When I was growing up in the 80s, the backyard was… well, it was the backyard. It had a small grouping of relatively-uncomfortable metal furniture that thought it was element-friendly, but really wasn’t: Rain and snow would pool or freeze on it, and when it was hot it would burn your rear if you were brave enough to sit down. It was rusty, it was grassy. And that was pretty much it. You went outside to scarf down a hot dog maybe, but never “dine outdoors”. No one talked about “outdoor spaces” — we just just wore balloon pants and rubber bracelets and Benetton rugby shirts and somehow survived.
Today, it’s a whole different ballgame— outdoor dining spaces are increasingly being designed to mimic indoor spaces, with furniture styles, seating arrangements, lighting and even climate control that feels like home. Building a fantasy outdoor kitchen is the new trend— we want to do more cooking in the backyard, and do it with all the comforts of the kitchen
(For more on this, check out our grill master gadget story.)
Here in Los Angeles, it’s a no-brainer: We have sun all year round (#sorrynotsorry) so we’re always wanting to eat outside, whether we’re looking at a lazy Sunday or a big backyard bash with friends. I’ve been toying with a patio remodel lately and wanted to get up to speed on all things outdoor living and entertaining, so I called my friend Brian Patrick Flynn, the handsomest suspender-wearing Interior Designer I know.
How cute is he? Answer: VERY. Plus, he’s a 2016 National Kitchen & Bath Association K+B Insider, which is fancy for “he knows a thing or two about kitchens”… even the outdoor kind. According to a Kitchen Trend Report the NKBA just released, nearly 50% of respondents said they had designed an outdoor kitchen for a client in 2015 and expected demand to grow even more in 2016. Apparently, we all have al-fresco fever.
BPF and I caught up recently and he gave me the download on how to design a killer backyard kitchen and dining space that can entertain our little family, or lots of friends.
Function is Key
You’ve heard of the kitchen triangle— that trinity of stove, refrigerator and sink, and how they should all be within proximity to each other for maximum efficiency in the kitchen. You might not have a full kitchen outside, but make sure you’re setting things up as efficiently as possible. Don’t set your dining table so far away from the BBQ that it’s a trek to get dinner served, but not so close that you have to treat your guests for smoke inhalation. Take distance from the kitchen to the grill into consideration too— you’ll be making a lot of trips back and forth as you tend to the grill and the rest of dinner. Splurge on an outdoor refrigerator to save yourself trips back and forth to get your proteins (and a cold drink for the chef), and at the least, make sure you have some countertop space near your grill so you can stage things while you’re cooking.
Opt for Easy Seating
Inside, things are clear: You eat at a table, you lounge on a sofa. Outside, you can toss the rules out the window. Brian says you can be creative with seating: Create a long bench with cushions, or even drape some blankets over hay bales (hay bales!) to create an instant conversation area. Most of my dinners outside are on plastic or paper plates, and involve tearing into baby back ribs or burgers, so I’m all for eating on my lap and congregating in a more casual set-up. This is also a relief for those of us who don’t have enough room for a seating AND a dining area out back… now you don’t have to stress, and just build one comfy space that works for both.
Throw some shade
Nothing ruins your outdoor experience like excessive sun (or getting rained on). Both problems can be solved with a shade sail, which are incredibly easy to install, affordable, and give you flattering, unfiltered light and allow you to enjoy your outdoor dining space less-optimal climes. Also, if you’re going to use your gadgets outside (reading a Kindle, binge-watching Netflix on your tablet, catching up on emails, NEVER!!), you’ll thank your lucky umbrellas when you’re not squinting and struggling to see your screen. Pay attention to where the sun hits your seating area, and make sure that you’re shaded in all the right places.
Don’t forget lighting
Once the sun goes down, it’s essential to have functional lighting as well as a little ambiance. Make sure you have enough light for the chef to cook by (because if you can’t see burgers, you burn burgers…). For the seating area, there are lots of lamps that are rated for outdoor use, and Brian’s a fan of using industrial festival lights along a pergola to keep the space lit (and romantic!) after hours. “This can instantly give any outdoor gathering space more of a room-like feeling,” Brian says.
Add some tech
Okay, this is my tip (shocker). But a little tech can go a long way to making everyone more comfortable outside. This connected fan from Haiku Home has built-in temperature sensors that will tell the fan start spinning when temperatures climb, then turn off when things cool off outside. Another fun idea? Grab a wireless projector and a bluetooth speaker and you can screen a movie under the stars.
Thanks to NKBA for loaning Brian to the blog! In conclusion, here’s one more picture of BPF, because obviously.