Outdoor Cooking — Simple, yet Stylish
Outdoor cooking areas have been one of the hottest trends in residential landscape design, thanks in no small part to the versatility of segmental retaining wall systems (SRWs). They can range from
a modest firepit to a full-blown outdoor kitchen that will rival the most lavish indoor cooking areas, replete with stainless-steel appliances, granite countertops and fully plumbed sinks.
An outdoor cooking area can be as simple as a patio framed with low, freestanding seat-walls and a firepit in the center, says Tom Zakoski, landscape designer with Villa Landscapes in Burnsville, MN. “With a modest investment and a little sweat equity, homeowners can transform an unusable backyard space into a stylish entertainment area,” says Zakoski. “Pairing an attractive paver patio with freestanding walls around the perimeter creates a cozy atmosphere for a firepit. I like SRW systems because they’re available in a range of styles, colors and textures that complement the variety of paving stones on the market, giving you an array of design options. And they’re easily installed by do-it-yourselfers and landscape contractors alike.”
Richard Ventola of Green Acres Inc. in Palisades Park, NJ, used an SRW system to construct an outdoor kitchen, complemented with concrete pavers in a matching color and texture.
“It’s the most popular part of the backyard,” says Ventola. “The entire cooking island is made of segmental retaining wall units.” Some of the blocks had to be cut to create spaces for the grill and food storage areas. The solid construction of the units made those modifications much easier than using hollow blocks, he notes.
The segmental retaining wall system is versatile as well as attractive. “We do a tremendous amount of natural stone in our landscaping,” says Ventola, “but I often need the consistent size and shape of concrete blocks. SRW units are the closest-looking to natural stone.”
Robert Daniels of Clearwater Swimming Pool Co. in Centre Hall, PA, recently was faced with the challenge of installing an outdoor kitchen in a backyard with a steep slope and deep, three-tiered retaining walls. The yard was adjacent to woods, so Daniels selected mosaic-patterned SRW units for the tiered walls.
“You get more of the natural look with a mosaic pattern, and set back in the woods, that complemented the environment.” Serpentine curves and stepped wall ends soften the appearance, and large beds of plantings separate the three tiers. A paver patio was installed across the top of the first retaining wall tier to create a cooking and eating area. Built-in stairs connect this upper patio
with the pool on the lower ground level. Then, in a creative use of limited space, Daniels carved a kitchen area right into the middle retaining wall that includes a large gas grill, refrigerator and food preparation counter. The entire structure also was built with the same type of SRW units, so it’s indistinguishable from the wall itself. “We had to make a couple of modifications to some blocks to get power and gas into the grill area, but it was easy because these blocks were solid,” says Daniels.
The cooking area became part of the retaining wall in this innovative design by Robert Daniels of Clearwater Swimming Pool Co. in Centre Hall, PA. Richard Ventola of Green Acres Inc. in Palisades Park, NJ, used over four pallets of random-pattern SRW units to create this outdoor cooking island, so it’s not going anywhere. Granite countertops were attached with thinset mortar. A versatile SRW system like this allows you to design a cooking island and freestanding seat-wall using the same materials.
Photos: Courtesy of VERSA- LOK
Other things to consider when designing an
outdoor kitchen include:
• Position the grill so prevailing breezes carry smoke away from where people congregate and eat.
• Use a solid segmental retaining wall system to achieve a natural look that’s also “bulletproof” from the elements, easily modified and virtually maintenance-free.
• Slope countertops and patios slightly so rainwater doesn’t pool on them.
• Make sure drainage issues are properly addressed, particularly where tiered spaces are used.
• Check with local utilities, building codes and manufacturers’ specifications before installing outdoor appliances.