Opening your mind to undefined possibilities is what they call thinking outside the box. My friends reached out to me last-minute; they were starting a project in the backyard — installing an outdoor kitchen and a new hardscape. When we met, I knew that what they were about to do was not going to be much of an improvement; it lacked clarity, was way too obvious.
Their trusted contractor set out to rip out the existing stamped concrete paving material and replace it with an updated version of the same thing but leave random pockets for planting “to break up the monotony.” In addition, he was planning to install a traditional built-into-concrete-block backyard kitchen in the middle of the existing lawn.
Thankfully, my friends were comfortable with a short delay and a new design approach. They were willing to think outside of the box. Envisioning their backyard as a place to relax, enjoy good food with company, and take in the view, we were able to search for the inspiration, restate the problem, set new parameters, work backwards, and pack the design with personality. Let me elaborate.
1. Thinking of unexpected connections
To begin with, instead of focusing on nuts and bolts associated with building an outdoor kitchen, I conjured up an easy, laid-back feeling of long sunny days and cool breezy nights while imagining the view beyond the edge of the property as a body of water merging with the endless sky.
I thought of a light, almost weightless structure that spans a great distance. Conceptually, it would frame the view to die for. I put together a mood board or a collage that reaffirmed and helped visualize the intent. (This method is explained in detail in my e-book DIY Like an Architect)
2. Restating the problem
The backyard in question was not inviting. The view fit for a Tuscan villa did not matter. Even the pool did not help make it feel tranquil. So, what was the problem? It lacked cohesion. Thus, our new objective was to correct that and create an urban retreat, a stage or a backdrop for a marvelous life.
All the elements had to join together in order to become a harmonious whole, something spirited yet very grounded. It was about achieving an atmosphere of serenity by meshing new and existing while integrating everything with its surroundings.
3. Rejecting conventional wisdom
Who says that every outdoor kitchen has to be set in concrete block? Who says that it is more important than the view? Who says that the barbeque grill has to become the focal point? In my humble opinion, outdoor kitchen equipment should not only cook, it should look good. Actually, I would love it to be invisible.
4. Shifting from rational to non-rational thinking
At our first meeting, my friends shared that although they hated the bullnose details of the existing coping, we can’t touch it because it would blow their budget out of the water. I just couldn’t live with that. It had to be resolved without the expense of starting from scratch.
Upon considering the issues and constraints at hand, I proposed to cover the existing with a thin layer of porcelain tile. This way, we would not mess with structural integrity but conceal unsightly appearance. We would be applying “permanent makeup,” of sorts.
5. Packing with personality
Thoughtfully responding to the demands and taking advantage of the opportunities presented by the environment meant weaving together multiple areas under one roof of a minimal steel structure floating in the landscape. We extended the home’s living spaces by introducing a covered pavilion with functional areas for cooking, entertaining, and relaxing near the “new” and improved pool. We chose a neutral, calming palette with strong emphasis on comfort and livability.
We made sure that the efficient layout does not isolate the cook from the rest of the activities. In addition, this stainless steel outdoor kitchen was sited and configured to neatly tuck away the pool equipment area. It is compact, but there is no compromise on prep surfaces — stainless steel counter provides plenty of space to chop up vegetables and meat, mix drinks, and have a serving station. In terms of materials, everything is durable, weatherproof, and easy to clean.
Adding personal touches and subjective opinion helped us define the state of mind that created a space tailor-made for structuring improvisation. Thinking outside of the box really paid off!