28 June 2011

Outdoor Kitchens: Guest post by Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet

It's summertime... and the grilling is easy! One manufacturer who has made it even easier with the release of the industry's first outdoor dishwasher (shown here) is Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet.

I got the chance to meet the Kalamazoo team at the recent Kitchen & Bath Industry Show and was impressed with their products and outdoor smarts. So I invited them to share some tips for creating an outdoor kitchen in your own backyard.

What follows are eight great insights from Russ Faulk, VP of Marketing and Product Development at Kalamazoo. Thanks, Russ (and Chris Mordi, for helping to make it happen)!

1. Satellite or independent:
This is the most important decision to start the design process. Knowing whether the kitchen will be a satellite of the indoor kitchen or completely independent of it determines the proper amount of refrigeration, cabinetry and counter space. A satellite kitchen relies on the indoor kitchen for most of the prep-work and refrigeration. Independent outdoor kitchens feature all functional zones, necessary equipment and supporting utilities, making it completely independent of its indoor cousin.

2. Working in harmony:
Outdoor kitchens can be just as complex as indoor kitchens. Design the outdoor kitchen with functional zones, but keep in mind the special requirements that come with cooking outdoors, specifically the need for more space to accommodate bigger pieces of dinnerware and serveware. Provide adequate landing areas around each primary work center. For example, around the grill, you should have a landing area of 24 inches to one side and 12 inches to the other; around the sink, you should have landing areas of 18 inches on each side.

3. Living together:
Dining, lounging, cooking, and pool areas often coexist. Keep cold zones to the outer areas of the kitchen. This way guests can get beverages without having to walk past a hot grill. When placing the grill, keep traffic patterns in mind. You want to place it in a location that doesn’t isolate the cook from the party, but prevents people from walking past both its hot front and back sides.

4. Make it low maintenance:
An outdoor kitchen has to be easy to care for and clean. Materials that are grease- and stain-resistant and suited for the elements work best. Stainless steel is ideal for appliances. Soapstone and glazed lavastone are strong performers as countertops. Reclaimed brick and unglazed porcelain work well as flooring.

5. Complement the home:
An outdoor kitchen should not look like an addition to the house. Use finishes and materials that complement the home. The same holds true for outdoor furniture and accessories used in and around the outdoor kitchen.

6. Extend the outdoor entertaining season/make it comfortable:
Shelter is one of the fastest growing trends in outdoor kitchen design. Large umbrellas, pergolas, roofs and screened-in areas protect from sun and rain, helping homeowners get the most from their outdoor kitchen investment. Depending on how elaborate the shelter is, you can design in features that make it even more enjoyable, such as radiant heaters that provide comfort deep into fall and allow homeowners to open kitchens earlier in the spring, or ceiling fans that provide cooling breezes and discourage insects.

7. Light it up: Lighting is one of the most overlooked aspects of outdoor kitchen design. To cook or entertain after dark, one has to be able to see once the sun goes down. Task lighting is an absolute necessity for cooking after dark. Pay particular attention to properly illuminating the grill. Lights can be mounted on the wall, on a pole, in a ceiling or alongside the grill. Just make sure it isn’t blocked by the cook’s head or the grill’s lid. You don’t want anything casting shadows on the cooking surface, defeating the purpose of the task lighting. Ambient lighting helps illuminate the kitchen, dining and living spaces. It also creates drama throughout the entire area.

8. Incorporate music and other entertainment:
Just like the indoors, homeowners want audio and video entertainment for their outdoor kitchens. Many homeowners are having TVs, MP3 docks and speakers installed for use at all times in the outdoor kitchen. Others want to use their TVs only on a temporary basis. Plan cabling, power supply, and installation hardware as if these items were going to be installed permanently.

All photos: Courtesy of Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet.

21 June 2011

SENSIBLE STYLE: Missed in America

In January of this year, I was extremely privileged to be one of six American bloggers brought by Blanco to visit the LivingKitchen trade show in Cologne, Germany. It was my first European industry event, and it was a revelation!

There were so many terrific products and trends that I would love to share with my American-based clients. These are a few of the Sensible Style items I saw there that I hope will be brought here in the not-too-distant future! A few, as noted below, are slowly starting to make their way across the pond!

Porcelain countertops

Porcelain countertops offer the same durability and ease of maintenance as quartz, but with a different look. I would not only specify these for my clients, I would use them in my own home.

Top Porzelanik Barcelona would be ideal for North American kitchens, too!

I've only seen porcelain tops in the US so far with Italian Modulnova kitchens, custom-fitted for their cabinets and shipped from Europe.

Retractable faucets

It would be great to hide away the faucet in a contemporary kitchen installation when you don't want to see it, especially on an island. A faucet that drops down to the countertop level can achieve that for you, but I haven't found one here yet!

Blanco's BLANCOELOSCOPE is perfect for the "un-kitchen" look.

High-end laminate cabinets

These are starting to make their way to the U.S., often via international producers like Allmilmo, but the beauty of the styles available in Europe was striking. Some were textured, some glossy, all distinctively different than the laminates that builders plugged into tract homes for years that gave the medium a bad name.

German cabinetry brand Allmilmo is one of the international firms making laminates look good.

Turn-lock kitchen sink drains

We have this style drain on tubs and bathroom sinks here, but you'd be hard-pressed to find a turn-lock drain on an American sink. They were widely shown at the German show. (By the way, turn-lock is my descriptive name for them. The Europeans call them cable-driven waste systems.)

Considering how practical they are, it doesn't make sense to me that they're not widely available here. (One German manufacturer told me that they haven't been widely embraced by the plumbing community.)

Not having to store a drain insert in your sink cabinet would be a nice little benefit! Right now, Duravit USA's website has this technology on their attractive Cassia sink. More manufacturers should follow!

Other kitchen drains don' t hold water compared to this style, shown here on Duravit's Cassia sink

Stylishly-integrated drainboards

These are available with Corian countertops, but not everyone has or wants those. There were numerous styles, materials and configurations to choose from at the LivingKitchen show. They looked great and offered practicality with pretty good looks.

Duravit brings the integrated drainboard stylishly to the US market with its Starck K model

Full-service induction

Gaggenau showed off some fabulous new induction technology I hope crosses the ocean very soon! Anywhere you put your pot or pan on the cooktop worked, not just a few specific burner areas. There were other bells and whistles, too, like a setting memory, but the whole surface approach to cooking was what really won me over. Hopefully, this will be available in the US when I'm ready to replace my dated, gas cooktop.

Gaggenau takes induction cooking to a whole new level

14 June 2011

FOOD FOR THOUGHT #2: Who is the best designer in the world?

I bought a condo in Playa Del Rey in 1997, years before I became a kitchen and bath designer.
Its kitchen cabinets were golden oak, the walls, appliances and counter tops white. The kitchen had a pass-through to the living area. Its carpet was gray berber. I was not terribly fond of the overall look, I must say. It felt unattractive and cold to me.

Before I moved in, I recarpeted the living room, bedroom and loft floors in a textured sand color that reminded me of the nearby beach. I also painted the walls throughout the condo a soft green. I was stunned how much better those oak cabinets looked against the green walls than they did against the previous white. Then I realized why.

Mother Nature gave oaks green leaves. The two colors pair together in nature, so they pair together beautifully in home design, too. Oaks lose their leaves in the winter, which made the white walls look stark and unnatural against the golden wood. (Yes, you'll find bare oaks rising from a snowy forest floor, but you'll rarely find them silhouetted against a white sky!)

If you're wondering about the green walls paired with the sand carpet, imagine trees and bushes edging the beach and you'll see why they, too, worked.

I'm convinced that Mother Nature is the preeminent designer of any era. Colors you find together in nature will pair well together in your home or garden. Use the natural world for guidance and inspiration and you'll never have to ask yourself, do these work?

All photographs (c) Steve Barrell

07 June 2011

Kelly's Kitchen Sync: First-Ever Gold Notes Book Excerpt

This is a proud and happy moment for me. My friend, colleague and fellow Blogger 19 member Kelly Morisseau, CMKBD, CID of Kitchen Sync has just published her first book, Kelly's Kitchen Sync.

Maybe you've visited her terrific blog, linked from my Blogs of Note list on the right. If so, you, too, knew a book by Kelly would have great info in a wonderfully readable style. With a designer and writer this knowledgeable, skilled and personable, how could it be anything but? Judge for yourself.

Kelly has given me the green light to excerpt Kelly's Kitchen Sync on Gold Notes, so you get to sample its info-packed pages before you buy yourself a copy. (Each book title is linked to Amazon.com, where the book is available for purchase today.) As I told her last week, it was really tough to choose just one piece to share. There were so many goodies.

I decided to go with one near and dear to my own professional designer's heart: Hiring a Kitchen Designer, (excerpted from Chapter 5: Assembling Your Team). Here goes:


Here's when hiring a designer is a good idea:
  • When you don't have any idea what you're doing and/or don't have time or inclination, and don't want to make a mistake.
  • When you're changing the layout.
  • When you're planning on custom anything — custom appliances, cabinets, lighting, etc. can quadruple the mistake level of a simple gut–and–replace.
  • When you know nothing about design.
  • When you don't have time to oversee the plan.
  • When you need help with coordinating colors, or finishes, or styles.

Here's when hiring a designer isn't necessary:

  • When you're changing out one or two items, such as a sink or refrigerator.
  • When your existing architect, or contractor, or interior designer has experience in the kitchen. They'll tell you if they don't.
  • When you're pretty comfortable with your own design, color choices, and style.

Interviewing potential designers

Remember what I said about good and bad contractors? The same goes for designers. Ever wondered what you should be looking for in your designer?

The good signs:
  • They listen to you. I mean, really listen. Doesn't that sound odd? But I'm amazed at how many designers don't let the consumer get a word in edge–wise, especially new designers. Please forgive them. They're excited about all the neat stuff they have and are so happy to show you, they forget you'd like a chance to be excited too.
  • You communicate well with each other. Sometimes, there are people that you don't connect with. That's life. You say “a” and the other person hears “b” and vice–versa. It's not bad or wrong, other than a difference in communication, but when it happens, it can lead to mistakes and dissatisfaction. It's why I say, "So what I'm hearing you say is this… Is that correct?” If we can't connect by the second meeting, I'm not the designer for them. However, when you that good vibe energy from the very beginning, it's the best feeling in the world.
  • They provide clear reasons and good answers to your questions.

Designers expect you to test them — at least the experienced ones do — and they're comfortable with it. How do you know how much experience a person has, if you don't ask? A designer should also be able to articulate very clearly the reason why a product does or does not work, not simply tell you that it is or isn't “good."

The warning signs are:
  • You can't get a word in edgewise.
  • Your ideas are ignored or brushed off without explanation.
  • Paperwork isn't organized.
  • Calls aren't returned in a timely manner.
  • They're pushing their ideas without providing reasons.

Pay attention to your gut feelings, but also be practical. Sometimes, it's simply not a good fit. Recognize when meeting with your designer doesn't make you happy that it's time for a frank discussion or to call it quits.


There's more to hiring a designer that Kelly shares in this invaluable chapter. In fact, there's a ton of great info packed into Kelly's Kitchen Sync's 220 pages, but it's compact enough to fit into most purses. (How perfect for carrying it around town as you start your kitchen planning process.) You won't have to run around town to buy a copy either. Right now, it's only available online at Amazon.com, BN.com and Amazon.ca.

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