Install a Poolside Kitchen

by Kelly Caldwell – Pool Life Magazine

Wet footprints on the linoleum, the rogue hamburger that lands meat-side-down on the welcome mat, that one-footed kick maneuver used to close the door before the air conditioning gets out and the mosquitoes get in—pool owners who frequently entertain guests are all too familiar with the awkward trek between the indoor kitchen and the outdoor patio.

Enter the concept of poolside kitchens, a new trend in luxury living intended to ease the strain of outdoor entertainment. From stovetops and refrigerators to built-in shelving, poolside kitchens mimic their indoor counterparts while allowing the host to interact with guests poolside. By keeping safety and sanitation top of mind, pool owners can create a convenient kitchen space for more seamless, uninterrupted entertaining.

Features of an outdoor kitchen
Outdoor kitchens can be as small as a simple grill or as large as the deck, depending on how many features are incorporated. The following elements can help create a convenient space to keep you outdoors with your guests, even as you prepare your poolside treats.

Grills, Stoves and Ovens: The most essential part of the outdoor kitchen is the cooking device. Consider a wood-fired brick oven or install a built-in grill with surrounding cabinets and countertops if you’re looking for a more permanent fixture. “When we build [a permanent] grill, we figure out whether our client is left or right handed, and put the prep area on the dominant side,” says Duane Draughon, president and outdoor living designer at VizX Design Studios in Chicago, IL. You can also choose to have an outdoor stovetop installed in conjunction with the grill.

If you’re looking for a more flexible space, opt for a portable grill. Some hybrid grills have multiple capabilities-they can use gas, charcoal or wood, or all three at once.

Refrigerators and Sinks: Draughon says he frequently installs built-in outdoor refrigerators, usually beneath a counter. At 25” x 30”, they are generally smaller than a standard indoor refrigerator. But because they must maintain a steady temperature in a fluctuating environment, they can withstand the elements and are more insulated and powerful than their indoor counterparts. Many outdoor refrigerators are made with stainless steel and are generally priced at $700 and up, Draughon says.

Shelving: With a grill and a refrigerator, you can store and cook refrigerated ingredients—but what about all the fixings? Built-in shelving is a convenient way to store other ingredients as well as small appliances and table settings. That means you won’t have to haul everything outside each time you cook. Draughon says he builds shelves out of bluestone for more permanent storage, or he will sometimes insert stainless steel shelving into the kitchen unit.

Lounging and Dining Areas: Once the food is prepped and ready, you’ll need a place to enjoy it. Plan to include a lounge area where the chairs are positioned for optimal interaction. Draughon suggests including a fire pit close to the food and drink spread so everyone can stay close together and talk.

Depending on which features you incorporate and which materials you use, poolside kitchens can range from $8,000 to $12,000. But Draughon says stone and stucco versions are almost double the cost, noting that outdoor kitchens made from these higher-end materials can cost anywhere from $20,000 to $30,000.

Design a functional, safe space
The size of your outdoor living space and deck or patio will likely determine the number of features you can incorporate into your poolside kitchen and the way those features are arranged. Draughon says a good rule of thumb is to make sure you only have to take two steps between your grill and refrigerator.

A good poolside kitchen design should also take safety into account. “The path from the back door to the pool area should be kept as direct as possible,” Draughon says. “If anything happens inside the pool, the homeowner needs to have ability to run straight out with nothing in their way.”

Your design should also address food safety. In general, the same cooking precautions you take inside should be observed outdoors as well (e.g., don’t set raw meat on countertops, wash your hands frequently when touching food, etc.). Poolside kitchens might also incorporate domed screens to prevent bugs from flocking around food, and a built-in refrigerator can be used to safely store perishable foods.

With so many considerations to keep in mind, designing and installing a safe poolside kitchen is probably best left to the pros. Draughon says there are “a lot of other logistical things to consider” including hiding wires, making sure gas lines are 18 inches below grade, properly ventilating cooking devices and correctly positioning electrical outlets to avoid safety hazards.

No matter who designs your space, the goal should be to provide what Draughon dubs “spiritual unity” – a place where family and friends can come together and live in the open air.

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