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.