers will "progressively plan their outdoor kitchens along with their homes from the very beginning."
Rottinghaus doesn't see the trend for outdoor kitchens simmering down, either. She anticipates consumers increasingly asking themselves, "Where can I be outside where it doesn't require travel and still be connected to my safety zone?"
"The outdoor living trend is transforming the American backyard into a private getaway destination," emphasizes Straszewski, "one that homeowners never need to leave home to enjoy."