Outdoor kitchen

Whilst chatting with our best friends in St Louis a few weeks ago, they mentioned reorganizing their kitchen ahead of the arrival of their baby. They planned to store some of their seasonal kitchen items in totes in their basement, like their grilling gear. And, not kidding, my brain short circuited for a full second as I processed the concept of not being able to cook outside ALL of the time. Creating a space for outdoor cookery has been high on our list of improvements for this house. When the pandemic sent us into lockdown last spring, finishing the outdoor kitchen sprung to the top of Aaron’s list.

Let’s dive in with a throwback “before” photo… which is actually a photo of Hank, but because I’m so off my blogging game that this is legitimately the best “before” shot of the area that would become the kitchen.

He’s a handsome boy 🙂

When Aaron laid the deck for the outdoor dining room, he also built the platform and deck for the kitchen. And, yes, this is another picture of Hank, which happens to be a decent “before” shot.

This is essentially our view when we walk from the living room out to the backyard. For those playing along, you might remember that we reconfigured the backside of the house with this in mind during the interior reno.

Let’s get into the details. We knew we needed space for the smoker and grill, storage for our new commercial style vacuum sealer, and lots of countertop. My general opinion is that you can’t have too much countertop in a kitchen. Plus we’ve taken to occasionally frying things and there’s no better place to do that than outside. Ditto for cooking up stir fry dishes in a wok.

We mapped out a few possible configurations, but kept getting tripped up on the size of the smoker. It’s a Yoder that we planned to remove from its attached cart. Ultimately, after lots of research by Aaron, we opted to sell the Yoder and invest in a Memphis Elite pellet smoker and wood-fired grill with a much smaller footprint. And after much deliberation, Aaron nixed his charcoal grill in favor of a small, built-in gas unit. That gave us ample room for a fry station when needed and even space for a small sink.

Construction started with the base cabinets and setting the Toja grid for the overhang. We opted for a smaller version than we used on the outdoor dining room, which was much easier to maneuver.

An aside about cabinet building. I am constantly amazed at Aaron’s abilities. At one point in the last few years, I walked into the garage and he had built a cabinet – seemingly out of thin air. If I had to build a cabinet it would assuredly end in tears and at least one, (hopefully) non-fatal injury. I’m blown away that he can design and build things. It’s like this amazing super power that I get to witness. I digress…

With the structure in place, he was ready to start tiling the counter. We opted for absolute black granite, the same material we used in the indoor kitchen, except in large scale tiles.

The large opening will house the smoker, leaving ample counter space to the left.

On the right side of the kitchen, there’s space for a small sink and the small gas grill. The cabinet on the far right will house the vacuum sealer on a slide out shelf for easy access.

The back and top are lined with strips of ipe, the same material as the deck, which adds some nice natural texture above the black stone.

After that I seem to remember basically walking outside one day to a finished kitchen… and my photo album seems to support that memory. But I know Aaron spent some time installing the smoker and grill AND a fair bit of time creating the front cabinet panels. The slats were meticulously designed to ensure a completely seamless look. Four doors are hidden within, offering access to the cabinets and clipping in place with magnets. So I’m sure there were hours of cutting, nailing, and painting… but we’ll just pretend his super powers let him snap his fingers and arrive at this.

Amongst the kitchen build, we finally decided on a planter arrangement to fill the gap between the kitchen and dining area. We opted for Mexican river rock as a base, which ties into other planters in the backyard and is one of our favorite stone options. We topped these with pots we gathered from HomeGoods for an herb garden, but which worked better here. Then we added lavender and trailing rosemary, irrigation and some uplights. And, yes, you may notice that two of the lavender plants succumbed to lack of water between purchase and planting. We replaced them with greener versions, which adds some nice contrast against the silvery ones that survived. The shot below gives you a better  view of the dining room, planter and kitchen all together.

I love how the avocado tree encroaches a bit.

 

Ok. Are you ready for some before/after goodness?

That is one sexy kitchen… and (fair warning)… it might be sexier at night.

If you stop by and we don’t answer the door right away, it’s because we’re outside…

Can you blame us?

Dining outdoors is the best dining

Between the four seasons (sometimes in one day) and humidity, I like to joke that Missouri only has about 5 completely perfect days a year. While that’s a bit of an exaggeration, the SoCal weather, specifically in a nearly coastal town like Camarillo was a huge draw for us. We have our house open as much as possible and I never mind the extra dusting. It’s a fair trade off for enjoying the fresh air.

I tell you all of this because the exterior of a house, specifically an area for outdoor dining, was on our wish list during our home search. In fact, we were so enamored with the backyard on a home in Camarillo that we made an offer despite the fact that the house was only 1,400 square feet with a funky layout and much too small kitchen. That’s how hard we fell HAAARD for the backyard.  Thankfully, we didn’t get that house and instead inherited this:

 

Which wasn’t exactly a move-in ready dining area (we tore out the built-in, small, sun drenched exterior table pretty quickly after moving in, but it was potential, and you know how much we love potential! The view above is looking out from our living room. We removed this door and replaced it with French doors, anticipating that some day this space would be our prime outdoor entertainment area. This post will orient you to the outside door placement if you want a refresher.

You won’t see these raised beds in many previous posts because they got pretty gnarly after years of neglect.

So when we hired a crew to clean out our backyard planters, we had them rip these out as well, which gave us the blank slate we were looking for.

Over the months, the design for this space went through many iterations. We considered tiling the whole patio, but eventually settled on a raised deck with a pergola. The space was so long that it gave us a chance to add a built-in seating area, which would allow us to move our fire pit into this entertaining zone.

Construction kicked off with Aaron setting the footings and removing the brick light posts.

After that he framed the deck.

Here’s a look at the built-in benches getting roughed in. This will make a lot more sense a few pictures down.

Next he started adding the electrical and lights.

Before you ask, the deck in the back left of the photo is a kitchen. It is equally drool worthy and will get its own post. For now, let’s focus on lighting. We opted for lots of layers so we could provide the right glow for any occasion. Ambient uplighting comes from these really cool puck lights.

Next up was decking with our favorite outdoor wood: Ipe. We’ve been enamored with this wood since we used it on the garage and fence at the firehouse. It’s a great candidate for California because, among other attributes, it is termite resistant.

We opted for a clean look by covering the whole deck with full boards. You’ll see these lines carried through the rest of the deck when I get those photos up 🙂

Here’s a better shot of the benches. They’re a step down from the deck and sit flush with the yard. The hatch on the left allows for access to necessary electrical bits and will get covered by the cushions.

Then it was time to oil, which is the absolute best day when working with Ipe. Soooooo prettttty!

With the deck in place, Aaron turned his attention to the pergola, which was inspired by Costco. What? Inspiration is all around 😀

While browsing Costco one weekend (remember the days when you could leisurely shop?), we noticed they were selling a pergola kit. It was fairly reasonable and got Aaron thinking that it would be faster and potentially cheaper and easier to use a kit. The Costco option didn’t work due to the size and style, but Aaron turned to the interwebs and found Toja Grid, a modular, sleek pergola system. The hardware pieces allow you to connect 4×4 or 6×6 lumber in a variety of configurations. We opted for 6×6 to give the pergola enough visual weight for the space we planned to cover. The posts and beams got a coat of Sherwin Williams Woodscapes in Black Alder, which is becoming our go to exterior coating and color.

The pieces went together as expected, but we ran into a complete work stoppage when we realized that there was no way for us to safely raise the first set. The height, weight, angles, literally everything were working against us. Once again, the interwebs came to the rescue. Aaron was able to hire a few laborers to do the (literal) heavy lifting and get the pergola in place.

With the structure in place, we started adding in the decor:

  • Table – Design Within Reach 1966 Collection, bought from the local DWR outlet which can be a dangerous place to browse
  • Chairs – Wayfair
  • Pots (various, but lots from HomeGoods) and plants (my favorite is the New Zealand Christmas tree)
  • Lights – Costco
  • Sunshade

Much improved view from our bedroom below:

The fire pit seating got light gray cushions made from Sunbrella fabric.

The daytime photos are stunning, but the evening pictures may be better thanks to the lighting. It’s hard to choose which I like better… I imagine it’s like having children. You appreciate them for different reasons.

Now you can see the layers of lights. String lights keep the overhead lighting from being too heavy and a dimmer allows for brighter light during meals. The uplighting will run the whole perimeter of the deck (which will cover the entire patio – more photos soon!) Downlighting highlights that the dining room is raised and also washes the back of the fire pit seating.

Ok, I lied. I like the evening photos the best. Don’t tell the daytime photos I picked a favorite.

MUCH more to show you out here, including a magazine worthy outdoor kitchen that was Aaron’s first COVID project, which has allowed us to enjoy it all summer.

Garden: 2015

Aaron finished the planter between the firehouse and the garage last year in time to film our episode of House Hunters: Where Are They Now? But we didn’t have enough time left in the year to fill it up.

001ipe_planter

This spring we changed that with several bags of dirt and a bunch of starter plants. The steel fence gets pretty hot during the summer. We weren’t sure what would grow here so we opted to plant a variety and see what stuck. The short answer: everything!

001garden2015

The left side has a Roma tomato and three pepper plants (I can’t remember what is what, but I think the small one is a jalapeno plant and the others are red or green bell peppers.) There’s a beefsteak tomato plant in the middle, another pepper plant, basil, parsley, thyme and oregano.

002garden2015

Everything is growing well, except the beefsteak which looks like it may have caught something.

Also, I don’t have much produce yet thanks to the supremely wet and overcast summer we had up until last week. My tomatoes are finally starting to get some color… but Hank has decided that not quite ripe tomatoes are delicious or at least fun toys. Jerk.

003garden2015

I also filled the pots with a few more plants: (left to right) rosemary, cherry tomato, chives, two kinds of mint, basil and lavender. That basil was a backup in case the other one didn’t do well. My favorite summer cocktail is a basil lemon martini, but I’m beginning to think I need to find a good pesto recipe to use up some of that basil! The cherry tomato is only doing so so. I assume the pot isn’t big enough for him.

004garden2015

So that’s what we have growing this year. Seriously, who has a pesto recipe that is awesome? Bonus points if it doesn’t have pine nuts. Those things are so expensive.

New electric + ipe planter

This post didn’t come together well. First, we lost all of the pictures showing the building process, and now, I’ve rewritten the intro to this post so many times that I’ve finally given up.

Here’s what you need to know. We didn’t run electric from the firehouse to the carport (i.e. future garage) before we laid the concrete for the patio/parking pad. Doh! That left us looking for an aesthetically pleasing way to run the necessary conduit across the patio. Our solution: Hide the conduit under a gorgeous, custom ipe planter.

Viola! I love it! (SQUEE!)

001ipe_planter_cropped

First we had to remove an unnecessary fence post. (You can see it below in the middle of the fence.)

I should back up and explain that we hired a contractor to install the requisite posts for the fence. Given the sheer size of the yard and the brick laden soil, we felt it was well worth the money to farm out that piece of labor. Something got lost in translation and we ended up with this totally unnecessary and barely-bolted-to-the-ground post between our back door and the carport. We knew we would take it out eventually, and we didn’t even bother drilling into it when we installed the cor-ten. Instead, this piece of fence is attached to a post that is secured to the firehouse on one end and directly to the carport on the other.

023ipe_garage 002ipe_planter

Anyways, back to the post. A little brute force left us with a clear stretch of fence. The ghost mark from the post will eventually rust and be less noticeable.

Then Aaron installed plastic conduit from the junction box on the firehouse (where he ran electrical outside last year), over the back door, and then across the gap from the house to the garage. Here’s where I would love to insert all of the process pictures that were accidentally deleted.  Sad face.

What’s hiding under the ipe is a box made from treated lumber that sits on legs to raise it off the ground and level. Running beneath that is the conduit, which is attached to the bottom to offer some extra support.

003ipe_planter 004ipe_planter

The planter also has a small bump by the garage door to allow the door to open entirely.

005ipe_planter 006ipe_planter

A middle support beam offers extra stability.

007ipe_planter

I am totally smitten with this piece. It’s a gorgeous, custom piece that demonstrates my husband’s craftsmanship. He made this from scratch, drafting the plans, working with the slope of the patio, carefully layering on the ipe (the lines of the ipe match up to the ipe on the garage for goodness sake!) It’s not the first thing he’s constructed (or even the largest, see the viewing room) but it’s so beautiful. Honestly, I feel so lucky to have a man who can create a custom piece that would have cost thousands of dollars to have someone else conceive, design and build it. Geez! Sorry for the love fest… Long story short, I’m in love (with the planter and my husband.)

008ipe_planter 009ipe_planter

Obviously it will make a bigger impact when everything is in place, but I didn’t want to wait to tell you about it, especially because it will be apparent in some of the wider shots of the patio. Plus, we really needed to get this project done so  we could get rid of the extension cord that’s been powering our garage doors for… um… months. #renovationrealities

001ipe_planter_cropped

In the spring, we’ll line the inside with landscaping fabric and fill it with dirt to create a home for herbs and vegetable plants. This will give me lots of space to expand my existing, potted herb garden. Since this planter sits against the cor-ten, which gets quite warm in the summer, we’ll have to see which plants thrive in which area. We’re also considering trellising a column of ivy up the side of the firehouse. All of which will bring some life to this space and break up the brown tones.

I can’t be the only one with an inordinate amount of love for a seemingly random home project. What are you crushing on in your abode?

Getting a handle on the garage door

It’s interesting to discover what we can live with through the course of this renovation. Future living room in constant state of chaos? Check. Stairs that are prepped for paint for months on end? No big deal.

We can add “missing handle on the door to the detached garage” to the list. After we finished the ipe wrap on the garage, we added hardware to the door and then promptly got busy with life (and vacation.)

003garage_door_handle

It only presented a problem when it rained and the wood swelled ever so slightly. But with the impeding return of the House Hunters crew, the courtyard area got a lot of attention, including this minor update.

Perusing the interwebs offered a host of fairly ugly and fairly expensive door handles. So we turned to steel pipe, which is a go to material for us. The industrial aspect fits well with our style, and we’ve crafted everything from a floor-to-ceiling wall shelf (in our previous condo) to curtain rods out of metal pipe.

For each end of the handle, we screwed together a base, a nipple (this always makes me laugh, because apparently I’m 5), and a 90 degree angle.

001garage_door_handle

One of the great things about metal conduit is that you can get it cut it to any length. Home Depot will do this for free and even add in the requisite threads for screwing pieces together. For this application, we wanted to keep it cheap and easy so we opted for a standard size pipe in the middle.

002garage_door_handle

We auditioned two sizes to see what would work best. 004garage_door_handle

We liked the weight of the longer option, but we worried that it was so big that it would distract from the ipe, which we all know is the star of the show back here.005garage_door_handle

The short option felt way too small. 006garage_door_handle

So we tried positioning the long option over the hardware and it felt just right. The depth of the handle allows ample room to work the hardware. The straddle maneuver also ties the pieces together visually.

007garage_door_handle

After a quick cleaning with an orange degreaser, Aaron gave the winning handle a coat of black spray paint. 008garage_door_handle 009garage_door_handle

Now getting in and out of the garage through the human sized door is much easier. If only cleaning our downstairs living room (and keeping it that way) was as easy!