Heather Wood, Freelance Writer: articles about interior decorating & redesign, home staging & enhancement, & more
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Beyond the Grill

Outdoor Kitchens Make Backyard Entertainment Elegant

By Heather Wood
published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
Food & Wine section
Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Most of us at one time or another have cooked outside, and many of us have fond memories of the process.

Maybe it was a simple weenie-roast when you were a Boy Scout. Or perhaps you attempted a more difficult "campfire gourmet" meal on a camping trip. And more than likely, you've at one time or another enjoyed a simple picnic on a mountainside, where the sweeping vistas and fresh air seemed to enhance your palate. Somehow, in the out of doors, food just tastes better.

While humanity has striven to create comfort through shelter, we remain so intrigued by cooking and eating in the elements that one of the hottest trends in home improvement and interior design is the outdoor kitchen. If you're not convinced that cooking in the elements makes much sense, read on for what four Santa Fe-based industry leaders in design and architecture have to say.

Explained Barbara Templeman, a veteran designer and owner of Santa Fe-based Templeman Interior Design and Inside OUT, "People are just enjoying staying home to entertain and enjoy their beautiful exterior living environments."

Perhaps it's the "new economy," or perhaps it's the realization that things just taste better when you're not encumbered by walls and forced air. Whatever the reason, it's good enough for Templeman and local food celebrity and cookbook author Cheryl Jamison to create a design business focused specifically on outdoor kitchen and dining design. Inside OUT is a natural collaboration for these two friends, who share a love of great food, relaxed yet elegant dining, beautiful natural and man-made surroundings and intelligent, attractive design.

Jamison has authored four cookbooks with husband Bill Jamison, two of them James Beard award-winners. She has been cooking outdoors for more than 20 years, and has seen a marked increase in what's available for the homeowner.

Colleague Templeman said, "With the products now available on the market, people can create full-blown kitchens that include cooking surfaces, refrigerators, grills, sinks, beverage fountains, etc., all for the outdoors." She pointed out that the trend is so strong, that local stone retailer, Stone Forest, is introducing "some fabulous" stone sinks for outdoor kitchens.

If you think you require a six-figure income for an outdoor kitchen, think again. Jamison said that while finances always are the underlying consideration, "anyone can have a lovely outdoor kitchen on any budget. It's a matter of prioritizing."

Jeanné Sei, owner of Kitchens by Jeanné, a Santa Fe design firm where Sei has been designing indoor and outdoor kitchens for almost 30 years, suggested that clients keep budget in mind, as well as our unique climate, when conceptualizing their outdoor kitchen.

"Moving electric and providing plumbing to areas can be costly. Our Southwest sun and snow need to be taken into account," she said. "Uncovered, wood cabinets do not make much sense, but cabinets made for outdoor use, as well as natural stones for countertops are the best materials." The key, as in any successful project, is in the planning.

Local architect Eric Enfeld, owner of Architectural Alliance, said that working with licensed, experienced designers, architects and contractors can make all the difference in how a project unfolds. As Enfeld explained, it's the professional's responsibility to make sure that "the client's specific needs and desires are met and are satisfied with the final design of the outdoor kitchen."

Enfeld's firm, which has been in business for 17 years, has worked with area clients on outdoor living areas for some time. The considerations for designing an outdoor kitchen are just as significant as if you were considering an interior update to your home.

"Do you have a permanent address? If not, your big investments might be in furnishings that can move along with you rather than a built-in grill. How close is the outdoor kitchen to the indoor kitchen? If it's very nearby (like my personal one) you can choose to do without an outdoor sink or fridge," Jamison said. "If you want them but are on a budget, perhaps you install a sink that drains into a bucket rather than have it fully plumbed, and your refrigerator can be a stainless-steel enclosed cooler that is filled with ice when you need it rather than an appliance that can withstand temperatures of up to 120 and down to below zero."

Designing for the outdoors takes extra consideration. There are natural elements that when used for floors and counters "soak up grease like a sponge," Jamison said. And Sei reminds us that "the position of the new space to the sun is of utmost concern in placement of the outdoor kitchen. Will it be covered with a portal or pergola? Shading, wind direction and natural flow with the landscape elements can make or break the space." Enfeld points out that while there is an "historic urge to gather round a fire and cook with friends and families," it also is necessary to protect the cook in the face of bad weather. On top of that, no one wants smoke pouring into the home from an ill-placed grill, fire pit or range.

While there is no shortage of inspiration to draw from online, in print, and on television, you may want to take a look at The New Outdoor Kitchen, by Deborah Krasner (Tauton Press), which features shots of Jamison's very own Tesuque Valley home. You may also want to pick up a copy of Shelter magazine, or attend a local "exterior design" workshop, which Templeman and Jamison conduct regularly.

"Inspiration comes from observing nature, from visiting design markets nationally to see what new products and materials are being introduced or used in different ways," Templeman said. "There is so much beautiful product available. We have moved way beyond metal-and-mesh folding chairs and stand-alone charcoal grills."

Heather Wood is a freelance writer who loves great food, the beautiful environs of Northern New Mexico, and grilling. She can be reached through her website at www.HeatherWoodFreelance.com.

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