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Renovation Solutions: Tips on designing an outdoor kitchen

Spring is finally here, just in time for Father's Day. We can almost hear the steaks sizzling!

In honor of the sun and national grilling day (i.e. Father's Day), we thought we would focus our column today on one of Dad's favorite remodeling features: the outdoor kitchen.

The outdoor kitchen takes the typical BBQ set up to the next level. It can include stovetop-style burners, griddles, roasting spits, sinks, refrigerators, storage space for dishes and cooking gear, low counters for prep work, bar-height counters for guests, stereo systems, TVs, and more. Outdoor kitchens range in cost from about $3,000 to, well, the sky's the limit.

Outdoor kitchens use the same functional zones as indoor kitchens: hot zones (grills, cooktops, pizza ovens, etc); cold zones (refrigerators, freezers and coolers); wet zones (sink, ice reservoirs, beverage tubs); and dry zones (prep areas, counters and cabinets or storage). Therefore, the design of the outdoor kitchen should use the same design principles as indoor kitchens.

In the planning process you should consider the workflow and relationship between these different zones. There should be enough space to work at each station and flow between the stations. We suggest the work aisle be a minimum of 48 inches wide for one cook and 54 inches wide for two cooks. The area for the cooks should not intersect major foot traffic lanes.

One of the most common mistakes made when designing an outdoor kitchen is not allowing enough counter space for the size of the kitchen.

If you have a small, basic outdoor kitchen, it usually includes a grill plus a cooktop, sink and storage, totaling about 10 linear feet. With a kitchen this size, there should be at least 36-inches of clear countertop space no less than 24-inches deep. If you add a refrigerator it changes the counter top needs. By adding an undercounter fridge, you should consider boosting the available counter space to at least 48 inches

The more storage and amenities you add, the more countertop footage you should add. A large outdoor kitchen with all the features, which is able to accommodate multiple cooks, should typically have around 20 linear feet of work zones.

The outdoor kitchen is not just about cooking; it is also about entertaining. Keep in mind guests will need a place to sit and eat. For normal use, you should allow at least 24 inches of space per seat. If you want a more accessible design, then you should allow 24-36 inches per seat.

Traffic flow around the seating is also important in a design.

Outdoor kitchen designers follow these basic guidelines regarding foot traffic around the seating areas: If there is no traffic at all behind the seats, allow 32 inches between the table, counter or bar and the nearest obstruction. For people to edge past behind the seats, allow 36 inches minimum. For people to walk past comfortably, allow a minimum of 48 inches.

If you have counter or bar seating, another common miscalculation is not allowing for proper knee space. For seating at a typical table height, provide a counter 30 inches high with 18 inches of knee space. Counter-level seating at 36 inches high should have 15 inches of knee space. A raised counter or bar-height seating of 42 inches high needs 12 inches of knee space. Accessible bar or counter seating should be 30-34 inches high with at least 19 inches of knee space.

When designing any outside living space, you should consider the flow between the inside and outside spaces.

No matter how well designed the outside space is, an awkward or uncomfortable entry will prevent the space from rising to its full potential.

The point of connection between indoor and outdoor functions should have a clear circulation path leading to it on the inside of the home. This will facilitate the movement of guests when you are entertaining and will strengthen the psychological connection between the two spaces.

We know it is a little late to pull off an outdoor kitchen remodel in time for Father's Day this year, but give the gift of architecture so you can begin to plan for next year when you will be cooking a fabulous dinner for dear old Dad in his new outdoor kitchen.

Architects Ann Robinson and Annie V. Schwemmer are the founders of Renovation Design Group, www.renovationdesigngroup.com, a local design firm specializing in home remodels.