How to barbecue all year: cook up an outdoor kitchen
Whizz up a cocktail in the blender, reach into the wine fridge for a chilled rosé, sizzle a few steaks on the teppanyaki grill, and put the dishwasher on – all without leaving your garden. Installing a full working kitchen outside is the next step of the wider trend for making al fresco rooms that are more liveable all year round.
The concept is not new, but “this year, it’s gone absolutely crazy,” according to Craig Ormiston, who represents American outdoor kitchen company Fire Magic in the UK. “We’ve been inundated with enquiries.”
At the top of the market, garden cooking and entertaining areas “have overtaken swimming pools and tennis courts as the first thing people do to add value and extend the use of an outdoor space,” he says.
The rise in entertaining at home is driving the trend: these aren’t just spaces to cook, but somewhere to have fun doing so, with all your friends joining in. In that way, it mirrors developments in indoor kitchens, with island units and breakfast bars that are designed to create a sociable space.
“Instead of a layout where the barbecue is against a hedge or fence, where you have your back to the guests and the garden, we’re building more island units, especially L-shaped ones with a bar,” says Ormiston, “so your mates can sit and have a beer with you, you can serve them food there, and look out over the garden.”
An outdoor bar might conjure up images of a slightly tacky set-up in redbrick and dark timber, complete with beer mats, but these are slick contemporary models that look more like they belong in a chic Mediterranean resort.
Rhiannon Williams, landscape architect of Landform Consultants, took inspiration from the garden bar at Barcelona’s Hotel Alma for a garden she designed at this year’s RHS Hampton Court Show. “The point was to show that you don’t need a huge space to entertain outside,” she says. Her design includes a compact bar, with a wine fridge and prep area.
Garden designers can help to sensitively integrate the kitchen with the wider landscaping and planting. The materials used for Williams’ bar are echoed around the garden, with a similar limestone used for the prep surface and the paving, and black metal repeated across the pergola and furniture, tying everything together.
Williams says that people are moving on from granite and marble for outdoor worktops and exploring more unusual materials, such as smooth polished plaster or microcement. They also want to have herbs for cooking and cocktails close to hand: “Herbs grow really easily, they’re minimal effort, and if they’re growing right there, you’re more likely to use them. So many of them also have fantastic foliage and smell beautiful, too, such as rosemary.”
The development of more durable and contemporary surface materials, such as Corian and Dekton, has improved the design possibilities when it comes to outdoor kitchens. There is also wider availa- bility of sophisticated outdoor kitchen brands from Europe, where they seem to have a firmer grasp than us on how to live well outside.
“The design of outdoor products is catching up with interior products. There are some beautifully designed outdoor kitchens and barbecues that mirror high-end indoor style,” says Simon Ray of Encompass. The garden furniture shop sells brands such as Swedish company Röshults and Austria’s Viteo, both of which have a minimal aesthetic, using materials such as teak, Corian and brushed steel.
“The combination of better technology and all-weather materials has enabled the development of products that offer a wide range of cooking styles and functionality, and allow the kitchens to be left outdoors all year round,” he adds.
British brands are also taking a slice of the market with an emphasis on timber craftsmanship. Humphrey Munson (better known as a maker of indoor kitchens) recently designed a bespoke outdoor space for a client, in iroko wood, stainless steel and black granite.
Garden furniture company Gaze Burvill has applied its know-how in traditional oak joinery to make its beautifully crafted Linear kitchen. “We wanted to develop something in wood because it’s solid and has a tactile appeal,” says Simon Burvill, the managing director.
“We also wanted it to be well thought out in terms of installation. Kitchens can be complex to build because of how the plumbing and wiring work, and how the surfaces all link together. Our system is easy to assemble: you can even take it with you when you move house.”
Quick installation is also a feature of outdoor furniture maker Indian Ocean’s ready-made island kitchens, which cost from £9,995 and feature a bottled-gas barbecue and hermetically sealed cupboards.
“Make sure every element is exacting and best in class for life outdoors, such as marine-grade stainless steel cabinets with magnetic seals that are waterproof and impervious to dust, insects and bugs,” says Heather McCann, the creative director. “Look for brass burners and ceramic briquettes to ensure even heat distribution allowing cooking of an entire roast, not just a few sausages.”
So, what’s the typical spec of a top-
Humphrey Munson iroko kitchen, left, from £20,000; the oak Linear kitchen by Gaze Burvill, main; modular concrete kitchens by WWOO, below, from £3,000
Forno garden set, below, £1,695, Morsø; Heat 500, a barbecue/wood burner, above, £2,802 from Chesneys