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Outdoor kitchens: Getting it right

Photo By: Courtesy of Eric Leith Hagberg
Photo Courtesy Of Eric Leith Hagberg

Outdoor kitchens are rising in popularity – and the design process requires strict attention to detail.

When it comes to creating the ultimate backyard living experience, outdoor kitchens have become a must have. Realize, however, that as great as you will feel to see your outdoor kitchen finally completed, designing and installing one requires strict attention to detail, a considerable amount of planning and a professional who knows what he or she is doing.

If not properly planned and installed, your landscape project could quickly turn into a nightmare. To avoid such nightmares, consider the following key tips, and keep them in mind when you are looking for a professional to design and install your outdoor kitchen.


Homeowners always ask me if a permit is required to install specific elements of their landscapes. Often the answer is no, but when it comes to outdoor kitchens, the answer is always yes. The permitting process helps to ensure that elements are installed in such a way that they do not pose any harm or accident risk.

Outdoor kitchens usually involve public utilities such as electrical, gas and water lines. They may also require some type of foundation and a freestanding or overhead structure, and you may need to connect to the sewer system. Improper installation of any one of these elements could result in serious harm or accidents, so make sure that proper permitting procedures are followed.


As the outdoor kitchen is likely to be a crucial element, central to the entire landscape, check from the beginning that you are within proper setbacks. Before the design of the outdoor kitchen or any other landscape element begins, your landscape professional should consult with the city to ensure that he or she is not building within the setback or an easement. Setback distances and easements vary from city to city and from zone to zone, however, a good rule of thumb is not to build any structure closer than 5 feet from the property line. Keep in mind that this is only a general rule, as I have at times been allowed to build right up to the property line. I’ve also been restricted from placing any structure within 15 feet of a property line. Always check first.


Outdoor kitchen components can be tricky. Each component should come with an installation manual that lists the applicable dimensions. To properly design for and install the grill, for example, your landscape professional will need to know the cutout length, width, depth and height in addition to the overall length, width, depth and height, as well as how far the grill face sticks out past the counter surface, how far the lid flips back and where access holes must be drilled for gas and electrical connections. It can be complicated to make all the components fit in the available space, so coordinate with your landscape professionals before construction begins.


Ergonomics are essential to comfort in the home, the office and the landscape. Apply basic ergonomic principles when planning your outdoor kitchen. For example, are you right- or left-handed? That may determine on which side of the grill or sink you include additional counter space. Are you shorter or taller than average? That may dictate the height of the countertop surface. Consider what you find comfortable or uncomfortable about your interior kitchen, and communicate that information to your landscape professional to use as a guideline for planning your outdoor kitchen.


The outdoor kitchen will become a common gathering place in the landscape. The more central it is to the main gathering area, the better. Don’t leave the cook out of the conversation. If possible, situate the countertops and grill so that the cook doesn’t end up facing away from the rest of the group during parties or gatherings. If you want a bar with stools, consider placing them so that the people sitting at the bar can face each other and the cook, which will promote group conversation.


Considerable planning goes into a great outdoor kitchen, but if you’ve hired an exceptional landscape professional, the process should not be stressful. An experienced designer or contractor will be familiar with these important concepts. Use these tips as a guideline and a test to select the right landscape professional for your project. Then, relax and enjoy.

Eric Leith Hagberg, a member of the Association of Professional Landscape Designers’ East Bay District, is a landscape designer with Del Conte’s Landscaping and provides services through his own company, Eric Leith Landscapes. For more information, visit ericleithdesigns.blogspot.com.

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