The hottest new “room” in homes of the affluent may just be, literally, outside.
The outdoor kitchen is growing and evolving in the United States and is becoming “America’s newest trophy room,” according to RealLiving Real Estate.
With the arrival of summer weather, Americans are hitting backyards en masse to grill, but it can be an isolating experience for the person in charge of grilling.
Outdoor kitchens pull all the elements — grill, refrigerator, sink, burners, dining areas, storage — together and often tie in with other outdoor living features, such as a fireplace, pool and covered area with couches and even a TV.
For many, the outdoor kitchen links several joys: cooking, entertaining and being outside.
Since Michael and Sharon Trotman had an uncovered outdoor kitchen and patio extension built on the back of their home in the Forest Trail area of Isle of Palms last fall, they describe the area as “the most used room in their home.”
Their outdoor kitchen includes a gas grill, gas burner, refrigerator, sink and a gas fireplace built as a centerpiece of a deck extension, which provides ample space for a dining table and other seating.
“If weather permits, we’re out here,” says Michael, adding that the couple, who work from home, usually eat breakfast, take phone calls and have drinks with friends outside.
Trotman says they saved money for three years to build the outdoor kitchen expansion and have no regrets.
“When we first bought the house, we had a tiny patio. It was big enough for two people and that was it. Anytime we had cookouts, we had to go up and down the stairs, checking on the food, tracking dirt into the house, dealing with bugs. It was a hassle. The first plan was to build a deck, then we decided to build a kitchen.”
Once that was decided, Trotman says, his “biggest decision” was whether he would get a gas or charcoal grill.
“I’ve always been a charcoal guy. But this gas grill, that pushed me over the edge. Sharon didn’t want to fool with charcoal,” says Trotman, noting that the grill has a drawer to put wood, such as mesquite, in to give food smoky flavor and smell.
The Trotmans decided not to put a roof over the kitchen because they like the openness and light.
The Trotmans worked with Palmetto Outdoor Kitchens of Mount Pleasant, which was started four years ago by licensed building contractors Ken Good and Scott Hunter.
They both saw an opportunity in the Lowcountry.
Good says, “Several years ago when I was building my outdoor kitchen, I couldn’t find anybody to help me, so I saw a niche.”
Hunter adds that outdoor kitchens were booming in Florida and figured it was just a matter of time before the trend hit the Charleston area.
One sign that it has arrived is that Hunter and Good stayed busy through the past winter. Another interesting trend, they noted, is the increase in the business with new construction, going from about 5 percent to 40 percent.
“We’re getting more calls from builders and architects,” says Hunter.
And they admit that outdoor kitchens are far from cheap. Recent projects have ranged from $6,000 to $48,000.
Even within the specialty, some are specializing.
Longtime contractor Buzz Cody focuses on building outdoor kitchen facilities at apartment and condominium complexes, such as Heron Reserve Apartments, which want them as “amenities.” And expectations call for more than a charcoal grill.
“(Outdoor kitchens) are becoming pretty popular,” says Cody. “I guess we’re becoming more of an outdoor community.”
If you live on the oceanfront, you might as well enjoy it as much as possible.
Liza and Michael Elsner, an attorney at Motley Rice, both enjoy cooking, being outdoors and place a high priority on having their young family, daughters Skylar and Tatum and son Silas, share meals together.
The Elsners recently moved back into their oceanfront house on Isle of Palms after a major remodeling, which included an infinity pool and covered outdoor kitchen and living area with a fireplace, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.
“Before we remodeled, we spent almost all of our time eating outside crammed around a little table on the existing deck. Now we live out here. I love being outside,” says Liza, adding that she can now cook alongside Michael as he is grilling.
Besides family time outside, Michael Elsner adds that every time they entertained guests, it always seemed to center in the kitchen.
“So it made sense to have an entertainment area encompass grilling,” he says.
Even though they have only been back in the house a few weeks, the Elsners already hosted a sleepover birthday party for Tatum where the girls took full advantage of the new space outside.
Liza adds, “It was nice to able to feed them outside.”
Reach David Quick at 937-5516.