As the pandemic continues, people spending more time at home are looking for additional living space, and that includes the backyard. Not only is it often a blank canvas, the outdoors is ideal for social-distance entertaining. Now is a good time to guide new-home buyers toward outdoor living upgrades such as kitchens, which, if done right, can retain their investment value and help a house sell faster. That’s especially true for built-in propane grills and pizza ovens that can make outdoor cooking a convenient, everyday hobby. And as a remodel, adding an outdoor kitchen avoids the stress and time commitment of an interior renovation.

Professionals might take notes from builders in places like California, where outdoor living has long been a way of life. Joan Barton, president of Dirty Girl Construction in Los Angeles, says that 80 percent of her custom homes, which range in price from $1 million to $3 million, include a built-in outdoor cooking area. In an industry where the budget typically focuses on the interior first and landscape second, leaving outdoor amenities as an afterthought, it’s important to have this conversation upfront.

Michael Sloan, founder and CEO of John Michael Kitchens, works with building trades to install outdoor kitchen appliances on the front end, when it’s much faster and easier to run lines for propane or gas.

“The outdoor kitchen is part of the initial discussion so the flow of the house is set up properly, but we design it later,” Barton says. “Outside spaces fall under separate permitting, so we get the interiors rolling and then deal with the outside. The landscape comes after the kitchen.”

At minimum, her setups include a sink, grill, prep area, storage drawers, and trash bin. She also recommends leaving under-counter space for components that roll out as mobile serving stations.

Barton often works with spec builders and clients who are focused on resale value. “If you want something that’s going to last, you have to budget for it,” she says. “The more you put in, the more you get out when you sell the house, but you have to understand what you need to put in — not custom tile but a built-in Kalamazoo kitchen versus something from Home Depot. It’s a selling point because the products have a 25-year warranty. It becomes a fixture of the home and increases its value.”

From luxury to entry-level

Russ Faulk, chief designer and head of products at Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet, agrees that for builders, the challenge is going beyond checking a box. The company’s most popular items include a medium-sized hybrid gas/wood/charcoal grill, two-drawer under-counter refrigerator (one drawer for raw meat, another for produce), and a few storage cabinets that include a sink and waste and recycling bins. “All those together add up to about 10–12 linear feet,” he says. “A big outdoor kitchen for us will include bar seating.” Prices reflect the engineering and material quality — either 304 or marine-grade stainless steel. “A small kitchen has about $35,000 worth of equipment, while a more refined galley kitchen with a bar and icemakers can go well beyond $100,000,” he says.

Popular items from luxury manufacturer Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet include a hybrid gas/wood/charcoal grill and under-counter refrigerators.

While outdoor kitchens favor the luxury market, former homebuilder Michael Sloan, founder and CEO of John Michael Kitchens in Chester, South Carolina, says that many premium appliance manufacturers sell a quality economy line, just as they do with indoor kitchens, for people who want a pro look but don’t need the bells and whistles. With a large showroom in San Francisco, he has sold outdoor kitchens all over the United States for homes ranging from $450,000 to $65 million.

Regardless of price point, the company works with the building trades on the front end, when it’s much faster and easier to run lines for propane or gas. “Even if they don’t have an exact plan, they can stub out the right number of gas lines if the customer wants a pizza oven, fireplace, and other things that require a large amount of fuel,” he says.

Helping buyers think through outdoor kitchen options is no different from the interior considerations. “They can spend their money a lot of different ways on a home, and it’s about understanding how much are they getting back in livability and pleasure,” Sloan says. “One thing everyone is cognizant of now is personal space. As manufacturers keep bringing out new things and people invest in their homes, I think outdoor kitchens have a long way to grow.”

Top photo courtesy John Michael Kitchens.

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Cheryl Weber