Beyond the walls

The kitchen has evolved into an indoor-outdoor great room
Tuesday, November 20, 2012
By Ken Best

While the aim of good design is that it be timeless and functional, no space is static. As the hardest working room in the house, it is little wonder the kitchen receives so much thought and attention. Always keeping pace with the needs of the homeowner, the kitchen is no longer content to remain within the typical four walls of the home.

The most significant trend is the kitchen that creates a seamless transition between indoors and out. Today’s kitchen contains all the desired accoutrements that can adapt to serve both spaces in a cohesive way.

This highly flexible indoor-outdoor great room is made possible by large openings that can be closed off in cool weather with good-looking folding concertina doors or even industrial-looking glass and steel overhead garage doors.

When a roof overhang is sufficient and municipal standards provide for it, the floor level between indoor and outdoor spaces can be made virtually continuous, allowing for a variety of seating configurations and further softening the distinction between interior and exterior space.

Another feature that seems to be gaining momentum is the reduction of the sill between countertops and windows. Just as the infinity edge on a pool opens the view to the horizon, these “infinity edge” windows where the glass sits at approximately the same level as the countertop add to the sense of connection to the surrounding landscape.

The kitchen island is the hub of family and social life. It is also the “go-to” spot for food prep, appetizers and homework. Where interior countertops are located below windows that open to decks or patios, indoor-outdoor seating bars can be designed. Concertina windows that can fold away leave generous openings from interior to exterior space. The same countertop used indoors is also installed with an overhang outside, creating a second place for family and guests to sit comfortably and visit with the chef during warm weather.

Continuity in materials has become increasingly important as indoor and outdoor spaces meld together. For example, countertop materials should be suitable for not only the interior kitchen counters and island but to withstand the freeze and thaw, and UV exposure of the outdoors as well.

Finishes that are easily cleaned and more indoor-outdoor friendly are often selected for these kitchens. Although a perennial classic, white cabinetry is being passed over in favour of harder wearing stained wood doors or painted doors in darker shades.

Backsplashes featuring light coloured grout are also out of place in these spaces with the trend being either the countertop carrying up the wall to form the backsplash or larger tiles completed with grey or darker grouts to further ease the burden of cleaning.

Ken Best is a senior designer with Synthesis Design Inc., a residential design firm based in North Vancouver, B.C. He can be reached at

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