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Designer tip: planning your outdoor kitchen

An outdoor kitchen is often the focal point of an outdoor living space, in the same way that your indoor kitchen is often the focal point inside. Think of how all of the family gathers around your kitchen- wouldn’t you love it if that happened outside on a warm spring evening? Before you pull the trigger on an outdoor kitchen, here are a few do’s and don’ts to inspire you:

1) Do start with well-made equipment. Some people chose to cover their equipment, but for the times when you forget, you’ll be happy that you chose a well-made grill. I encourage clients to start at a showroom like Barbecues Galore, where you can see a variety of brands. The one I recommend most often is Lynx. They are well made workhorses: made to last and mid-range for price. The top photo is a Lynx outdoor kitchen from their website.

2) Don’t overdo it with the equipment. Ask yourselves which elements you will really use so the island doesn’t become a clutter of stainless steel. The most popular options are the grill, side burner, fridge, and sink.

3) Do think of your outdoor kitchen design in the same way you’d think of your indoor kitchen design. Unfortunately, most outdoor kitchens get stucco siding and a tile counter. Would you do that inside? I wouldn’t! Think about stone counters, a creative backsplash, or hidden cabinets. Think about the style you want and then worry about picking materials that will hold up outdoors. (This is something a designer can help you with…. hint, hint).

4) Don’t skimp on counter space. A great kitchen island can serve so many roles if you design it to be flexible: it can be a bar or buffet for serving at a party, it can be slightly raised to accommodate bar stools and even replace the dining table. It can be extra storage space for outdoor cushions. But for all of these things, it needs to have enough free space (another reason to chose the equipment wisely). Think about the things you might want on the counter while grilling like tools, ingredients, or platters. Make sure you’ll have enough counter space!

5) Do make sure that the outdoor kitchen fits in with your house. If your house is tiny, go for a more modestly sized outdoor kitchen. If it is a Spanish Colonial, consider using Malibu tile accents or wrought iron handles. The lower photo is an outdoor kitchen I designed to go with a Craftsman cottage in La Mesa. Since it is pushed up against the wall of the house, we faced it in aged cedar shingles (instantly aged for us by Pattengill Finishes) so that it looks like it has always been there.

6) Don’t forget about shade. If the kitchen is going to be located in a hot part of the yard, consider a shade arbor, umbrella, or shade sail.

7) Do consider taking a barbecue cooking class. The flagship Barbecues Galore store in San Diego is in 4S Ranch. They offer a great selection of classes where you not only learn from a professional chef, you get to eat what he makes! I was amazed at how much I took away from even a single class. Plus, when have you ever seen ten full sized grills installed indoors?! Here is a link to their selection of upcoming classes.

Sage Outdoor Designs is a San Diego landscape design firm. Kate
Wiseman, the Principal, has been a San Diego landscape designer
for the past ten years. Find out more at