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Take it outside

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Outdoor dining is more than just a four burner, an ice bucket and a plastic table – it is a communal environment made for entertaining year-round. HOUSING explores what makes this space great.

Anne-Maree Brown & Kate Veteri

General Manager of Content

Since man first chargrilled foraged foods for survival, through to the modern Australian weekend favourite of putting a snag or prawn on the barbie, our eternal desire to cater outdoors has evolved into a design essential for new builds and renovations wish-lists.

Here are our picks for what to take into account when creating your outdoor kitchen to be both workable and pleasurable.

Aussies love alfresco

In the words of poet Dorothea Mackellar, many Australians ‘love a sunburnt country, a land of sweeping plains’. For most of us, especially this year, her ballad is not only about the far-reaching variety of our land’s ‘beauty and terror’, but our innate desire to be outdoors. 

Blessed with more months of blue skies than other nations, it is no wonder we crave a good outdoor space of our own. Be it the backyard, courtyard or balcony, whether we are inclined to read a book, tend to our green friends or even play some friendly cricket, we take any opportunity to catch some Vitamin D.

Nevertheless, as the average block of land has shrunk over the years, our desire to make the most of each zone hasn’t.

According to Houzz, one in two Australian homeowners use their outdoor space for entertaining, the highest percentage of the 13 countries surveyed. The vast majority of homeowners (86 per cent) update structural elements, such as decks, pergolas, terraces and verandas during an outdoor renovation project; most wanting to extend their living space outdoors for relaxation and entertaining.

Architect and James Hardie ambassador Joe Snell says traditional design often dictated that we use a garden to present the home like a trophy, surrounding it and emphasising the outside from the interior. ‘Conversely, popular modern design embraces open plan living that bridges the divide between the surrounds and the home, creating a more outdoor lifestyle by creating an extended cohesive space,’ he says. 

Beyond plants, pools and pergolas, according to Kastell kitchen designer, Daniel Monteverde, it is quite clear that the eastern states of NSW and Queensland, as well as the Northern Territory and Western Australia, are quite transfixed with outdoor kitchens. We could assume this interest is based purely on a greater volume of warmer days experienced in their climates.

Another reason for the growth in demand, he says, is that many housing developments include alfresco areas in their builds: ‘With the structure, lighting and even cooling or heating elements already included, it makes sense to go that one step further and add a kitchen area’.

Anne-Maree Brown & Kate Veteri

General Manager of Content

One in two Australian homeowners use their outdoor space for entertaining. Photo courtesy Caesarstone
Demand for outdoor kitchens is growing in Australia in states such as NSW, Queensland, WA and the NT. Photo courtesy Kastell

Harmonising design and function

Phoenix Tapware has found that outdoor kitchens are becoming more popular in modern homes because they can act as the perfect way to expand the usable square footage of a home. ‘When you invest in an outdoor kitchen, you are essentially building a brand-new room – one that’s outdoors, but still a fully functional space to eat, play and relax in your home,’ says Chantelle Malone, Marketing Manager, Phoenix Tapware. 

With this though comes one of the biggest consumer concerns when conjoining these spaces: how to harmonise the indoors with the outdoors. Daniel and Chantelle both agree that the seamless way to achieve this is by attempting to match surfaces. 

‘It’s not always possible to ensure that materials used for the client’s indoor kitchen are outdoor appropriate, which means a compromise is often on the cards,’ Daniel says. ‘However, using products with a similar look and tone but have [outdoor-friendly properties], such as UV protection, guarantee a long-term solution.’ 

Chantelle says that in addition to harmonising the spaces so they are not jarring to the eye, the flow needs to ensure there is easy access to the internal kitchen. ‘The inside and outside should flow from one into the other so that food and drinks can be easily transferred and interaction with guests isn’t disrupted,’ she explains. 

Once outside, you have to start thinking about what appliances to include and their suitability for the outdoor climate.

Daniel explains that the top three appliances on a consumer’s checklist are broken into three areas – barbeques, sinks and refrigerators. The last six months have shown for Kastell an upswing in kitchen spends (both indoor and outdoor), clearly indicating Australians want their home to be their favourite destination for quite some time to come.

Allowing ample room for food preparation, cooking and serving is a must, especially since the area is often a gathering place for multiple master chefs, all wanting to chat while the food is being prepared.
Photo: new Caesarstone Outdoor Collection featuring Palm Shade

Many housing developments include alfresco areas in their builds: ‘With the structure, lighting and even cooling or heating elements already included, it makes sense to go that one step further and add a kitchen area’.

Water works

When it comes to water considerations for an outdoor kitchen, you need to look at how to provide the same necessary requirements of indoor kitchens but in a more unforgiving environment. Two items you may need to tick off for the kitchen are the sink and possibly a dishwasher. Many companies produce dishwashers specifically built for outdoor kitchens, offering tougher materials and a more condensed frame.

Troy Creighton, Managing Director at Stormtech, says when it comes to drainage there are similarities between indoor and outdoor kitchens. 

‘Simply put, outdoor kitchens require the same sanitary drainage in the same way a normal bathroom or laundry does, but you also have to consider the secondary effects of having an outdoor kitchen’. These secondary effects – such as the accumulation of dirt and debris plus the usual spillages from frequent use – will mean vigorous cleaning and for outdoor spaces that often means being hosed down. The linear Stormtech drains make this process easy and when placed at one end of the kitchen, everything can be hosed towards it.  

When installing plumbing that connects to a water source, much like inside, you need to make sure the area is safe for users of all ages and abilities. Stormtech drains, with their universal accessible design, are a good choice. The level threshold sits seamlessly against the ground with no step dividing the interior and exterior, removing the need for dishing (or 4-way fall) and consequently uneven surfaces. 

Stormtech drains also come in a variety of colours and finishes to match with outdoor fittings and fixtures. 
When it comes to rain, exterior drainage must allow for peak rain events. Image courtesy Stormtech
Stormtech's level threshold sits seamlessly against the ground with no step dividing the interior and exterior, removing the need for dishing (or 4-way fall). Image courtesy Stormtech

Now you’re cooking

When it comes to the materials you can use for outdoor kitchens, there is more to consider than your standard kitchen. 

For countertops you should avoid porous surfaces, so if you are opting for stone favour granite and a good sealant. For more maintenance-free (from the weather) countertop materials look to cast concrete or stainless steel. Stainless steel is a durable and sturdy option, for both the countertop and the cabinets, but it does require additional cleaning of highly noticeable fingerprints and food markings. 

Outside of stainless steel, marine-grade polymer and timber are popular for outdoor kitchen cabinetry. You will however need to apply a suitable protection coat on the timber to ensure it guards against mould. 

And for the ground, natural stone is another good choice. It is easy to maintain and is capable of carrying heavy foot traffic without issues. 

While most of us think of barbeques for outdoor entertaining, who can pass up the smokey aroma and flavours of wood-fired pizzas? Fast-cooking wood-fired pizza ovens are a great addition to an outdoor kitchen set up, either portable or incorporated into your outdoor kitchen design. A popular way to achieve this is to add one on as an extension to the bench using either concrete or stone as the base for the oven to sit on. 

A key design inclusion you need to remember when building a pizza oven is a space to store the wood – most choose to keep it directly beneath the oven for easy-access (but in bushfire prone areas it’s not a good idea to have timber stored too closely to a home). 
Photo: new Caesarstone Outdoor Collection featuring Palm Shade

Stainless steel is a durable and sturdy option, for both the countertop and the cabinets, while marine-grade polymer and timber are popular for outdoor kitchen cabinetry.

Your micro-environment

Outdoor kitchens will likely be subject to all kinds of Australian weather, including high winds, heavy rains, extreme heat and possibly even ice and snowstorms, so it’s important to choose materials that are tough enough to withstand the elements while remaining low maintenance for easy cleaning. 

Stainless steel is a particularly great option for tapware. It is highly durable and weather resistant while maintaining a sleek, contemporary look. If you can, choose appliances and fixtures made from marine grade 316 stainless steel, such as Phoenix Tapware’s new Vivid Slimline SS collection. An evolution of the popular and timeless Vivid Slimline range, Vivid Slimline SS is particularly suited to outdoor kitchens and coastal residential areas. This is due to the superior corrosion resistance of 316 stainless steel, which provides a longer life span and increased usage where harsh elements are present. 

When it comes to rain, exterior drainage must allow for peak rain events, which are typically found in 20- or 100-year events. For example, a 100ARI (one per cent chance) event is the peak rainfall in mm/hour for a duration of five minutes, which would statistically happen once every 100 years, but can occur far more frequently (even several days in a row). Stormtech’s drain is tested to these standards, and even with its narrow linear design is able to handle a greater intake of water than traditional drains.

Round off your outdoor kitchen design and improve the comfort of a micro-environment with some help from outdoor heating and firepits, or fans for the warmer months.

This article was compiled with contributions from Phoenix Tapware and Stormtech

Beaming benchtops

Caesarstone has launched its new Outdoor Collection of quartz surface benchtops with UV protection for outdoor bars and alfresco kitchens.

The acrylic-based resin offers protection against long-term exposure to the sun and seasonal weather changes to maintain the pigment in the colours – Midday, Palm Shade and Clearskies – and the durability of the surface.

The collection is available in 20mm thick standard size slabs (3050mm x 1440mm).

Cast iron cooking

American cast iron cookware specialist FINEX – available at David Jones – presents its premium range of pans, skillets, and dutch ovens to Australian audiences. The octagonal cookware range is made for use in a variety of environments, with added stainless steel ‘Speed Cool’ handles and a non-stick surface.