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As the trend of bringing indoor living spaces' comfort to the outside continues, backyards have seen some serious upgrades throughout the past year—and industry experts say that doesn't seem to be changing anytime soon.

Outdoor kitchens remain one of the most popular additions since the pandemic's onset, and they've only gained more interest as at-home entertaining has increased while people adjust their comfort level with indoor dining. Throughout the region, builders and appliance-suppliers alike have seen a spike in homeowners making permanent, personal changes to their domiciles with new or upgraded outdoor cooking and dining options.

Like so many of the motivations behind the pandemic's home renovations, outdoor kitchens have reflected individual tastes and are tailored to each family's needs more than anything else, though one common desire is enjoying a different kind of dining experience in a time when most restaurants adopted delivery-only models. From appliances to hardscaping, from updates to groundbreakings, local professionals have handled the smallest details and biggest expenses for projects of all sizes, especially in the past year as the money that would typically finance family vacations and daily commutes is instead reinvested in the home.

Steve Compton, general manager of the family-owned CKC Landscaping, has seen trends come and go since his father began the company in 1995. While he says that home improvement projects have been on the upswing for more than a year, the focus on outdoor kitchens stems from a decidedly indoor development.

"Kitchens have really become the heart of the home: It's where people congregate," he says. "If I had to pick one overarching statement, what's driving the design-specific features for each family is that what they've been doing inside, they want to do that outside. It's really been fascinating to see the investments that people are making, specifically in these outdoor kitchen spaces."

Gone are the days of a rusting backyard grill that sees intermittent use even when it's grilling season. A great outdoor kitchen might start with a thoughtfully selected grill, but it also might include any combination of a stove, meat smoker, pizza oven, refrigerator, dishwasher, cabinets, ornate countertops and even bars complete with beverage taps. And with electronics also being among those features, coverage is important, too.

"Putting a roof over your deck is really popular, that's huge," says Bill Lecorchick Jr., who has grown up working in his family's Legends Home Improvements, founded by his father in 1975. "Most of what I'm doing now has roofs on it. You've got sunlight until 7 o'clock so you need something so you're not boiling out there."

Keith Fry of Amazing Decks agrees that adding any kind of cover, such as a roof, pergola or canopy, can be what levels-up an outdoor kitchen. But convenience remains a priority.

"Refrigerators are very popular—it's always good to have a cold drink nearby when grilling," continues Fry. "Sinks are also always wanted. But sometimes they're limited to the logistics of the job site [in terms of] plumbing water feeds and drainage."

Considering spatial, layout or geographical limitations is crucial when designing an outdoor kitchen. Brenda Kieffer of Kieffer's Appliances agrees that some elements of outdoor kitchens will "depend on how your home is situated."

Kieffer's, too, has benefited from more and more people regarding outdoor kitchens as less of an add-on and more of a necessity, though they operate in more of a B2B capacity by directly working with construction companies, landscapers and suppliers to provide a project's appliances. In fact, within the past year, Kieffer's has added the Urban Bonfire line of outdoor cabinets to its inventory to meet that increased demand.

"It's a collection of metal cabinets for the outside that have many, many finishes," she explains. "You can either get the stainless steel look or one that doesn't look like metal with the many colors you can get."

Builders and suppliers alike agree that it's up to the manufacturer to ensure that appliances are rated for the outdoors and can withstand seasonal extremes, though their teams are up to the task when it comes to educating and guiding those who are new to outdoor kitchens.

Part of that client education means ensuring early on that they're up for the size of the project and the overall commitment.

"Outdoor kitchens have become more and more popular, but what people don't always realize is how much it costs," says Keith Frederick of Environmental Landscape Associates. "It's a nice-to-have element, but it adds up when you want quality appliances."

Working with a professional means that well-trained, experienced eyes are assessing a property's unique geography to consider elements like appliance configuration, guest seating, the sun's position, proximity to the indoor kitchen and more.

"Working and talking with professionals, I think that's the biggest thing people need to do," Lecorchick says. He advises homeowners to really consider practical elements, like where the grill range should face so people aren't staring at their neighbors or have their backs to their guests: "Think it through. Just understand what you want because you don't want to pay to do it twice."

Professional assistance can also help get more than just two seasons' worth of annual use out of an add-on that was once only the domain of the warmer months. While water features might still have a limited run, Fry says that fire and heating options are certainly one way to extend an outdoor kitchen's yearly utility into fall's crisper days and even milder winters.

Kieffer agrees: "It was thought—and rightly so—that an outdoor kitchen, like an outdoor pool, is only usable, at the most, half of the year. But it's not impossible to use that kitchen much longer than originally thought by adding a roof, rollout sides and patio heaters."

The same roofs that keep the heat and sun at bay in the summer can also stave off the cold of winter, making outdoor kitchens a practically year-round amenity with anything from stand-alone pavilions to attached roofs covering a patio or deck, plus moveable walls or heating elements.

"They're very advantageous for utilizing that space all year long," says Frederick. "Even when it's in the high 30s, you can still be outside."

It is important to note that while most companies have options for all price points, they do not have infinite supplies, no matter how diligently they've stockpiled resources. Clients who've been working on their homes for a while generally know to expect shortages, delays or shifts in their original visions, but it's still frustrating to deal with rising prices and diminishing supplies, especially since a hike in material costs tends to become the new standard.

"For some of our patio projects, we've had to go back to customers and talk about changing colors, changing designs, because it's hard to get some things; other things, they're not making right now," Lecorchick explains. "Two years ago, a sheet of plywood cost me $13. This year, it cost me $57. ... I get a lot of people saying, 'Oh, I'll just wait till next year, maybe prices will be down'—but prices don't go down."

The pros know how to pivot a project to accommodate surprise hiccups and still deliver a quality result that satisfies client expectations. Because, in the end, it is all about ensuring that everyone is able to see the outdoor kitchen of their dreams come to life, whether it extends a carefully chosen decor to the backyard or gives celebrity chefs' configurations a run for their money.

"Indoors, you have four walls that contain your kitchen; outside, you have your entire space," says Kieffer. "Do you want to bring the styling of your indoor kitchen outside—or do you want to go crazy and make it island-themed? Because if that's what you want, that's what you can do."
No matter what direction you take with creating your outdoor kitchen, it all starts with having a clear path to a final product—with a little flexibility along the way to allow for the possibility of unpredictable snags.

"I really want to stress the importance of having a plan and having patience," Compton says. "In four or five years from now, if you rush something ... that's when it's going to bite you. If you do have patience, you do plan properly, in four or five years from now, you're not going to even think about those six months you delayed the project."

RESOURCES
Amazing Decks
Ambler, Pa.
Flemington, N.J.
(215) 654-1886
AnotherAmazingDeck.com

CKC Landscaping
West Chester, Pa.
(610) 436-1810
Ckclandscapinginc.com

Environmental Landscape Associates
Doylestown, Pa.
(215) 794-2400
ELAOutdoorLiving.com

Kieffer's Appliances
Lansdale, Pa.
(215) 699-3522
Kieffers.com

Legends Home Improvements
East Brunswick, N.J.
(732) 855-6321
LegendsBuilt.com

Published (and copyrighted) in House & Home, Volume 21, Issue 9 (June 2021). 
For more info on House & Home magazine, click here
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To advertise in House & Home magazine, call 610-272-3120.

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