Think of your outdoor kitchen as an extension of your BBQ, says north London designer
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Spend more time in your garden and in the fresh air with an outdoor kitchen, which can be as simple or elaborate as you like.
While Covid-19 has made us reconsider how we use our gardens and outdoor spaces, not everyone sees the value of forking out wads of cash on an outdoor kitchen - especially bearing in mind the British summer (or lack thereof).
However outdoor kitchens don’t have to be the big commitment they may initially seem to be.
Most likely, you already have a BBQ set up outside and looking at your outdoor kitchen as an expansion of this is a great way to approach alfresco cooking and dining, says Audrey Whelan of north London-based Audrey Whelan Designs.
“We all know that miserable rack on the BBQ’s side and have had to ask people to hold plates,” she says. “Everything is hot and you’re worried about the children burning themselves.
“But most outdoor kitchens will house a BBQ - either as an integrated grill or as something you can slot in,” she goes on to say, “which will give you surfaces either side of it and suddenly you start to have the functionality of a kitchen.”
Audrey suggests building your outdoor kitchen incrementally to see how you would like to use the space. For example, start off with some worksurfaces and outside storage and “see how you get on”. The following month or season you can add a sink or an overhead cover, tailoring the kitchen to suit your needs.
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“Enhancing the basics little by little is quite a useful thing to do if you want to work out how much you are using the outdoor kitchen before you shell out money,” Audrey says.
Pre-Covid-19, we were all used to the idea of entertaining in the garden but prepping food indoors and shuttling salads, condiments and crockery back and forth from inside to out. However now, that may not always be possible or safe. “Make the space more self-sufficient and reduce the need to go in and out of the house with storage and setting up a water supply and sink,” says Audrey.
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Connecting to a water supply could turn your outdoor kitchen into a bigger project than desired, as it might mean pulling up pavers and garden. You could however, connect to your garden tap with exposed copper piping, which will create an eclectic, industrial look. If you are re-doing your garden but still unsure about your outdoor cooking area, it might be worthwhile to connect your water and electricity up just in case, so you have options in the future.
Ensure all electrical sockets and appliances such as fridges have an outdoor rating, otherwise they could become damp and hazardous when left outside. Worksurfaces and storage should be made with durable materials such as stainless steel, micro concrete, galvanised metal, granite, stone and cement – any of the materials you probably have in your garden already.
Treated wood can also be used, but for cupboards and storage rather than worktops where it will wear quickly. Outdoor tiles add colour and pattern to the space and are a “great way to link to indoors”.
Overhead covers offer protection from the elements. A retractable awning or parasol will give you the option to catch some rays on sunny days, but shield you from drizzle and rain. It will also save you the hassle of moving furniture in and out of the sun and bad weather.
Be mindful, however, not to use a wood or material covering if placed above the BBQ as it is a fire hazard. While you might want some shelter while you prep and cook, Audrey notes that a covering might be more beneficial placed over where you dine.
Pizza ovens are increasing in popularity and can be easily built into your outdoor kitchen area. So too can chimineas or a tandoor. All three provide additional warmth too and are safer to cook with under a roof or covering than a BBQ, which can always be placed next to the main workstation.
If you have bi-fold doors (and outdoor space is a concern) Audrey says you can utilise your internal space when cooking and dining outdoors.
“There’s a real tendency, especially in Victorian houses that have been refurbished, to have a kitchen island or breakfast bar facing the garden,” she says. “You can open the doors and use this as a prep area which will feel connected to the space.”
With any kind of interior design planning, consider what your priorities are. If the aim is to spend as much time outdoors as possible, adding a lounge area to your dining and cooking area will encourage people to stay outside – particularly if you make the lounge area cosy, say with a sofa, cushions and blankets.
“Think about textures and about replicating the comfort of indoors,” Audrey says. “We used to think outdoor furniture had to be metal so it could stay outside permanently, but metal is cold and not that comfortable to sit on.”
A firepit – perhaps best placed in the lounging area - adds ambience as well as warmth. “The atmosphere a firepit creates is incredible,” says Audrey. “They are mesmerising.”
While space is a concern for many Londoners, Audrey says you might be able to do more with your back garden then you think.
“Even if your garden is medium sized, it probably is a much bigger space than what you have indoors and it open planned. The idea of cooking and eating and lounging with a group of people in one area is lovely, and not always achievable indoors.”