Outdoor Kitchen Design Advice from Portland Landscaping Contractors, by Lee Glasscock

March 03, 2014

Paver Patio with Attached RoofThere’s no doubt that outdoor kitchens are increasingly in demand. Study after study shows that realtors and homebuilders see outdoor kitchens as one of the most requested features in a new home. No wonder—the recession left many homeowners looking for ways to expand their living spaces without upgrading to a new house (and a new mortgage).

Yet the proof is in the pudding, as they say, and no degree of popularity guarantees that your new outdoor living area will be a success. In my years working as a design and sales associate for Portland, Oregon landscapers Landscape East & West, I have overseen dozens of outdoor kitchen projects. Today I’m sharing my tips for a successful outdoor kitchen, starting with general design considerations, and ending with Portland-specific tips.

We invite you to learn more about our outdoor kitchen design services . Contact us today to learn more about what our award-winning Portland landscaping contractors can do for you!

Outdoor Kitchen Design Considerations

It’s never too early to start thinking about your outdoor kitchen! Magazines, neighbors’ homes, and websites like Houzz and Pinterest can be great sources of inspiration. When you meet with your contractor, everything will go more smoothly if you can provide a few pictures showing what you want. We invite you to view our Houzz and Pinterest pages to get the ideas flowing!

Location is a big consideration. Adopt a holistic lens. Consider how the position of the kitchen will encourage interactions with the indoor space, and with other outdoor areas. Everything should be situated in a symbiotic relationship, to maximize flow.

Glasser BBQ for Portland LandscapingUsage is always an important priority in designing any space, and outdoor kitchens are no exception. How many people will you be entertaining in your outdoor kitchen? Will you need built-in seating? And what type of chef are you? A BBQ king needs different amenities than a gourmand chef. From warming drawers to wine coolers to outdoor dishwashers, today’s outdoor kitchen can be chock full of technological wonders, or rustic, with just a simple BBQ and fire pit.

Don’t let ground-level space limit your dreams. We once designed a second-story outdoor kitchen on a covered second-floor patio. (The patio opened off of the family’s kitchen.) If you plan to place your kitchen on your deck or patio, remember that the deck must support the weight of the kitchen, plus furniture and guests. The structural strength of your decking may determine design possibilities.

A comfortable outdoor kitchen space will be protected from wind as well as prying eyes. If no such space exists on your property, add a privacy shade or two.

Finally, consider utility lines in the early stages of planning. Gas lines, electrical hookups and water pipes may need to be routed in, and you can save a bundle by knowing what you need up front.


As you gather outdoor kitchen inspiration, get serious about your budgeting. Basic outdoor kitchens can run around $5,000, while you can easily spend $40,000 or more, according to your materials and appliances. Our Portland landscaping contractors are happy to work with you on creating a budget.

Set some money aside (10-20%) for unexpected expenses, such as rebuilding the portion of your deck that’s weakened with dry rot. Of course, worthy contractors will do as much as possible to eliminate unexpected expenses, and will let you know immediately when the unexpected arises. But the savvy homeowner sets aside a little extra in anticipation.

Your contractor can run through materials and products during the initial inquiry call, or during a more formal face-to-face meeting.

Now that we have the basics and the budget out of the way, let’s take a look at some special outdoor kitchen considerations for the Pacific Northwest.

Materials & Design Considerations for Portland Outdoor Kitchens

Each locale poses its own climate challenges, which outdoor kitchens must overcome. Here in the Pacific Northwest, we see plenty of moisture, occasional freeze/thaw cycles, and hot summer sun for at least a couple of weeks out of the year. If you live in this corner of the country, you want to make sure your outdoor kitchen cabinets contractor is building an outdoor kitchen that can stand up to the elements.

Outdoor Grill Design for Portland LandscapingAppliances should be stainless steel, for long-term aesthetic appeal and performance.

Cabinets and counters should be “marine grade,” meaning that they’re truly resistant to moisture. For this climate, the following materials work well:

Concrete, Just make sure your builder knows how to prevent cracking, and be prepared to reseal your concrete every year or two.

Masonry products such as brick and stone. These materials are also great for veneers. (A veneer is a finish that gives a built-in BBQ or kitchen a “built-in” look.)

Steel framing with concrete backer board.

Granite works well in mid-range tones, and with minimal veining. (Veins are sometimes composed of epoxies and other fillers that react negatively to UV rays.)

Wood cabinets are a possibility when the kitchen area is covered, but hard, marine grade timbers are required, and they must be regularly restained/resealed.

Most quartz and recycled glass is not intended for outdoor use, so it will not retain its color under outdoor conditions.

Overall, when choosing outdoor kitchen materials, think about 1) Reaction to heat and 2) Whether the material will absorb stains. Stainless steel and dark stone absorb the heat of direct sunlight, and may be too hot to touch on the dog days of summer. One benefit of granite is that it typically won’t stain. Some tiles also work well for this purpose. In general, non-porous counter and cabinet materials will not absorb stains.

Outdoor Grill for Portland LandscapingTo Create a Year-Round Outdoor Kitchen for the Pacific Northwest, consider materials first and foremost. The following amenities can also add four-season appeal for your outdoor kitchen:

  • A covered structure. Translucent covers will maximize sunlight while blocking “liquid sunshine.”
  • Electrical outlets and lighting is smart, since wintertime does get dark up here above the 45th parallel.
  • Outdoor heaters or a fire pit can make your outdoor kitchen more inviting all year round.
  • Rain gardens, drainage sculptures, and other artistic features can help you and your guests appreciate the rain falling all around your covered outdoor kitchen.

With careful planning, budgeting, and a dash of regional know-how, you can create the outdoor kitchen of your dreams.

Outdoor Lighting Expert Lee GlasscockContributing author Lee Glasscock is a Design & Sales Associate at Landscape East & West, Portland landscaping professionals. Lee specializes in outdoor kitchen design and has many years of experience helping Portland, Oregon residents create the kitchens of their dreams.