There’s nothing quite like cooking and dining al fresco in your own backyard. But if you’re looking for something beyond the basic barbeque setup, you’re not alone. “There’s been a significant spike in homeowners installing custom outdoor kitchens to reflect their interests, individual needs and budgets,” says Leigh Meadows-McAlpin, interior designer with Dwelling Interiors and Design in Charleston, S.C. Her tips will take your backyard to the next level.
Go Beyond the Grill
Who says you can’t bring the comforts of an indoor kitchen to the great outdoors? Don’t just haul out an all-weather table to use as a makeshift counter, though. Instead, shop for an inexpensive stainless-steel cabinet on casters, and trick it out with a butcher-block surface that you can chop and serve on. This kind of outdoor island is sturdy, great for storage and mobile, says Meadows-McAlpin. If you have a signature dish or cuisine you love to cook, up your grill game with a specialty appliance, such as a pizza oven or smoker. They’re also great for themed outdoor parties.
Weatherproof Your Place
The summer sun (and occasional thunderstorm!) can be brutal. If you don’t have a porch or patio covering, no worries. Meadows-McAlpin suggests getting creative with a variety of fabric coverings, ranging from custom sunshades and awnings to budget outdoor umbrellas and canopy tents that shield your dining and entertaining zones from the elements. “For a more structured solution, pergolas and pavilions are another great source of shade from sun and rain,” she says.
Let Plants Work Their Magic
Giving your outdoor kitchen a natural touch doesn’t have to mean spending a fortune on stone pavers, fountains or fancy landscaping. A few well-placed plants are more than enough to merge your cook space seamlessly with the rest of your backyard. Try potted flowers or citrus trees to frame your dining table. And consider all surfaces for greenery, even your walls. “Adding a vertical herb garden can provide an eye-catching decorative element that is functional too,” says Meadows-McAlpin.
Keep Drinks Close
“Bar carts are great because they’re mobile and you can serve from the top shelf, but you can also try a galvanized tub on wheels,” she says. Consider building a trough into your countertop, which can be easily filled with ice and stocked with beverages. Or repurpose a potting bench as a drinks station—you can easily add a sink to create an outdoor wet bar.
Turn Up the Heat with a Fire Pit
Your backyard becomes a bona fide glamping ground when you install a fire pit or outdoor fireplace. “It will make any space inviting and you can use it year-round,” says Meadows-McAlpin. Better yet, a simple fire pit will only set you back a couple hundred bucks and is a breeze to set up for s’mores.
Add any of these ingredients to the mix, and your outdoor space will really cook.
Want even more design inspiration? Try these tips to trick out your backyard.