Cool outdoor kitchens: 6 hot trends

Shannon Dauphin Lee | Improvement Center Columnist | September 6, 2013

If the kitchen has always been considered the heart of the home, outdoor kitchens are taking the heart out for some fresh air. Outdoor kitchens of old were fashioned to include hardy stainless steel or rough-and-tumble tile, perfect for combating the elements while providing a kitchen experience in the open air. Today, design elements that are comfortable inside the house are bursting out the door, making outdoor kitchens even more like an extension of the home.

Outdoor cooking is hot

The pleasure of cooking outside is one particular trend that has never changed. The Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association's 2012 State of the Barbecue Industry Report found that in 2012, 86 percent of households owned a grill or smoker, an increase of 4 percent over 2009. They are getting plenty of use, too -- 99 percent of grill owners reported actually using their equipment in the past year, and 62 percent use their grills year-round.

Nearly half of those grill enthusiasts see their outdoor cooking area as an extension of their functional indoor kitchen, while 29 percent view it as a place to entertain, and 26 percent view the outdoor kitchen as a place for a little R&R. Forty percent had, at the least, a grill in combination with outdoor furniture and an informal place to dine.

Given those numbers, there is no doubt that the idea of creating an "outdoor kitchen" is probably here to stay. As more consumers are getting into the outdoor kitchen trend, the demand for new looks and styles has taken hold as well.

Taking the inside out

In 2013, expect to see outdoor kitchens that look more like what you'd see inside the home. By taking advantage of hardy building materials and innovative new looks, homeowners can make their outdoor kitchen truly feel like an expansion of their indoor living space.

Here are just a few of the trends homeowners can take advantage of in their outdoor kitchens this year:

  1. Countertops that surprise. It looks just like wood or even high-end stone, but wait until you touch it -- it's actually concrete or ceramic that mimics the look of wood so closely that it fools even the most discerning eye. Now you can have the look of wood without the maintenance hassle.
  2. Weatherproof cabinetry. All-weather cabinets have exceptional durability and the style and quality you'd expect indoors. Outdoor cabinetry can be made from materials like natural teak and All Element Polymer Board, as well as stainless steel.
  3. Glass makes a splash. On the backsplash, that is. Or the countertop. Stronger than it looks and pretty enough to make a statement, glass is a hot trend for 2013.
  4. New technology. For most homeowners, the bottom line of a kitchen must be ease of use. Just a few of the hot options: faucets that turn on with a touch; outside LED and new, brighter solar lighting; and hybrid grills.
  5. The kitchen as a living space. By extending a roof over the kitchen area and bookending the room with an outdoor fireplace, not only is the outdoor kitchen now good for all seasons but looks and feels more like a room. You can even include a flat screen TV under a protected area.
  6. Universal design. With more families living in multi-generational households, making certain the house is accessible to those with mobility issues has become important. Ramps can provide easier access than stairs and lowered countertops allow young and old alike to participate in the good times.
  7. Color galore. Gone are the days of monotonic silver, black or all white. Color that pops is what makes today's outdoor kitchens feel even more like an extension of the home. In fact, the Weber Grill Watch Survey found that the top finish preferred by grill connoisseurs is now color -- any color.

Not only are outdoor kitchens becoming more like indoor cooking spaces, they are also becoming available in harsher climates. With metal cabinets fashioned to look like wood and countertops made to handle anything nature (or the cook) can throw at them, outdoor kitchen elements are tougher than ever. You may find yourself sneaking outside to use the kitchen all year no matter where you live.

About the Author

Shannon Lee is a freelance writer and occasional novelist who has spent over twenty years writing about home improvement, education, relationships and medical and health topics.