Take it Outside

Memphis in the summertime: the mercury rising toward 100 degrees, humidity close to 100 percent, and -- as an added treat -- swarms of gnats and mosquitoes. Yes, a perfect time to stand over a hot stove, cooking for friends and family.

And yet, that is precisely what more and more people are doing these days, not just here but across the country, thanks to a growing trend in summer -- or outdoor -- kitchens.

"I've definitely seen an increase in summer kitchens," says Karen Kassen, a certified kitchen designer with Kitchens Unlimited. "All the custom homes that I work on, certainly those in the high-end price range, have outdoor kitchens. It's gotten to the point where the home owner expects it."

The centerpiece of an outdoor kitchen is the grill, which allows the homeowner to prepare foods that they might not want to cook in the house. "I think that's one of the reasons the outdoor kitchen has evolved," says Kassen. "People who enjoy grilling now have a place they can do it and not have the smell and the mess they would have inside."

The huge grills -- either gas or electric -- usually come with an equally large ventilation system. "If the grill is under a covered area, such as under a porch, you have to plan for ventilation," says Kassen. "You can't just stick a grill outside and expect to enjoy that area. There would be too much smoke."

After the grill, homeowners typically add side burners so they can prepare other foods while the main course is cooking, along with an under-counter refrigerator, sink, and storage cabinets. "For storage, you just want the basics," says Kassen. "You don't need a lot. People aren't looking at outdoor kitchens as storage areas, they are mainly concentrating on function."

A convenient feature is a warming drawer. "This is nice if you have someone who likes their steaks medium and another likes his well-done," says Kassen. "It won't continue to cook but holds it at the proper temperature."

After that, the sky is the limit. Kassen has clients who have installed beer taps, dishwashers, outdoor ovens for baking, ice-making machines, and more. "You can take it as far as you want." Even though Kassen says that the Viking company "has really taken it to the next level," nearly every kitchen company has developed outdoor grills. "So I can coordinate the pieces, to match what they have on the inside."

Prices begin around $5,000 for a grill and can reach as high as $20,000 and more for a fully equipped kitchen.

Debbie and Noel Florendo added a summer kitchen to their Germantown home last year. They originally planned for it to be in a separate building next to their swimming pool, but Germantown building codes required that it be connected to the house. A covered breezeway now links the outdoor kitchen to their home. "I'm actually glad they made us do that," says Debbie.

The Florendos' kitchen features a large Viking gas grill, with a pair of side burners, a warming drawer, and stainless-steel cabinets. "The cooktop has twin burners," she points out, "so you can really get a whole lot going at once."

All these pieces are recessed into a stacked stone enclosure, with large archways providing access to the pool and gardens. An especially distinctive element is the countertop, which is poured concrete, stained to resemble copper.

As president of the LeBonheur Club, Debbie and her husband, a clinical pathologist, do a lot of entertaining at home. "Of course, by July or August, I want to get back inside," she laughs, "but when it's nice outside it's so much fun when we have friends over. It's just a great way to socialize."

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