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Hearth & Home September 2019


Make Room For Modular

By Lisa Readie Mayer

Turnkey outdoor kitchens could be small retailers’ building blocks to success; don’t be intimidated.

Office-supplies retailer Staples has the “Easy Button;” specialty hearth, barbecue, and patio retailers have modular outdoor kitchens. These turnkey cabinetry systems are the “Easy Button” to helping small independent retailers compete in the outdoor kitchen category and reclaim sales that have been eroding to landscapers, building contractors, appliance retailers, and other professionals.

“Previously, it had always been really hard for most small specialty retailers to offer custom masonry outdoor kitchens,” says Jim Ginocchi, president of Coyote Outdoor Living. “There are many hindrances, but chief among them is coordinating and controlling all the subcontractors needed to complete the job. You had to have someone design the kitchen, construct the frame, a mason to finish it, a source for the counter, and someone to make the cutouts for the appliances. As a result, it was easier to just sell the built-in appliances. Not so anymore.”

Modular outdoor kitchens are emerging as a compelling alternative. Similar to indoor cabinetry, modular outdoor cabinetry comes in standard-sized components that, like building blocks, can be custom-configured in any layout. The components are delivered fully finished, with appliance cutouts in place, and link together quickly and easily at the customer’s home without special equipment or skills.

Unlike rock or stucco islands, most modular outdoor cabinetry is similar in appearance to indoor cabinetry and delivers a sleeker, more modern aesthetic. This seamless, indoor-outdoor design trend is catching on in outdoor kitchens. Depending on the brand, outdoor cabinetry is available in a broad assortment of finishes, including stainless steel, powder-coated stainless steel, powder-coated aluminum, marine-grade resin materials, and glass-fiber, reinforced-concrete panels that look like weathered wood, stacked stone, brick, or concrete. For one-stop shopping convenience, some manufacturers also include an option for a countertop.

The entire process from design to installation is much faster than with traditional masonry islands. Some manufacturers offer in-stock, modular kits that can be delivered and installed in as little as a week, but the typical project completion is four to six weeks. In addition, while custom masonry islands are almost always a pricey undertaking for the homeowner, modular outdoor kitchens are offered in a much broader price spectrum, making the concept available to a wider demographic.

That’s not to say they’re inexpensive. On the contrary, some systems cost as much as, if not more than, a masonry island. However, there are a number of value-priced options available that allow more homeowners to realize their outdoor-living aspirations. Another key selling point: Since modular outdoor kitchens are easy to reconfigure or expand, even if a customer starts out with a small and simple outdoor kitchen, they can add components later as budget allows.

Oasis PRO825 by Napoleon.

Modular Manufacturers

“Most homeowners want to turn their outdoor spaces into multiple, fully decorated rooms – including a real kitchen,” says Stephen Schroeter, co-CEO of Napoleon, which offers Oasis Modular Components. “The trend in outdoor kitchens is moving to modular systems and away from heavy rock looks. A sleeker design aesthetic is popular with consumers today. Modular outdoor kitchens are a good solution for retailers because they are easy to put together, have fast turnaround times to complete the project, and retailers can make more than just a grill sale.”

Indeed, beyond the grill and the modular cabinetry, experts say most outdoor kitchens typically include at least one or two other appliances, such as a refrigerator or sideburner. In addition, consumers are increasingly opting for multiple islands on the patio: one for cooking elements and another for beverages and dining. Many are even buying modular outdoor cabinetry as a storage solution for sports equipment, patio seat cushions, towels, pool toys, or pet gear.

Napoleon’s Oasis Modular Components are made from stainless steel and carbon-colored, powder-coated, galvanneal steel, and are available in drawer units, shelf cabinets, grill and appliance cabinets, trash pull-outs, and transition pieces. The modules also come with leveling feet, knock-outs for gas and electric hook-ups, and can be arranged in custom layouts.

Predesigned Outdoor Kitchens by Gensun Casual.

Gensun’s turnkey outdoor kitchens look as if they moved from the indoor kitchen to the patio. Easy to assemble and fully finished, consumers can choose from a host of pre-designed islands in two different looks, one with contemporary styling and the other with traditional detailing. Or consumers can customize their outdoor kitchen from the many standard cabinet modules and 20 exterior colors.

NatureKast Weatherproof Cabinetry also could be mistaken for interior cabinets. The high-end modular line made of high-density resin, replicates the natural color and texture of real wood. “We created casts of real wood doors, so it looks exactly like wood, but won’t warp, fade, or crack,” explains Chris Exelby, vice president of Sales and Marketing.

The line takes more cues from indoor cabinetry, including options of crown molding, corbels, and door faces in Shaker, contemporary, and louvered styles. The cabinets can accommodate all built-in grills and appliances, and come with lifetime warranties. “Outdoor cabinetry is a booming industry,” says Exelby. “We’re growing over 100% annually.”

Ready-to-Assemble Outdoor Kitchen by Coyote Outdoor Living.

Coyote Outdoor Living has introduced Ready-to-Assemble Outdoor Kitchens made from glass-fiber, reinforced-concrete (GFRC) panels, precast with a stone-, wood- or concrete-look finish. The panels are shipped flat and installed on site with L-brackets, self-tapping screws, and corner support pieces, before the countertop and appliances are added to complete the outdoor kitchen. Ginocchi says a pair of installers can assemble an entire outdoor kitchen in a few hours, with no additional finish or masonry work required. Coyote’s grilling islands are available in 5-, 6- and 8-ft. lengths; it also offers bar islands, and island bases for its electric grills and Asado Kamados.

Ready-to-Assemble Island by Fire Magic.

Fire Magic’s Ready-To-Assemble Islands are made from finished GFRC panels, flat-shipped in five simple-to-assemble pieces. The island packages are offered in straight-run and L-shaped configurations, a variety of finishes such as stucco and rustic wood looks, and different combinations of built-in Fire Magic grills, sideburners, refrigerators, and other appliances.

Hestan’s Outdoor Living Suites, 8- or 12-ft., fully-finished, stainless-steel entertainment islands, can be outfitted with a Hestan grill, sideburners, refrigeration, accessories, storage, and more, and incorporate several electrical outlets. They can be further customized with a raised bar ledge and Hestan’s signature color panels on the appliance controls, doors, and drawer fronts. A stainless-steel countertop is available, or a stone top may be sourced and added locally.

Outdoor Living Suite by Hestan Outdoor.

Danver Stainless Outdoor Kitchens and its Brown Jordan Outdoor Kitchens branded line, offer a comprehensive selection of stainless-steel components that are designed to fit most outdoor grills, appliances, and bartending centers. They come in a huge array of door styles, powder-coated colors, and textures, including 10 new, realistic, wood-grain finishes.

The Arcadia Series from Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet is among the priciest modular outdoor kitchen systems. The line includes 20 custom-configurable cabinetry components, with leveling legs, and a speed-clip system to facilitate installation. Four horizontal panels run across the face of each cabinet, creating a sleek design that is carried through on the door and drawer handles. The panels are offered in two standard finishes – oiled ipe wood or charcoal-gray, powder-coated stainless steel – but custom powder-coat finishes also are available.

Post & Panel System by Danver Stainless Outdoor Kitchens.

Unfinished Modular Options

While finished modular components offer the most turnkey path to an outdoor kitchen, unfinished modular systems offer many similar benefits, but the exterior finish is applied after installation at the job site. “This is not an issue for most dealers who install fireplaces, because they’re already doing finishes and don’t need to sub it out,” explains Philip Chamberlain, National Sales manager for Forshaw, makers of Exterus Modular Island Systems. “And consumers really like the flexibility to customize finishes.”

Exterus dealers guide customers through a simple, three-step design process to create an outdoor kitchen, first choosing grills and accessories such as sideburners, refrigerators, and trash pull-outs from partner brands such as Fire Magic, AOG, Summerset, Primo, and True Refrigeration. Next is planning the layout using the line’s standard cabinetry components, before finally choosing the exterior and counter finishes from a selection of stucco, natural stone veneer, and granite options. The exterior materials are shipped along with the unfinished cabinetry modules for installing and finishing at the customer’s home.

Forshaw’s Exterus Express Islands offer even faster turnarounds – as little as five days – and easy-entry price tags starting at about $6,700. They are available in-stock, in a handful of popular configurations and pre-selected appliance and finish packages.

Exterus Express Island by Forshaw of St. Louis.

“When we introduced our concept 12 years ago, the Southeast region was the first to catch on, but now it’s spreading into the Northeast and throughout the country,” says Chamberlain. “The growth has been incredible.”

The unfinished modular cabinetry components in Grillnetics Outdoor Cabinetry system require one additional step – assembly – on the path to an outdoor kitchen. The panels of patent-pending aluminum framework, pre-clad with PermaBase cement board, that make up each of the 60 available components, are shipped flat. Assembly of each module takes about 15 minutes, according to Grillnetics National Sales manager Mick Sage. “This system is lightweight, strong, adjustable for any grill, doors or drawers, has a lifetime warranty, and is very easy to put together and finished onsite,” he says. “We offer full design support and can ship next day on standard cabinets.

“Contractors love it,” he adds. “Toll Brothers is using it in their model homes, offering outdoor kitchens as an upgrade. Lots of contractors are looking for a quick, turnkey solution for outdoor kitchens.”

Grillnetics Outdoor Cabinetry System.

A Battle for Category Ownership

Many of those contractors are in multifamily housing. In addition to residents’ private balconies, for which the lighter-weight cabinetry is better suited than masonry islands, builders are increasingly offering communal outdoor kitchens as part of the amenity package.

This year, Danver Stainless Outdoor Kitchens introduced its new Post and Panel System to builders, architects, and designers of multifamily environments. The islands have the sophisticated look and countertop workspace of a typical Danver outdoor kitchen, but are designed without storage. The system is ADA-compliant, a necessity for communal spaces. It ships flat and installs easily, keeping delivery and labor costs low. Panels can be replaced, even with a countertop in place, making it easy for communities to repair without updating the entire unit.

“It’s easier to keep clean, easier to install, and a less-costly investment for the builder than a full kitchen,” says Mitch Slater, president and owner of Danver and Brown Jordan Outdoor Kitchens.

Contractors and developers are not the only group looking to claim a piece of the outdoor kitchen category. Other channels, such as pool builders, kitchen and bath designers, and appliance retailers are taking note of the outdoor kitchen trend and discovering that modular outdoor kitchens are an easy and efficient way to offer the service to customers.

Manufacturers are actively courting these industries, exhibiting at the likes of the International Builders’ Show, National Hardware Show, the Kitchen and Bath Industry Show, among others. Recently, Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet’s Arcadia Series won a “Best of KBIS” award, and Urban Bonfire Outdoor Kitchens recently took the “Best in Show: Kitchens” prize at the Architectural Digest Design Show.

Modular Outdoor Kitchen Suite by THOR Kitchens.

“Mass-premium” appliance manufacturer THOR Kitchen introduced an eight-piece Modular Outdoor Kitchen Suite, including a grill, a set of refrigerator drawers, pizza oven, and other storage cabinets. The flexible system can be configured in L- or U-shaped layouts, and according to the company, is offered at a “practical price.”

As these other channels try to carve a niche, experts caution that hearth and barbecue retailers may see outdoor kitchen business slip away if they don’t take ownership of the category. “Specialty hearth and barbecue retailers may be beaten to the punch,” says Ginocchi. “Retailers need to offer the total package – including grills, outdoor appliances, accessories, patio furniture, heating lamps, and an island solution – in their stores.

“A customer coming in to look at a grill can lead to the purchase of an entire Outdoor Room. But the same scenario could easily happen in an appliance store when a customer comes in to buy a dishwasher. Specialty hearth and barbecue retailers have the expertise in grills, but if they don’t sell outdoor kitchens, the customer will buy it elsewhere. Consumers want an outdoor kitchen and they want it now.

“It might be time to figure out what’s not selling and move some of those cart models off the floor,” Ginocchi continues. “A retailer can display as small as a 4-ft. island with different built-in appliances to show customers an outdoor kitchen option. Put the island outside and use the grill, pull out the trash drawer. It’s the best way for customers to imagine using it at home.”

He says, “The fear (around selling outdoor kitchens) has been ingrained for so long. Retailers need to understand that this is an attainable solution for them and their customers. This concept is easy to design and install, and is completely sellable.”

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