If your kitchen is the heart of your home, why not take that favorite indoor space outdoors? An outdoor kitchen expands the living space of your home.

Ted Galassi of Artisan Stone Products, 2475 Peerless Mine Road, said that with the area housing market having such low inventory, "Building an outdoor kitchen is a good way to add value to your home and additional entertainment space without having to upgrade the size of your house." Now is a great time to begin planning a spring project, because before you put plans into action, there are a few considerations to take into account to make sure your outdoor kitchen is perfectly suited to your unique home.

Budget

It's wise to establish a budget before you spend hours on Pinterest. You want to build a kitchen you'll enjoy, not one that will cause financial distress. Galassi likes to know the customer's comfort zone regarding the budget on the front end, if possible, because it helps him give the customer the most for their budget.

When asked about an average cost, Galassi said, "There's a wide price range depending on what the customer wants." He said an outdoor grilling area with refrigerator and countertop cooler could be in the $10,000-$15,000 range. A more elaborate outdoor living area with a kitchen could range from $10,000-$50,000, and if you add a pergola, the price could be closer to $60,000.

Landon Kirby of Knob Hill Landscape Company, 661 W. Camp Sangamo Road, said that people don't always come to him with a budget in mind, but he can help them devise one. When that's the case, he'll ask how the customer plans to use their outdoor kitchen, and when he has a better feel for what they are looking for, he'll provide some pictures of kitchens so that the customer can get an idea of price ranges.

Currently, building materials have increased in price, said Kirby, and he recommends getting a trusted and reliable contractor so that your project is built right the first time.

Galassi noted that reclaimed vintage wood used to be cost-prohibitive, but now it's manageable compared to the cost of lumber. He said, "I like repurposing building materials, using reclaimed barn wood and reclaimed stone off of historic buildings." You can get creative and make your outdoor lifestyle area like no other.

Climate

We know all too well the weather extremes in Illinois, so Kirby recommends all appliances in the outdoor kitchen be outdoor-rated and rustproof. He prefers stainless steel, because when it comes to selecting a refrigerator, you can put a standard refrigerator outside, but it won't last as long. And when selecting countertops, Kirby recommends granite or natural stone in lighter colors. Darker colors absorb more heat and that puts more stress on the countertop.

Lauren and Jason Baker of Springfield learned about countertop choices when they built their own outdoor kitchen in spring 2020. Baker said that since the hardware stores were open while many other things were shut down, she and her husband decided it was time for a COVID project. She said they loved their outdoor kitchen, and the only design feature that did not fare so well was the butcher block countertop. After the butcher block had been in the elements for one full year, Baker said, "It did not age well."

Layout

Do you want your outdoor kitchen to be the same layout as your indoor kitchen? Or, would you like the outdoor kitchen to take on a whole new look, and have it complement the patio, deck or pool? Your ultimate answer may have a lot to do with the outdoor space and budget.

Before Kirby designs a kitchen, he likes to get to know his customer and the way they plan to use their outdoor kitchen. He also looks for the location of the indoor kitchen in relationship to the outdoor kitchen so that the cook doesn't have to walk all the way across the patio to get to the outdoor kitchen. This reduces spills and walking through a group of people. He also likes to have the cook face the party.

One regret the Bakers had about their DIY-outdoor kitchen was the location. It was tucked behind their detached garage, and although it looked like an adorable alfresco bistro, it was too far from the fire pit and other conversational areas, so the cooks were frequently cut off from most of the guests.

The location of the outdoor kitchen also needs to be near the access points of the necessary utilities: water, gas and electricity. Otherwise, this can take a big bite out of the budget. Galassi offers a less-expensive sink for washing hands and dishes that taps into existing plumbing. This option can only be used in the summer months, and it must be winterized prior to cold weather.

Lighting

"Lighting is something that sometimes gets missed. It's one of the elements we enjoy doing, and it really makes the space beautiful," said Kirby. He likes to use lighting under the cabinets to illuminate the countertop, overhead lighting where people sit and landscape lighting so that the landscaping can be enjoyed in the evening.

Seating

Even if space is tight, seating can be creatively built into walls that surround the patio, and it doesn't take up space where people need to move through the patio.

How soon before you can build your own outdoor kitchen? Galassi said that answer depends on the size and complexity of the kitchen, and once materials and design choices have been made and a budget is approved, it can often be a four-to-six week wait. Right now is the time to plan it, select materials and get on a contractor's schedule.

Holly Whisler lives in Springfield and has been known to bake cookies in a gas grill.

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