Outdoor Kitchens: High Design Meets Yard

At a biennial European kitchen trade show, a surprising number of brand new outdoor-kitchen offerings from traditional kitchen companies highlights a very different approach.

by Emily Blackburn

For U.S. kitchen designers seeking inspiration, there’s no better venue than EuroCucina, part of a bigger design trade show that occurs annually in Milan, Italy. The show offers a very diverse mix of cabinets, hardware, plumbing, appliance and surfacing options presented as innovative finished kitchen concepts. 

Many of these full-blown kitchen concepts and design trends eventually migrate to homes in the U.S. If that’s the case, get ready. Remodelers who regularly design and install outdoor spaces might soon feel the influence of new outdoor-kitchen designs introduced by European makers. 

Grilling Centered vs. Cooktops

There are differences between approaches to outdoor kitchens in the U.S. versus those now offered in Europe (and to your clients via distribution partners stateside). In the U.S., the grill is king. Grills are the starting point from which everything else is added on. It is not uncommon today to design and install outdoor kitchens that include refrigerators, beverage centers with beer taps, pizza ovens, sinks, faucets, expansive countertops for food prep, exhaust vents, and an area—often attached—for dining on the island. 

The Formalia Outdoor kitchen from Scavolini was introduced in June at EuroCucina. Formalia offers 19 elements that can be combined with appliances to fit space and function requirements.

There is not the same grilling tradition in Europe, and so the emphasis is on electric cooktops and an accompanying sink and faucet. The outdoor kitchen offered by the Italian kitchen cabinet company Scavolini is an exception. It does include a large gas grill at the center.

Another key difference is placement. Similar to interior kitchens in Europe, where cabinets are thought of as “furniture” to be packed up and moved to wherever the owner might want to take them, all the new outdoor kitchen collections from Europe are free-standing. This does not necessarily mean there are no design and installation considerations. There are, in fact, many design considerations. The units are modular with many door options, material options and appliance options that must be properly married together at the jobsite. They must also be leveled up and fastened to the ground or adjacent wall structures. Gas, electrical and plumbing connections must also be carefully planned. Fit and finish is critically important and belies the overall appearance of a unit unloaded from a truck in one piece and simply set in place. 

The ATRIA line of modular outdoor kitchens by Abimis. The container modules can be placed alongside a kitchen block or can function separately as needed. The line can also be customized to create islands.

Here in the U.S., the mindset is to stick-build everything from scratch. Designers and remodelers assemble their outdoor kitchens from a diverse array of parts and materials. Different grills, appliances, sinks, faucets, surfaces and storage options are not often staged as a finished kit-of-parts. Danver, Trex and several others are the exceptions here. Their systems are modular and easily pulled together. 

Concrete and masonry kitchens are very common solutions in the U.S. This stands to reason because they are materials we’ve used as exterior claddings and have proven their ability to handle our weather extremes. 

Bright Colors and Design Statements

Abimis is an Italian subsidiary of Prisma, a manufacturer of professional stainless steel kitchens for the restaurant and catering industries. Likewise, stainless steel is the substrate for all of Abimis’ kitchens inside the home and now outside. Their kitchens are designed for chefs and cooks. Accessories include refrigerated waste containers to avoid bacteria and odors. In Milan this spring, the company showcased two lines of outdoor kitchens, Ego and Atelier. The latter is an extension of an interior line of kitchens. The former is totally new.

According to press materials from Abimis, the two lines are designed for serious cooks, but they also bring a heavy dose of sleek design sophistication. Both lines are made of AISI 316 stainless steel, which contains molybdenum and enables surface materials to resist the effects of salt air, temperature changes and “all types of weather,” the company said.

Vlaze Enamel Outdoor Kitchens is a U.K. company that will bring its line of ‘kitchen islands’ and ‘dining islands’ to the U.S. this month. The kitchen island must be installed; the dining island is movable.

Ego is offered in mirror-like finishes that are achieved by “orbital polishing by hand.” Atelier is about color. Designers and clients can pick any automotive color available on the German color-matching system, RAL. Photos from the company demonstrate the colorful range—a bright yellow and a bright blue. The outer surface can be glossy or matte. The main kitchen block is 180 centimeters in length—roughly 71 inches. It comprises a cooking area, a washing area, an undercounter refrigerator, a storage compartment and two deep drawers.

“In their respective configurations, these two lines share the same desire to release the concept of the kitchen from its primary function, to turn it into a genuine item of decorative design, valuing a setting and encouraging sociability, striking the ideal balance between aesthetic styling, comfort and top performance,” the company release said.

Scavolini and Vlaze

Photos taken by the author in Milan of outdoor kitchen displays near the city showrooms for Modulnova and Antolini. A wood-fired grill is shown in an outdoor kitchen display at EuroCucina.

Two other European companies offering new outdoor kitchens are Scavolini and U.K. based Vlaze. The Scavolini kitchen reads a lot more like an American outdoor space. That owes due to the previously mentioned large, gas grill at center. The new line, Formalia Outdoor, is modular and made of aluminum and is available in three finishes—rust, black and titanium. There are 19 modular elements that can be combined with appliances. The aluminum structure and top includes a built-in washing area. There are two door and structure finishes—steel and “high-performance wood for outdoor use,” according to a Scavolini release about the product. The wood is comprised of Okume plywood with a Teak veneer, which enables the solution to be resistant to “humidity, weather, temperature changes and wear.”

Vlaze is launching its outdoor kitchen line in North America this month. They are beginning with Vlaze Adapt Outdoor kitchen islands. The offer is unique in that they are coated in porcelain enamel. This enables them to bring color and design to the yard in a similar fashion to other European offerings mentioned in this article. The larger kitchens are modular and designed to be fitted to a specific outdoor location while the islands come on casters and, therefore, its position can be adjusted by the use and situation. 

“The outdoor kitchen market is a much bigger in North America than in Europe and the U.K.,” said Matt Hugg, Vlaze US spokesperson. “Our product is unique as it’s fully built and will be available in stock where customers can have them directly delivered and installed in a matter of days.”  QR

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