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Newport’s temperate climate is ideally suited for cooking and entertaining outdoors.

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Mark Scott of Mark Scott Associates says outdoor kitchen spaces add functional square footage that expand the size of a lot.

By Vicki Hogue-Davies

There’s just something about sitting in a wooden patio chair shaded by a wide umbrella as you savor bites of freshly prepared dishes at a backyard barbecue. And even better than dining alfresco is enjoying the mouthwatering smells of food straight off the grill or stove while you relax around a fire pit with friends.

Fire pits make it easy for home cooks to enjoy a break between whipping up meals.
Fire pits make it easy for home cooks to enjoy a break between whipping up meals.

Outdoor kitchens have come a long way since the Weber kettle-style grill first appeared on the backyard barbecue scene about 60 years ago. Today, serious chefs and people who simply love to entertain are enhancing the experience with top-of-the-line appliances, high-end cabinets, granite countertops, heating, televisions and other amenities.

Backyard kitchens can include everything from a separate area for cooking, dining and drinking to multifunctional pizza ovens and full-size grills for preparing large family meals.
Backyard kitchens can include everything from a separate area for cooking, dining and drinking to multifunctional pizza ovens and full-size grills for preparing large family meals.

There’s just something about sitting in a wooden patio chair shaded by a wide umbrella as you savor bites of freshly prepared dishes at a backyard barbecue. And even better than dining alfresco is enjoying the mouthwatering smells of food straight off the grill or stove while you relax around a fire pit with friends.

Outdoor kitchens have come a long way since the Weber kettle-style grill first appeared on the backyard barbecue scene about 60 years ago. Today, serious chefs and people who simply love to entertain are enhancing the experience with top-of-the-line appliances, high-end cabinets, granite countertops, heating, televisions and other amenities.

In this coastal city, the spring dining affair is less about coordinating formal table linens with the centerpieces or restricting guests to a particular seat, and more focused on celebrating the pure enjoyment of ideal weather combined with good food.

Spacing Out

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Outdoor kitchens take advantage of Newport’s mild climate while extending the home to create more living and entertaining space, says Mark Scott, principal architect of Mark Scott Associates, a residential landscape architecture and design firm based in Newport Beach. Throughout his career, Mark has designed more than 100 outdoor kitchens that offer both luxurious and inviting spaces.

“With the cost of property at a premium in Newport, converting the outdoors into living space is a prudent thing to do,” he says, noting that outdoor kitchens, dining rooms, living rooms as well as other satellite structures can add a tremendous amount of functional square footage. “If you have a relatively small lot, you can add 50 to 100 percent of your living area in your yard.”

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And in Newport Beach, unlike areas of the country where living moves indoors for most seasons, residents can enjoy their outdoor spaces all year long. “Because of our weather, we have the luxury of using [outdoor kitchens] year-round,” says Debbie Nassetta, co-owner of Roomscapes, which specializes in bath and kitchen design, including high-end outdoor kitchens.

Debbie, who is working on an outdoor kitchen at her own home to be completed this summer, believes that outdoor kitchens allow residents to explore epicurean endeavors that are normally avoided. “Sometimes I think about the fact that if my outdoor kitchen was hooked up, I might deep-fry some fish—something that I don’t want to do inside and stink my house up,” she says.

The convenience of an outdoor kitchen also eliminates the hassle of scurrying back and forth between the house and yard for the forgotten napkins, more forks and the potato salad that needs to be kept refrigerated.

Standard Features

Just as burgers and barbecues go hand in hand, outdoor kitchens require certain appliances and amenities to function. “The grill is No. 1,” Debbie says, adding that refrigeration should be next. “Having refrigeration avoids that back and forth into the kitchen to get the meats or the worry about keeping them cool enough if they are sitting on the counter.”

Size is key, and in order for outdoor cooking to reach its full potential, Mark suggests a full-size refrigerator to store all the ingredients in one spot before they make their way to the grill. For that particular appliance, he also advises to purchase it in a substantial size to prepare all entrees.

In terms of storage, cabinetry that can both withstand the elements and keep plates, utensils and other items clean is important in outdoor kitchens, both Debbie and Mark note.

“The ease of use and maintenance facilitates the frequency of use,” Mark says, adding that stainless steel cabinets are both self-sealing and weatherproofed. “In the old days, you’d put plates in a drawer and then you have to pull them out and wash them. Not anymore; today you can have a totally sterile satellite kitchen.”
And while a sink is yet to be a common sight in the backyard space, it’s a practical feature to include. “[Sinks] are a nice place to wash off your hands or wash off utensils without going indoors,” Debbie says. Other key amenities that are often overlooked, yet are crucial time-savers, are garbage disposals and ice machines.

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Stainless steel appliances are quality investments that ensure durability and longevity.

“[Additionally,] ovens and warming drawers, along with wine chillers and ‘kegerators,’ are becoming de rigueur,” Mark adds

The more an outdoor kitchen functions like one indoors, the greater the possibilities for more elaborate dishes beyond steak and chicken at cookouts.

One extravagant investment that is increasingly popular among backyard chefs and entertainers is a pizza oven.

“You can cook so many things in [pizza ovens],” Debbie says. “In fact, the industry tries to call them ‘hearth ovens’ instead of pizza ovens for that reason. You can certainly cook a chicken in one or bake your lasagna or cook your shrimp—they are not just for pizza.”

Sometimes appliances take a back seat to simply having a comfortable space to relax. “And even though we are in Southern California, we can get cool nights, especially down by the beach, so having a heater and outdoor fireplace or fire pit makes it a lot more enjoyable to be outside and take advantage of the outdoor kitchen lifestyle,” Debbie says.

To top it all off, satellite kitchens need some sort of cover, which can range from a solid roof, an open pergola or even just a big umbrella, according to Debbie. “We have a lot of sun, so most people like to cover the kitchen,” she says. “… If you are doing a solid roof over your kitchen, [then] heating can be recessed into the ceiling or you can do pole-style heat lamps.”

Kitchens can be as simple or as elaborate as the homeowner needs. “We have had the aspiring outdoor gourmet chef who wants every appliance out there,” Mark says. “It just depends on the individual.”

For the Entertainment

The look of an outdoor kitchen is often influenced by the entertaining style in order to determine the appropriate layout, size and amenities for the space.
“Seldom do we design an outdoor kitchen by itself,” Mark says. “When we design, we create an entire environment that accommodates the homeowners’ specific cooking and entertaining needs that tie into the overall site design.

“About a year ago, we designed a smaller kitchen in Newport Coast for an older couple that lives in Texas,” he continues. “This is their second home and when they entertain here, it is with family and a few friends, so the pavilion accommodates a smaller crowd.”

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On the opposite end of the spectrum, clients who entertain large numbers of people need a completely different arrangement. “[The kitchen] has to be set up for mass production with enough room behind the counters for more than one person to be back there,” Mark says. “There will generally be caterers and bartenders, so the space needs to accommodate [them]. … There needs to be space in front of the counters and bar, as well—be sure access to all the spaces is reasonable.”

In some cases, homeowners dedicate more than one space of their home to outdoor kitchens. One of Debbie’s Newport Beach clients took advantage of the coastal lifestyle by creating two kitchens—the first to enjoy the ocean views and the second for entertaining.

“We did a rooftop kitchen for a house that is literally on the sand,” Debbie explains. “The kitchen had a big grill, sink, icemaker, refrigerator and drawers. … However, being a rooftop kitchen, it was pretty far from the main level, so the client came back to us to do a ground-level mini kitchen outdoors.”

Some of the more exotic outdoor kitchens Mark has designed involve swim-up bars with televisions facing the water and dry land, as well as game stations. “We have designed water lounge areas with backgammons and chess tables,” he says. “You can sit in the warm water, watch television and eat, which is rather luxurious.

Accent coastal living and dining with a swim-up bar.
Accent coastal living and dining with a swim-up bar.

“It is like an outdoor room addition that works with the site and the environment,” he continues. “… A typical center will have the barbecue in the counter and cabinetry with a hood and television, so [residents] can just sit, have a beer and watch a game.”

In this city, it’s easier than nearly any other place in the world to have a kitchen outside the home. As Newport’s version of the old saying goes, “If you can enjoy the heat, get an outdoor kitchen.” NBM

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