Inside Out: Bringing Indoor Comforts to the Outdoors
by Patrice Peterson
A fully equipped outdoor kitchen with a built-in grill, marble countertops, a beverage center and a stainless steel sink may sound like a luxury item that few could afford or maintain.
However, the entire market for outdoor kitchens, grills, fireplaces and fire pits is shifting, as more home and lakeshore owners search for additional ways to increase their outdoor living without leaving home.
“These manufacturers can basically make anything you would use in your inside kitchen to now use in your outside kitchen,” says Merry Rohloff, Branch Manager at Brock White Construction Materials in Baxter, Minn. “You imagine it, and they can do it. It’s more about creating a space outdoors and making it as functional as you need it to be.”
The value and benefits of these outdoor spaces can often be worth the investment. With modern features and design elements, the right kind of outdoor space adds more than beauty and function – it can also provide heating and lighting elements to stretch out that precious outdoor time for family gatherings and socializing. Design experts like Kate Campbell, one of the stars of HGTV’s “Decked Out,” believe that features such as fireplaces and fire pits “not only add ambiance to an outdoor space, but also provide heat and light that allows you to use your deck later into the evening and into the year.”
“People want to be outside as much as they can, especially when our summer season can be limited, so outdoor living is one area where we’ve seen an increased interest,” says Matt Balmer, who owns Lands End Development, and builds lake homes in Cross Lake. “Whether you imagine an elaborate kitchen built into an expanded patio with 12-foot doors, a massive outdoor fireplace, or a fire pit with built-in seating, we’re beginning to blur the lines between the indoors and the outdoors.”
In both landscape remodeling and new home construction, outdoor design elements are increasing in popularity – and appearing more often as a practical and workable option. Balmer says they’re working with landscape architects to incorporate some of those types of amenities into their house designs. Despite the occasional bugs and sporadic cold weather in this part of the country, he says these trends have also brought with them new and improved methods in building and design that make it all possible here.
Some ideas that can expand that indoor feeling to the outdoors include:
Customizing an outside kitchen has never been so easy. Granite countertops hold up well in the sun, and specialty outdoor appliances like small refrigerators, kegerators, and wine and beverage coolers are readily available. So are gas heaters and retractable solar screens. A kitchen sink or even a dishwasher can help with outside clean-up, and storage space keeps dishes and condiments nearby. A built-in charcoal or gas grill can be accessorized with side burners, fryer burners, rotisseries, smokers, or even a griddle that provides the opportunity to use the grill for items like pancakes, eggs or cookies.
Besides the standard gas or charcoal grill, a few other options include:
• Wood-fired ovens. They’re a good fun way to hang out and cook around a fire outside, according to Matt Hoen of Outdoor Renovations in Underwood, Minn. “They’re not just for cooking pizzas,” he says. “At 4 x 4 and 6 feet tall, it’s for someone who wants to do a lot of cooking, but it’s easy and it works well for cooking anything.”
• Ceramic, Kamado-style grills are growing in popularity every year (Big Green Egg is one brand). They cook at extremely high temperatures, are controlled by air ventilation, and can be used as a pizza oven, a smoker, or even for infusing a meal with wood flavor.
For roasting marshmallows and telling ghost tales, there’s nothing quite like a fire pit. Besides the traditional wood-burning fire pit, natural gas and liquid propane fire tables are more common and widespread with their ease of use. “It’s not just the concrete fire ring thrown down with chairs around it anymore,” according to Rohloff. “This has all changed as far as how people are gathering around it.” She says one simple way to include additional seating around a fire pit is a wall of bricks, called “seat walls,” built with pavers, natural stone, modular block, or even the unusual “cubicle boulders,” a natural stone that is more squared off than round.
An outdoor fireplace is another option to extend an indoor living space to the outdoors and provide a cozy area for either solitude or a party atmosphere for entertaining guests. Whether you’re looking for a modern look, dramatic flair, rustic elegance, and either wood-burning or a gas flame, it can be totally customized to fit with any style home. Some newer systems have the ability to adjust heat distribution, either inside or outside of the home. Another more modern trend is the long, sleek design of a linear fireplace, which extends that fiery, warm atmosphere horizontally.
After designing and implementing the kind of spaces that will increase your outdoor enjoyment, don’t forget to finish it all off with proper lighting. Lights above the grill for nighttime cooking, below the cupboards for a dramatic effect, a dimmer switch to change the mood, or a bright light to activate when navigating a fire pit are all examples of ways to use lights for a practical ambience. It’s important to include whatever is necessary for a functional lighting design into those plans.
LED lights, which can be a little more expensive, are a good fit for outdoor applications because of their high efficiency, longer lifespan, and lower maintenance. They are available in a variety of colors and designs.
Bigger, Better Outdoor Spaces
Matt Hoen believes the trend to develop additional outdoor spaces is partly because people are making the decision to stay home more than traveling. “When you have a lake place,” he says, “you want to be outside, and having a nice backyard with amenities like kitchens, grills, and fire pits makes it all that much easier and way more fun.”
While many people are looking for additional opportunities for enjoying the outdoors, the options are unlimited. Hoen says it’s all about listening to what clients want and what they need, and there are a multitude of different ideas and products to choose from to give each home a unique look and feel.
“We try to carry a lot of different natural products,” Rohloff adds. “The direction that we’re heading with this is getting bigger all the time. People want bigger ideas and bigger spaces – especially outdoors.” ~L&H