As the weather continues to improve (well, for the most part) we as a Canadian people are starting to spend a lot more time outside – or, at least, a lot more time outside in the sun. We are now officially in the season of BBQs, pool parties, and outdoor dinner parties (and for me, lots of Suffering in the Shade). While a lot of attention tends to go to gardening and landscaping this time of year, sometimes we miss the chance to establish or expand on an outdoor cooking/dining area. I’ve covered outdoor spaces in the past, so here we’re going to get into some of the more prominent concerns with outdoor kitchens/dining areas, and how you can solve them:
How would an outdoor kitchen stand up to the elements? What kind of appliances could I use?
Durable and weather-resistant materials allow all the necessities of an indoor kitchen to easily migrate outdoors. For the body of the kitchen, go for stone, concrete, or water-proof sheet goods like marine-grade plywood (and if you do, don’t forget water-proof adhesives for your edgebanding!) Stone countertops are a must, as are stainless steel appliances. If you live in an area that gets a lot of rain (ie. anywhere on Vancouver Island), consider adding an awning or similar covering to keep the moisture out — an outdoor kitchen is of course made to last outdoors, but there’s no need to unnecessarily expose it to the elements. This goes for overexposure to sunlight as well.
As for appliances, there are lots of options that are both spatially economical and environmentally durable. Stainless steel appliances are easy to clean and stand up to outdoor use. You can purchase a variety of useful hardware, such as warming and cooling drawers for your food and beverages. BBQs of all shapes and sizes are easily housed and you can have your separate areas for food prep, cooking, storage, and serving. When it comes time to pack up for the winter, the awning will protect the appliances and your cooking utensils can be stored in the lowers or in the stainless-front drawers.
But where do I sit????
If you don’t want to invest in a ton of chairs you have to store away during the winter, opt for a built-in bench. You can add cushions and backing material to create a cozy alcove for sitting or lounging. Strings of lighting and/or decorative lanterns can make your sitting area into a 24 hour hang-out spot, especially if you invest in some citronella candles! Situate your sitting area under a pergola, awning, or canopy to create shade and protect your furnishings.
But where do I keep my stuff???
Of course, a swatch of fabric won’t always be enough to keep your belongings safe from the weather. Though we are #blessed to live in a temperate rain-forest here on Vancouver Island, you have to admit that the constant changes in weather can make it challenging to confidently set up a long-lasting outdoor space. Storage options, such as built-in drawers or custom cabinetry units, can keep your cushions, decorative elements, and outdoor activity paraphernalia out of the weather and in one spot. Gone are the days of accidentally sitting on wet cushions and having to track down water wings and pool noodles. Everything has its place in your outdoor space 😀
But what if I live in an apartment???
If all you have to work with is a balcony or small backyard, no worries! You can still create a cozy sitting/eating/drinking area, with the added bonus of being able to show everyone on the street and in surrounding houses just how much fun you’re having. Depending on what you use the space for you can add built-in seating, open shelving for floral and decorative accents, and tables for serving food and drinks. Add little touches such as strings of lighting along the railings and cut-out or built-in storage areas under your seating to make the most of the space afforded to you.
But how am I going to have space to eat?
Speaking of tables, they are a natural yet cumbersome necessity for any dining or hangout area. Whether you’re entertaining guests at a dinner party or playing a moonlit game of Yahtzee, you want a table that can accommodate everything without severely limiting the amount of people that can enjoy your outdoor space. Foldable tables are always a good option, and you can get ones with pull-out extensions that will expand your dining area.
How will I keep the kids busy while I relax in my outdoor sanctuary???
It’s an important question that I have no first-hand experience with, but I can guarantee you that a mud kitchen provides hours of endless fun for pretty much all ages. Back in my day we had to make mud pies for the Good Witch the old-fashioned way – at the base of a tree with sap all over us – but nowadays you can take any discarded set of drawers or leftover materials and turn it into an (almost) functional kitchen for mud pies, mud cakes, whatever their little hearts desire! You can hook up running water and use extra mixing bowls, utensils, and used appliances to give your kids’s mud kitchen a realistic feel (and for even more realism, make them clean it up after!) Everyone gets a space that’s tailored to them, and you can spend your summer nights as one big, content family. Now, if only they had mud kitchens for dogs…