Northwest Renovation Magazine

A Home Improvement Magazine

Oregon’s brief but brilliant summer months demand to be celebrated with frequent backyard dining adventures. The trouble is, there’s never a great place to prep the meat for the grill. And where do you put the grilled corn while you are waiting for the sausages to finish? A chef with a sunburn is never attractive. And wouldn’t it be nice to have a sink to wash up as you go? Sounds like it’s time to upgrade to a full outdoor kitchen.

A built-in bar and metal stools add seating options without adding to the footprint of the space.

Stainless steel counters flank the client’s own Weber Genesis gas grill. Note the integrated vent hood (from Zephyr Essentials) to handle airflow and exhaust. This client elected to install permanent integrated can lighting fixtures for a polished look.

Choose your outdoor dining location with the sun, rain, and wind in mind. This east-facing pavilion provides ample shade and the gently sloped roof keeps the area dry and comfortable.

For this Arciform client, we created a movable wood and steel island to provide a flexible prep and seating space. Decorative tile from Clayhaus Tile adds a splash of waterproof color and texture to the space.

This cedar hot tub enclosure features spiral stair steps and integrated covered dressing area with towel hooks and wood decking for maximum comfort for bare feet. The exterior path includes natural stone pavers embedded in pea gravel, directing guests around the side of the house.

Sound intimidating? Here are 10 simple steps to create a beautiful and functional backyard kitchen. Get oriented. Choose your site to work with the elements. Consider:

  1. What direction does the wind blow? Typically, Portland area winds come from the south and southwest, so screening elements at the southern end of your space will keep your napkins and work utensils from blowing away in a sudden summer breeze. Where is the sun? East-facing spaces will be cooler in the evening. If your backyard faces west, add curtains to screen the late afternoon sun.
  2. Integrate your natural wonders. Carefully consider existing trees and shrubs to ensure you are making the most of their beauty and shade, without causing future maintenance headaches from expanding root structures or falling fruit. That cherry tree creates a beautiful show of color in the spring, but will it stain your decking when the leftover cherries come down in the fall?
  3. Manage your rainwater. It’s safest to assume that every surface in your outdoor kitchen will get soaked at some point. Minimize the damage by selecting waterproof surfaces and creating gentle slopes on all horizontal elements to encourage water to drain away from your public spaces and foundation. Great waterproof surfaces to consider include concrete, yellow cedar, stainless steel, stone, and quartz, or copper for a naturally antiqued look.
  4. Create a utilities plan. Utilities can be connected to your home’s main supply and waste lines to provide complete electric, gas, and water hookups, but this can get expensive. Another approach might be to use a tank-based propane grill or cooking appliance and to connect your sink to an existing outdoor hot and cold water spigot. Buried pipe connections can route your waste water to an appropriate exterior garden feature or rainwater catch system. Be sure to use phosphate-free dish soap to protect your plants.
  5. Light the night. You don’t need to invest in a permanently wired exterior lighting fixture to have a festively lit outdoor kitchen. Strings of inexpensive exterior chain lights with colorful shades can add charm and task lighting. Balance your lighting plan with candles, oil lamps, and fire pits to keep things warm as the night settles in.
  6. Create airflow. Don’t let your 4th of July feast end in smoky disaster. Be sure your structure’s roof includes appropriate venting for your cooking surface. Prevent mold and mildew on your permanent structures by encouraging airflow around and through the space.
  7. Consider seating and storage. Where will you store your furniture and cooking utensils when not in use? Integrated storage benches can shelter your soft goods while adding flexibility to your seating plan for larger groups. Add a broad ledge to a nearby raised bed to create additional seating that will give your guests an up-close look at your favorite blooms and veggies. A moveable island can be tucked under cover in inclement weather or stationed in the garden on sunny evenings to create an inviting satellite buffet station.
  8. Delight your senses. Rain chains create soothing sounds and aromatic herbs in nearby garden beds will whet your appetite for the dinner to come. For the ultimate treat for the senses, add a hot tub tucked halfway under an overhang (to enjoy during inclement weather). Leave the other half open to the stars for those rare clear summer nights.
  9. Pamper your feet. What flooring surface will you provide that will drain well but be gentle on new summer feet? Pea gravel and natural flagstones can be an inexpensive option, but keep in mind that their uneven surfaces can trip guests at the end of a long evening. One practical but beautiful surface? Exposed aggregate concrete with a dark stain.
  10. Frame the view. Finally, what will your outdoor chef have to look at while whipping up that grilled salmon and asparagus? Add keyhole windows to frame secret garden views that can be enjoyed by chef and guests alike. Utilize perforated screens and semi-transparent materials to create interesting perspectives of your favorite garden features while keeping the wind and rain at bay.

An outdoor kitchen can transform enjoyment of your home during the warmer seasons, expanding your living space and creating an inviting and convenient space for outdoor entertaining.

Trisha Mead is the Marketing Director for Arciform, a design-build firm specializing in restoring homes ranging from Victorian to Mid-Century Modern. She is a connoisseur of vivid verbs, small batch bourbons, and setting fire to things in deserts. Contact Mead at or call 503-493-7344.

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