Can a Built-In Charcoal Grill Be Installed in an Outdoor Kitchen?

I’m a charcoal snob. It’s one of the reasons why I really only deal with the higher end gas grills, because an infra-red sear burner is the only way to get the same sort of awesome heat that comes pre-loaded with a bag of charcoal. It begs the question, why don’t we see more outdoor kitchens with built-in charcoal grills?

FMduo

When designing an outdoor kitchen, the challenge with the superiority of charcoal over other forms of heat is that there aren’t a lot of budget built-in charcoal grills out there. Whereas the entry point for what I would consider an ok-quality gas built-in grill is $1800-2200, stainless steel charcoal built-ins are a bit more.¬† I carry a Fire Magic Aurora A830i Gas and Charcoal Combo Grill. It’s pretty great, and the charcoal is lit by the gas burner for ease of lighting, but at a list price of $4,690 it can be a chunk of the budget.

Saffire

If you’re less concerned about the stainless steel look you have more options. Any of the “ceramic egg” smoker/cookers can also be used as a charcoal grill in the open position. It may seem a little big for that purpose but it certainly gets the job done. I want one of these in the worst possible way, because not only have I discovered smoked meats and cheeses – I’ve discovered smoked cocktails and infusions. mmmm. One that I offer is by Saffire, and the price point is pretty great. A freestanding Saffire smoker starts at about $1100, and one designed to sit in a kitchen island is a bit less.

(One of my former neighbors had a Big Green Egg and someone swiped it from his backyard. Nothing is sadder than seeing someone standing in his driveway, screaming “who would take a man’s egg? WHO?!?!? I WILL FIND YOUUUUUUUUUUU!!!”)

You can also click here to read my post on how to build an outdoor kitchen around a freestanding grill – we did it with a gas grill, but charcoal could also work.

It’s a pretty well known fact that I fall victim to the rabbit hole of the internet pretty easily. There’s a bright side to this, though. It means I discovered the Concrete Exchange, an online shop for products by Fu-Tung Cheng. He’s a pretty amazing designer with a contemporary bent to his styling, and he designed a lightweight concrete surround for your basic, everyday $100 Weber kettle grill. Aesthetically, maybe it’s not your cup of tea, but if you like modern¬† and concrete it’s pretty neat. And functional, too.

So can a built-in charcoal grill be installed in an outdoor kitchen? Sure, but they can be a little tougher to find and may demand a little modification of your cabinetry. In my opinion, though, it’s totally worth it.

If you’re planning your outdoor kitchen or any other landscape project, I’d love to help you. Contact me to discuss next steps!

 

Just Because It Doesn’t SAY It’s Landscape Lighting Doesn’t Mean It Can’t Be

Over the holidays I went to the Leesburg Outlets with MJ and her mom. While it was a little nutty and crowded, I discovered that Jos A Banks actually sells clothes that fit tall guys with Magilla Gorilla arms. That was one bit of excitement.

More relevant to this blog, however, was the discovery of the awesome lighting at the Restoration Hardware outlet store. I love lighting; had I continued my schooling in interior design, that’s an area of specialization that really interested me.

chandelier 1

The thing about landscape lighting is that the goal is to see the effect and not the source. We focus on grazing walls, highlighting objects, playing with shadows, and making sure paths are safe and easy to navigate. We aren’t necessarily looking for a fixture that commands attention, one that says hey! Look at this! What I found were ceiling light fixtures that called out for attention. Any big, open space would be perfect for these, whether it’s a barn, a huge screen porch, or even a patio in a grove of trees, where a stout branch provides support, The possibilities are endless.

chandelier 2

What do we think? Is this something you would do? And one more fixture – how great is this for over an outdoor dining table?

chandelier 3

Travertine Paver Patio Installers in Virginia – What to Know

When I was designing landscapes in Arizona, one option we had available to us was travertine marble tile. These were actual tiles – typically 12″x12″ and less than a half inch think – so they had to be laid in a mortar bed on a concrete slab. Shortly after landing in Virginia in 2005, I started seeing travertine pavers make an appearance.

These are really cool because they’re an inch thick and are laid just like a concrete paver. You build up with a base layer of compacted gravel (21A or crusher run), then use a one inch layer of sand as your bedding layer. Once the pavers are in place they’re compacted and polymeric sand is swept into the joints. That’s it. It’s a beautiful finished product that has the ability to flex and move like a traditional concrete paver patio in Virginia. From the test data I’ve seen online, travertine pavers have a compressive strength similar to concrete pavers and can even be used for driveways!

The biggest challenge I’ve found with designing travertine paver patios in Virginia is making the materials make sense. Travertine in California or Arizona doesn’t look out of place. It can look a little foreign here, though. I recently designed a fireplace, seat wall, and travertine paver patio as part of a winery landscape design project. I used a plum-colored flagstone to tie in with the warm tones of the travertine and the rich reddish colors in the fireplace stone, and I’m quite pleased with how it turned out. All those color theory classes have finally paid off.

I’m starting my next travertine paver patio project this week, and I may have one more in the pipeline as part of a swimming pool project. The travertine pavers are a great product that (unlike concrete pavers and flagstone) aren’t in every other backyard. Making it work requires someone who can integrate this new material in the landscape design while blending all the colors harmoniously. In other words, you need a landscape designer. Contact me to set up a consultation if you’re looking to build a travertine paver patio in Virginia, Maryland, or DC and I’ll be happy to talk with you about it!

Drainage and Infrastructure Are Not Like Milk Duds

I’m still recovering from Halloween – 538 trick-or-treaters is a LOT Of kids – and it’s still framing how I look at things. Of the nearly $200 we spent on candy we have a bowlful left, and as I was pawing through the bowl for a mid-morning snack I kept encountering Milk Duds. Boxes and boxes of Milk Duds. They’re ok, I suppose, but I’ve never met anyone who got excited about them. It takes some amazing skill to be able to combine chocolate and caramel, two awesome flavors, in a way no one loves.

A lot of people look at the essential foundations of the landscape as if they were Milk Duds, something that you can’t avoid but don’t love. It doesn’t have to be that way! I’ve already gone on and on about dry streambeds as an attractive way to move water through the landscape. It’s also possible to move stormwater in a more formal way, using it as a water feature. When I took care of the grounds at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California, I got to see a really neat way of handling rainwater. Here’s the wide-angle view of the buildings:

Every floor has a balcony overlooking the central courtyard, but what architect Louis I. Kahn did was he stepped each balcony back as they got higher, so that the rainwater flowed off the flat roof onto the edge of the balcony, through the scuppers, and onto the balcony below that, and on and on for the six floors of the building.

Source: tourguidetim.com

The idea was to create a series of cascading waterfalls, and it was a really cool idea. Now, ideas do come down to execution. If you worked at the Salk and wonder why you never really saw this, sadly, the reality check is that clearly the concrete company who poured the floors didn’t get the memo. In a heavy rain, water pooled on the balconies and flowed the wrong way, right into the labs. Rainy days meant all of us – landscapers, carpenters, plumbers – grabbed long-handled squeegees and saved Science from Nature. Hm. Is there an allegory in there?

Regardless, Louis I. Kahn’s design intent shows that drainage and infrastructure can be handled artfully. Where a lesser architect may have channeled the water into drains and hidden plumbing runs that daylighted in the scrub above the cliffs, he made them a feature. That’s a testament to what design can do. Thus inspired, I’m off to see if maybe microwaving Milk Duds makes them better.

Endless Pool and Landscape Design in Alexandria, VA

Last year I was contacted by some folks in Alexandria, Virginia, with an intriguing project: they have a small backyard, and wanted to install an Endless Pool without giving up the entire yard or making the pool an overwhelming, ugly, dominant feature. I did some research, and the design issues surrounding an Endless Pool are the same as those surrounding an acrylic spa – namely, that without finding a way to tuck it into the surrounding landscape, you have a 3-4′ tall box sitting on a slab. Here’s what the backyard looked like:

Adding to the complexity of the project was the fact that they had recently had a new brick patio installed and weren’t in love with the idea of ripping it out and starting over. And, the yard was actually rather nice, if in need of an update.

Clearly, the best way to deal with the pool was to partially sink it in the ground. Part of the design process involved a lot of phone calls with the smart people division of Endless Pools, along with emailing back and forth lots of CAD drawings to get the technical details right (note: your random landscapers offering “free designs and estimates” don’t do this level of service). I ended up with a concept that played off the existing shapes, enlarged the patio, and kept the pool tucked down a bit.

As I often do when designing structure, I also did a quick (but accurate) 3D model:

The homeowners loved the concept and moved forward. I wasn’t directly involved with the install on this one, as the pool builder wanted to handle it himself, but I checked in periodically and came in at the end to discuss some hardscaping details and take care of the plantings and sod. It’s still new and not quite ready for prime time, but here are some finished pictures:

______

_____

_____

_____

All in all this was a really fun project to design, and I like that it’s a very simple design that is still very attractive and functional. It’s a fun challenge packing loads of function into the landscape design of a small space.

 

Elements of Design: Texture

Texture deals with how smooth or rough a surface is. When talking about elements of structures, smooth surfaces can often seem more modern and contemporary, while rough surfaces seem more rustic. Think of the difference between a rammed earth or concrete wall (favorites in modern design) versus a stone or splitface block wall.

Rammed Earth Wall. credit: ASNZ website (click to visit)

Texture has an additional role in landscape design, however. A pleasing planting design includes plants of different textures used in the landscape. Soft and spiky, narrow and broad, whatever the mix you choose the idea is to create some contrast to keep things interesting. This photo shows a really basic pairing of soft and spiky – something that’s actually quite common in container plantings:

An old trick I learned a long time ago was that if you want to be able to evaluate whether you have successfully blended textures in your planting design, take a black and white photo of the plantings. With the color removed, the textures become obvious. Brilliant. You don’t even need Photoshop anymore, just a vintage camera app for your phone. How cool is that? Yay, technology!

Texture is really effective, and it’s one of those tools that, when used properly, isn’t even readily apparent. It just “looks right.” The key to achieving interesting textures and relationships is knowing your options – which is where a good landscape designer can be a great asset.

Really Cool Outdoor Fireplaces and Features

One of the perks of my job is that I get to wander the internet in search of really cool products to use in my clients’ projects. I came across a company called Raw Urth Designs. They’re a metal fabrication and design firm based in Colorado, and they make gorgeous fireplaces and fire features. Like this one:

credit: photo and design by Raw Urth Designs (click to visit)

I love their story, too. You can read it on their site, but essentially they’re a couple who ran a landscape design/build company and couldn’t find the pieces they wanted for their clients, so they designed and built them themselves. Hm, sounds like how I got started doing custom arbors and trellises! I love their model, because they have stock pieces but will also do totally custom pieces as well.

Credit: Photo and design by Raw Urth Designs (click to visit)

Aren’t these great? If you love what you see and you want to work one into your landscape design, contact me and let’s get the ball rolling.