Whether it’s as simple as a barbecue niche or a highly designed space with a built-in refrigerator, smoker, and pizza oven, outdoor kitchens have become a natural extension of the house — and of today’s foodie culture. In a recent survey by the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), landscape architects ranked outdoor kitchens in the top five most popular design elements among clients. And with its stable shelf life, portability, and availability in any location, propane can help your new-home and remodeling customers achieve their outdoor cooking dreams.
Outdoor kitchens are utterly practical because any food messes can be easily hosed down, heat and cooking smells disperse quickly, and people can move around freely while dinner is being prepared. Those are several reasons why they’re popular even in northern regions with relatively short summers. A recent case in point is this stylish kitchen by MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects that sits under a lake house on Mirror Point in Nova Scotia, Canada. The local firm designed it for a United Kingdom–based family that summers in Halifax, where the wife grew up.
“The idea of the kitchen was really about the wife’s family, who live nearby,” says project architect Shane Andrews. “Her father was a scallops fisherman, and the house’s form derived from the idea of an extruded fish shack, lifted up and set on the hill. He has limited mobility, and they have two young kids, so this was about him being able to be down at the ground level for the day and have a shady place to spend time with the grandkids, rather than having to go up and down stairs for meals.”
The long, narrow, white-cedar-shingled house sits broadside to the lake, one end on a hill and the other supported by columns. A wood deck under the house incorporates a kitchen and dining area sunk 3 feet into the ground so that the counter height is at deck height, allowing the owners to see the lake when they’re skewering kabobs or seated on the U-shaped bench around the dining table.
“The cooking and prep area faces the lake, like you’d expect a kitchen to face the view,” Andrews says. “The house sits 7 feet above the deck surface, so it’s a sort of compressed space under there, which has the effect of pushing your view out and reinforces the horizontal panorama.” A sink and propane grill are built into the stainless steel countertop, and cabinetry hides the propane tank, a bar refrigerator, and kitchen supplies.
Andrews says that many of the firm’s projects are in remote areas of the province and use propane because it’s easily portable and versatile enough to use in areas where natural gas is unavailable. The firm just completed another house and outdoor kitchen on an ocean lot. Its concrete countertop houses a wood-fired pizza oven and a grill fed by underground propane because propane is also used for the house. Nearby are raised planters for herbs and vegetables, “the idea being that you could harvest and grill or roast veggies in the pizza oven,” he says.
When planning an outdoor kitchen, Andrews advises builders to consider its proximity to the house. Unlike the oceanside kitchen, which is adjacent to the indoor kitchen, the Mirror Point project had to be self-sufficient, which meant including a refrigerator so the owners aren’t running up and down the stairs for drinks and food that must be kept cold. “The idea at Mirror Point is that you could go outside in the morning and not go back inside until the evening if you didn’t want to,” Andrews says. “The other one is situated to be used with the house.”
Regardless of their placement and size — or climate — outdoor kitchens are poised to keep pace with the good-looking grills and fit-outs coming to market, and propane is an opportunity that customers in any location can tap.
Photography: James Brittain.