Design Coach: Outdoor Kitchen

An outdoor kitchen saves one California couple from chronic headaches and—quite possibly—pulled hamstrings.


On a clear day, the panoramic view from the Sherman Oaks, California, home that Eddie Melendez and his partner Michael share is nothing short of dazzling. In fact, the view was one of the key selling points of the split-level hillside home where the couple has now lived for the past seven years; however, Eddie and Michael also saw great potential in many other areas, including the large, spacious backyard—perfect for frequent entertaining.


“There was a method to our madness,” says Eddie of the kitchen’s design. “We laid out the grill, primary sink and refrigerator in a compact but efficient triangle configuration. We also zoned out the areas: The main sink is on one side and the bar sink is on the other side so that food prep is on one side and beverages are on the other. The cleaning zone is at the end.”


But with a flight and a half of stairs between the backyard and the house, the couple soon discovered that outdoor entertaining wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. “We entertain frequently,” says Michael, an engineer. “The main reason that the kitchen came about was out of necessity. It was exhausting to have a dinner party. If someone needed salt, it meant another trip up and down the stairs.” To really embrace the benefits of outdoor entertaining (and possibly prevent muscle strains), Eddie and Michael decided to invest in a fully functional outdoor kitchen.


“We decided that if we were going to have an outdoor kitchen it had to be completely stocked,” says Eddie. “So we made sure that we would have everything we need—dishes, flatware, serving utensils, a dishwasher, refrigerator/freezer, beverage fridge, icemaker, convection microwave, grill and cooktop.”


“Now,” Michael adds, “all we have to do for any party is bring down the food once, and that’s it.”


The couple did the majority of the work on their own, and within a few months, they had transformed an aging terraced garden into an efficient outdoor kitchen with all of the amenities—including another vantage point from which to enjoy the view.


Novel Ideas!


1) Outdoor track lighting doubles as a canopy rail, allowing the homeowners to secure a protective awning during the summer months.


2) Plate tents from Crate & Barrel protect food from pesky bugs.

 outdoor kitchen

3) Eddie and Michael purchased inexpensive souvenir tiles during various European expeditions with the intention of incorporating them into the design. They affixed them in random locations along the countertop and backsplash for a personal touch.


During the planning stages, the homeowners took every detail into consideration, including areas for socializing. “When we’re in the kitchen and we have people here, we still want to be part of the party,” says Eddie. Although the countertop and overhang are not at eye level, the open design enables the hosts to visit with guests who can sit comfortably above and out of the way.


4) Trending Now:Outdoor Pizza Ovens


“Pizza ovens have almost become a must-have feature in outdoor kitchen design,” says outdoor kitchen expert Russ Faulk. Social cooking, such as pizza making, invites guests to be a part of the activities and makes outdoor gatherings more enjoyable, Russ notes.


Outdoor Kitchen DesignTips from a Pro


“Kitchens as a whole are one of the top trends of outdoor living,” says Russ Faulk, Vice President of Product Development and Marketing at Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet. According to Russ, this growing trend is due in large part to improved design, functionality and available equipment. “Homeowners and designers are looking beyond the grill and thinking of the space as a working kitchen. This means more countertop space and a focus on functional zones and workflow—even if they don’t go all out on equipment.” Russ’ other tips for creating a timeless, functional and aesthetically pleasing space include the following:


outdoor refrigerator freezer

This double-drawer outdoor refrigerator freezer allows the couple to preserve their food throughout the day and into the evening, reducing the need to return to the kitchen in the house—a trek that consists of climbing a flight and a half of stairs.


• Work your outdoor kitchen’s design around the aesthetic of your home. In other words, “don’t build a Tuscan-themed kitchen at a Cape Cod-style home,” he says. “You will also need to choose quality equipment and fixtures that will hold up as the years pass.”



Eddie and Michael stage the beverage area next to the easily accessible flush-mount bar sink at the end of the countertop, which is away from the cleaning and cooking zones.


• Don’t skimp on lighting. “Ensure there is adequate task lighting for after-dark cooking and ambient lighting for when cooking is finished.”


kitchen appliance

Using his engineering acumen, Michael adapted a freestanding grill to meet the specifications of a built-in model. His ingenuity and resourcefulness saved the couple more than $2,000—the price difference between a standalone and built-in.


• “Think about counter space in terms of landing zones,” Russ says. “The sink and grill need landing zones on each side for effortless entertaining. These landing zones are in addition to the counter space needed for prep and serving.”


The smooth terracotta-colored concrete countertop is weather-resistant, durable and nonporous. Every season, Eddie applies a coat of nontoxic, environmentally safe, food-friendly wax with a car buffer to keep it well conditioned. The undermount primary sink is next to the dishwasher for easy cleanup.


• “Create shelter from the rain and sun, and add outdoor heaters so that you can extend the entertaining season.”

• “Think about guest interactions when designing the outdoor kitchen and dining area. For example, make sure the design allows the cooks to be a part of the gathering—and don’t isolate the griller from the guests.”



Outdoor Equipment


Thinking about creating an outdoor kitchen? These handy resources can help with your planning.


outdoor equipment

Like a stunning work of art, the minimalist yet bold shape of this fire feature creates a gorgeous focal point and provides a warm, cozy ambience to any outdoor space. Chiminea Series Napa Fire Feature, contact for pricing. Raw Urth, (866) 932-7510 or


kitchen cabinet

This powerful outdoor stainless steel dishwasher offers a host of features to accommodate the demands that come from cooking and serving meals outdoors, including an adjustable-height dual-rack system, highly focused spray zones and advanced technology that ensures efficiency during wash cycles. Outdoor Dishwasher, $4,990. Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet, (800) 868-1699 or



An outdoor refrigerator is a necessity for those in want of a fully equipped outdoor kitchen. This 24-inch undercounter outdoor refrigerator is weather-resistant and features a 304 stainless steel interior and exterior, as well as an interior light. It’s available for built-in or freestanding installation. KitchenAid Outdoor Refrigerator (KORU06RSSS), $2,399. KitchenAid, (800) 422-1230 or


By Rebecca J. Razo

Photography by Mark Mendez

Styled by Jickie Torres






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