Outdoor Kitchens: The Home Essential Serving Up Food for Thought

Originally posted by christie's international - luxury defined

Viewers of last year’s Netflix documentary on former British soccer player David Beckham may have a lasting memory of his safari-tent-style outdoor kitchen. Dreamed up by Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels filmmaker Guy Ritchie, the WildKitchen was launched at London’s Chelsea Flower Show in 2021.

Ritchie’s canvas and hardwood tented kitchen celebrates year-round cooking in the great outdoors with family and friends—if a storm whips up, the fully-retractable roof can drop down quickly to keep everyone protected from the elements.

Beckham is not alone in loving cooking outside. Outdoor kitchens are fast becoming big business, in part spurred on by the pandemic when people were stuck at home, but also by the value an outdoor kitchen brings to a property in terms of an adding another ‘room’ to its footprint.

A floating platform in a lake backed by a hill covered in trees holds a pitched-roofed wooden structure with open sides and rolled up canvas that can be dropped down to create walls. It houses an outdoor kitchen, where a man is cooking.
WildKitchen, created by movie director Guy Ritchie, houses a barbecue grill, a charcoal and wood fired oven, a dining table, a cast-iron cooking plate, a countertop, a WildHalo overhead storage system and knife set, a log store, and furniture.

The design world’s love for marrying indoors and out isn’t new, but investing in a serious outdoor kitchen with all the mod cons, bespoke furniture, and customized grills is a relatively recent phenomenon. The National Kitchen & Bath Association in the U.S. concluded in its first-ever Luxury Outdoor Kitchen Report last year that outdoor kitchens were not only increasingly prevalent on every homeowner’s wish list, but the desire for one was also being driven by the trend for wellness as it gives people the opportunity to connect with nature through their outdoor spaces.

“There’s something incredibly satisfying about incorporating the outdoors into our daily tasks,” says Houston-based interior designer Marie Flanigan. “We approach these spaces as we would any interior room, starting with an understanding of how the space needs to function, and then working on the layout before choosing hard finishes like surface slabs, flooring, backsplashes, and cabinetry that will withstand the location’s climate—paramount to lasting functionality.”

Caroline Burvill of British outdoor kitchen and furniture specialists Gaze Burvill agrees. “We are big believers in encouraging our customers to spend more time outside,” she says. “Outside is the natural place for us to be.”

Burvill cites Sue Stuart-Smith’s book The Well Gardened Mind as inspiration. “It made me realize how important it is for our physiology, for our physical well-being as well as mental well-being, to be immersed in the garden. People love to cook outside because there’s something uniquely joyous about hearing the birds sing while breakfast is cooking in the early light.”

A wooden outdoor kitchen and an island with bar seating on a terrace next to a pool in the formal garden of a stately home.
Clive Christian Furniture’s Garden Kitchen was originally created for a regular client at a grand mansion in Surrey, England, and was inspired by the process of luxury yacht-making.

People are using their outdoor kitchens all year round, so the quality of craftsmanship and materials is key. “The French oak we use, usually reserved for making wine barrels, is completely different to the woods you’d use for an indoor kitchen because of the way it deals with moisture and exposure to sun, wind, and rain,” Burvill says.

Michael Sloan, founder and CEO of the South Carolina-based John Michael Kitchens, sees their work as “disrupting the business of the luxury cooking space.” His team are so good at what they do—using rust-proof, marine-grade 316L stainless steel, with immaculate powder-coated finishes and handcrafted construction—that Marcus Wainwright of fashion label Rag & Bone challenged them to recreate the look and feel of their outside designs for his indoor kitchen.

There is something uniquely joyous about hearing the birds sing while breakfast is cooking—Caroline Burvill

Sloan, previously involved in building custom homes, started designing and making outdoor kitchens a decade ago. “We wanted to make the outdoor kitchen an extension of the indoor kitchen and living space.” Yet it doesn’t have to be elaborate, says Sloan. While they build a lot of very big outdoor kitchens—“when you’re selling at our price point, it has to last forever, so there is no cutting corners on style or quality because we see it as building the Rolls-Royce of outdoor kitchens”—he also doesn’t believe that an outdoor kitchen requires a whole lot of stuff. “Like, how many spatulas do you possibly need?” he laughs.

In the planning process, Flanigan suggests “thinking about what appliances will be needed to help alleviate trips back and forth to the indoor kitchen: for example, a grill, skillet, ice maker, a fridge or freezer.” Burvill suggests incorporating plenty of worktop space for food prep and maybe a breakfast bar—“we make beautiful stools that go with it”—as a place where guests can perch with a glass of wine. Appliances must be outdoor rated.

A sleek, white outdoor kitchen with vases of flowers and potted plants on the work surfaces.
Sleek style and practical durability are key to outdoor kitchen designs by Marie Flanigan, a designer based in Houston, Texas. Image: Julie Soefer

Clive Christian Furniture’s recently launched Garden Kitchen started as a private commission for a loyal client and became a passion project for head of design, Oliver Deadman. He was influenced by the beauty and practicality of superyacht design, choosing to work with a ‘pinstriped deck’ effect of inlaid ebonised iroko, specialist-grade stainless steel that won’t tarnish, and handles made from the same rope cleats used in luxury yacht manufacturing.

“While our modular design can be moved easily, it was designed to be used through the seasons, so we really delved into researching and developing the materials that would cope with all sorts of extremes, because we don’t only work in the U.K. market but around the world,” says CEO Phil Cole.

Technological advancements in materials have also allowed for greater flexibility and durability. Gaze Burvill favours Dekton, a new ultra-compact surface by Cosentino that “once in place doesn’t fade with UV—it’s bulletproof almost,” Burvill says.

And where natural stone such as marble is highly susceptible to staining, Caesarstone’s head of design Mor Krisher says “non-porous, durable, scratch, stain, mold, and mildew-resistant surfaces like Caesarstone’s composites withstand harsh sunlight and variable temperatures.”

“Everybody is slowly discovering what the ski resorts have known forever,” continues Burvill. “Put some sheepskin covers and a couple of blankets on your outdoor chairs and you can sit outside all year round, chatting, eating, and drinking cocktails. As they say, it’s not the wrong weather, it’s just having the right clothes.”

Inspired to get outside and get cooking? There are thousands of great homes waiting to be discovered, and read more from the Spring/Summer 2024 issue of Christie’s International Real Estate magazine here.

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