Ask an Expert: How to Connect Your Kitchen to the Outdoors

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Photo by Mathew Millman; design by Garcia Studio Architects, Inc.; contracting by S&Z Construction.

As the weather warms up and a long, California summer sets in, outdoor meals become quite appealing. Some fans of the form go all the way and create a fully separate, outdoor kitchen. Kitchen remodels tend to be big jobs, however, so most people prefer to just do one, indoors. But that doesn’t mean one has to ignore the al fresco. Take a look at our kitchen makeover challenge, for example, where one family made a breakfast nook with a 90-degree sliding door, opening two adjoining walls to the outside.

In our latest “Ask an Expert” installment, we look at ways to incorporate the out-of-doors in a standard kitchen remodel, with help from Ron Key, of Keycon, inc. The bottom line, Key explains, is to think of the kitchen and outdoor dining space holistically. Subtle design elements can tie the indoors and outdoors together, making the patio or yard feel like a kitchen extension.

“Usually the kitchen is connected to the outside with a sliding door, but it’s not fully integrated,” Key explains. “They don’t use materials to make it flow to the outside. So one of the ways you do that is to put slate tile on the floor of the house, and continue that outside, so they feel more connected.”

Even if the indoor and outdoor use two different flooring materials, thinking of how they interact can help create a complimentary look, especially if you can make the outdoor flooring flush with the indoors, for example with a wood deck or poured concrete patio. “If you have wood floors inside you can do a wood deck outside, or a natural stone or tile. Or concrete with a contemporary look, rectangular and clean with a broom finish,” Key says.

Another way to create a feeling of integration is with a so-called waterfall countertop, in which the countertop material “pours” down the side of the cabinet that’s visible through the slider from the outside. “When you’re standing outside, you’re looking at this waterfall countertop and it gives the feeling that the kitchen is outside,” Key says.

When conceiving the indoor cabinetry scheme, Key says, one should consider how the material will look in relation to outdoor furniture or cabinets, to be bought separately. “There is a lot of off-the-shelf stuff that’s available: Furniture, sideboards, tables, stuff that’s designed to be outside. And any time you can buy something off the shelf it’s a heck of a lot more economical than getting it custom built.”

Key gave the example of a Keycon kitchen remodel that used bamboo for the cabinets but mahogany for the island, creating an indoor element that would match mahogany outdoor furniture. As for the actual outdoor cooking, it’s possible to find a grill setup that will work with just about any budget and setup. “You can buy these for a hundred bucks, up to two or three thousand, which is a lot of money, but it’s a lot less than a fully separate kitchen,” Key said.