Party-Central Kitchen

from Outdoor Casual Summer
See one family's favorite place to host a party: their outdoor kitchen. The Browns' thought process and decisions about the space can apply to anyone's outdoor kitchen design, so use their example to start planning your own outdoor dinner parties.

Kitchens are a hangout magnet. Regardless of how many formal seating areas hosts set up for entertaining, people gather around the countertops and stove. So why leave this popular gathering spot inside? Instead, take the kitchen to the backyard.

The Brown family of Tucson started their fresh-air entertaining with an outdoor fireplace and wrought-iron chairs — a small gathering area arranged for friends to sip a glass of wine and share good conversation. But like everything else in caterer Marguerite Brown’s world, it became larger than life. “Once we started hanging out there and our friends started congregating, we thought, Hey, let’s install a barbecue — and we should put in a bar, too,” Marguerite says, laughing. “And then we figured if we’d gone this far why not go one step farther: Create a covered outdoor cooking area, expand the patio area, create lots of counter space, and add a table — really bring the indoors outside.” Which is how the Brown family’s outdoor kitchen and dining area evolved into party central.

By instinctively suiting the backyard’s design to her lifestyle, Marguerite followed the “right” thought process when creating this alfresco kitchen. “When planning a workable outdoor kitchen, you have to understand what you’re going to be doing out there,” says Kathy Novo-Shumate, a San Diego-based interior and kitchen designer. “So you need to ask yourself: Are we going to barbecue? Party? Entertain? Cook? Are we going to want everything out there so we won’t have to walk back into the house?”

The answers to these questions will help you plan your outdoor kitchen to suit your backyard and needs. For example, if you think lots of entertaining will be going on, comfortable chairs are needed near the cooking area and the dining space,
Novo-Shumate says. If several people are going to help whip up the meals, lots of prep space is in order. And if the barbecue will be the cooking center, it’s imperative to have some type of counter space near the grill to set food and dishes. You also need to design the space to adhere to local fire safety laws.

Marguerite thinks her outdoor kitchen plan was merely practical: She and her family live where the weather is “unbelievable,” plus she makes her living as a caterer. Mix these ingredients with her Mexican heritage, which helped inspire the decor, and you’ve got a space that just craves a fiesta.

Incorporating the colors that already adorned the interior and exterior of her house, Marguerite chose cheery hues such as bright yellow and blue, accented with a bold pink. With the help of her daughter, Gabby, Marguerite painted the dining table and chairs in tropical shades. She even painted her authentic equipale chairs, which are usually natural wood and leather, to protect them from hot and drying elements. For rustic character over the outdoor fireplace, Marguerite’s husband, Brad, gave her a wrought-iron horse-and-cowboy sculpture from a Wyoming ranch he grew up on.

Outdoor decor is part of what makes this — or any — outdoor kitchen fun. “I like to bring in a lot of wrought iron, stone, brightly colored tile, and fabrics that won’t fade,” Novo-Shumate says.

The Browns’ outdoor space has become so integral to the family’s lifestyle, Marguerite says it’s hard to tell where the inside ends and the outdoors begins — not to mention hard to tell when the party begins and ends. “It’s been our most expensive remodel, but not because of what we’ve put out there,” Marguerite says. The expense, she claims, is in the entertaining. “We’re constantly having a party out there. Friends always want to come over. In fact, there isn’t a restaurant in town we’d rather be in than in our backyard.”

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