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Exterior Spaces – Outdoor Kitchens Become Home’s Social Hub

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By Jean Patteson

RISMEDIA, July 24, 2010—(MCT)—The outdoor kitchen is rapidly becoming the social hub of the home, much as the indoor kitchen is the favorite gathering place for family and friends. The trend is especially strong in areas where the climate favors outdoor living almost year-round.

“It’s a hot item,” said Scott Redmon, owner of Alfresco Living in Maitland, Fla. “And the outdoor kitchen is becoming a lot more than a grill and a sink in the corner of the porch. It’s a whole entertainment system. People have a higher expectation for their exterior spaces since HGTV came around.”

Outdoor kitchens are popular because they are fun to live with, said Russ Faulk, vice-president of product development at Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet in Kalamazoo, Mich. “They add to the quality of life for the homeowner. Preparing a meal outdoors is not a chore, it’s an occasion, a reason to have friends over and enjoy the process.” In addition, an outdoor kitchen expands a home’s living space and adds to its value, he said. “The return on your investment is comparable to an indoor kitchen redo.”

Since the economic downturn, “People have been unable to sell their homes, so they are starting to upgrade with better landscaping and outdoor kitchens, spending more time at home,” said Sue Fern, manager of the Florida chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects.

The built-in grill was the start of the outdoor-kitchen trend, said Faulk. “Then came the sink, the refrigerator, a counter for food prep, cabinets for storage—pretty much what you’d have in an indoor kitchen.” As more equipment is added, outdoor “rooms” are becoming larger and more covered, he said. Seating areas are added, along with outdoor TV sets, fire pits and water features.

The grill—fired by gas, wood or charcoal—is still the heart of the outdoor kitchen. Especially popular are hybrid grills, which can be switched from gas to wood or charcoal, depending on what is being cooked, said Faulk. “There’s nothing like grilling fish over an oak fire.”

Pizza ovens are starting to threaten the grill’s reign as king of the outdoor kitchen. Oven designs range from large, wood-fired brick and clay ovens that take several hours to heat up, to compact countertop models fired by gas that are ready for baking pizzas in 20 minutes.

Also gaining popularity in outdoor kitchens are keg-tappers, wine chillers, ice makers and warming cabinets.

When designing an outdoor kitchen, be sure to look for low-maintenance equipment, said Faulk, “or you defeat the purpose of carefree outdoor cooking.”

Also, make sure any cabinetry is designed to keep the contents clean and dry in inclement weather; install good task and ambient lighting and choose counter-top material that is stain- and grease-resistant and stays cool in direct sunlight.

“Get counter-top samples, leave them in the sun and see how hot they get,” advised Faulk. “Heat-retention is not always related to color. Some light colors get hotter than dark colors.”

He also offers these cost-cutting tips: “Design the outdoor kitchen against the house to reduce the cost of getting utilities to the space. And buy the best grill you can afford.”

When designing an outdoor kitchen, “Consider how the space will be used: as a personal refuge or a place to entertain and be social; as a place to cook and eat, or to drink and socialize,” said Eduardo Xol, exterior designer on Extreme Makeover: Home Edition and celebrity designer for hayneedle.com.

And remember, indoor-outdoor living helps balance the soul. It keeps you connected with nature and helps you become more aware of living green.

(c) 2010, The Orlando Sentinel (Fla.).

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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