Outdoor kitchens in Vermont are designed a bit differently than outdoor kitchens in more temperate climates like Texas and California. We generally don’t have the opportunity to hang out on our patios that much in the winter months, but we still enjoy a grilled chop or steak any day of the year, so a sturdy grill island built to withstand the elements comes in handy. Our guiding principle is to design outdoor kitchens in Vermont that encourage people to spend more time outside. To us a “sensible” design means that a kitchen is:
- easy to access in winter,
- built with high quality materials that survive harsh elements for a long period,
- in close proximity to other outdoor comfort features such as hot tubs and fireplaces that extend the seasonal use, and
- scaled for utility and doesn’t go overboard with features you won’t really use
Accessibility in Winter – our winters seem to be getting milder but we still want to design with the assumption that there will be snow from December through March. Grill islands need to be positioned so that they aren’t directly under an eave that is going to shed a mountain of snow and ice, so that means that they need to be either under cover or far enough away from an eave but a short shoveling distance. If the grill island is positioned close to a house it is imperative that the house is shielded with stone or steel to reduce the fire hazard. Wind direction is another important factor – nobody wants their house filled with smoke.
Construction materials - The challenge of building outdoor kitchens in VT is dealing with freeze-thaw. Melting snow causes an accumulation of water in and around built-in grills and outdoor kitchen equipment, then our cold winter nights freeze and expand that water. I know you’ve probably seen a DIY project on TV where the guy quickly builds cabinets with plywood, screws some steel mesh on them and sticks some stucco or cultured stone veneer on the surface. Honestly that wouldn’t last very long here, and the more responsible method would be to build it once and do it right.
Cabinets - There are several long-lasting choices for cabinet construction – masonry block, galvanized steel or aluminum frame with cement board – stone veneer is then applied to either choice. Our preference is to source cabinet frames from a relatively local company to reduce shipping cost and carbon footprint. Our favorite is a small outfit based in CT that is building custom cabinets out of cement board fastened to galvanized steel, which is more rugged than aluminum. They have long warranties, are very quick to install, are easy to maneuver into place, yet strong enough to hold thousands of pounds of veneer rock and bluestone counter-tops. You can also choose pre-built concrete block units (such as Unilock or Belgard) if you don’t want real stone, (the cost is comparable so I prefer the real thing), but it’s a style choice.
Grills – It’s counter-intuitive, but you have a better chance of sticking to a budget if you sink money into a high-quality grill. You can choose either a built-in or freestanding model (which can sometimes be built in later). Vermont Castings is my top choice because it is a local green company and their quality of construction can’t be beat. Another good choice would be Summerset Grills (you can see a display model at our supplier Trowel Trades in Colchester). What you really want its 304 True Stainless Steel Construction — this superior grade of stainless steel resists rust better than grills made with lower grades of stainless steel. Plus, they offer a sleek, modern look. There are other brands to choose from of course, including Viking and Wolf, so decide what features and price point you want and be sure to see sample models before ordering.
Other Options – In addition to grill islands the three most requested features are sinks, fridges and pizza ovens. Most of the time sinks and fridges don’t make the “sensible” cut (running plumbing adds considerable cost unless the outdoor room is attached to the house, and there are freeze/thaw issues with fridges) but wood-fired ovens are nice because they can double as a fire feature and making pizzas is such a great family party theme. The cost of an oven can be reduced by using a pre-fabricated kit (such as Chicago Brick Oven) that gets built-in to the rest of the masonry.
Scaled for Utility - There are countless options for components, but at the very least you need some usable counter space no matter how small your outdoor space will be. You can’t have grills and sinks butting up against each other with nowhere for you to work or set down platters. If your outdoor kitchen will be any significant distance from the indoor kitchen, allow at least a small budget for adequate storage space for frequently used items like grill brushes, forks, spices and paper towels. You don’t want to spend the whole time running back and forth.
Comfort – we think it makes sense to include features adjacent to your outdoor kitchen that will encourage you to get out there and use the space. For some people that includes a bar, a hot tub and/or a fire feature.
A final consideration when it comes to outdoor rooms is furniture. This can be one of the hardest choices for clients, and I often consult interior designers that we work with to access product lines and materials that are only available to the trade. Again, my biggest advice is to start with quality so you don’t have to replace it every few years. If your budget is tight you can opt for a less expensive frame than a designer brand (even Crate&Barrel has some good furniture choices that are made from sustainably harvested wood) just make sure the cushions are covered with a 100 percent acrylic, solution-dyed fabric such as Sunbrella or Perennials fabrics. They’re the best buy for the money because they’re mildew- and water-resistant and will last three or four times longer than canvas or other washable cushions and are guaranteed to resist fading for 5 years.
We hope this overview helps get your ideas flowing – consider how adding an outdoor room would enhance your enjoyment of the outdoors both now and all year long!