Northern Michigan Design: Northern Home & Cottage interviews kitchen designer extraordinaire Dawn Whyte on Northern Michigan outdoor kitchens and dining.

NHC: It’s obvious by your portfolio that you’ve made a niche for yourself within the kitchen design profession as an outdoor kitchen designer. Was that a conscious decision?

DW: About eight years ago I saw outdoor kitchens as an emerging trend. I saw the trend as a way to set myself apart from other kitchen designers, so I really started educating myself. I partnered with grill manufacturers—Lynx Grills, Viking, Wolf and Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet. I also partnered with Atlantis Outdoor Cabinets, a company that makes weatherproof cabinets from a marine grade polymer called Perma-Panel.

NHC: You’ve been asked to give a workshop at the National Kitchen & Bath Association’s 2012 Kitchen & Bath Industry Show in Chicago April 24–26. That’s quite an honor! Tell us how that came to be.

DW: I’ll be working with Lynx Grills to teach a continuing education class called Adventure into the Outdoors. Mike Edwards, the CEO of Lynx first noticed my work in 2009 when Kitchen & Bath Design News, an industry trade publication, featured three different outdoor kitchens. He called me and said, “We feel that your designs are the only ones out there that are fully put together.” So when NKBA asked Lynx to put together this course they asked me if I would help them present.

NHC: What are some important things to consider when planning an outdoor kitchen?

DW: The most important thing to consider is the location and proximity to the indoor kitchen. You want easy access to the indoors for dishes and utensils and for monitoring food that’s being prepped indoors. This is particularly important if you are planning a limited kitchen without water, etc. If you are planning a fully operational outdoor kitchen you need to consider the availability of gas, water lines and sewer.

The next most important thing is to make the grill the focal point. Everyone likes to show off their culinary expertise—and to cook while they are visiting with their family and guests.

Finally, if you were making your outdoor kitchen a three-season space, you would want to consider how to tie it into the architecture of your house, as well as fitting it into the landscape by using indigenous stones and plantings around it.

NHC: We have photos here of three of your outdoor kitchens, care to walk us through?

DW: Sure! Outdoor kitchen No. 1 is on Crooked Lake. It’s about a 400-square-foot patio open to the elements and centered around a stone fireplace. The appliances and cabinets are all stainless, but they still need protection, so we worked with a canvas company to make custom covers to protect it all.

The grill is a Kalamazoo Gourmet Grill that is outfitted with some very unique features, including a wood-burning and charcoal compartment as well as hard gas line and storage for a propane tank. It’s very unique for the industry. The cabinets are also by Kalamazoo Gourmet, and so we designed-in two narrow pullout cabinets flanking the grill that draw the grill’s heat and become plate warmers.

Kalamazoo cabinets are designed with a gutter system that channels to a weep hole behind every drawer and drawer front. The system diverts rainwater, but it also means that you can spray everything down with a hose when you clean up.

Another fun thing about this kitchen is the custom concrete countertops. One of the things I love about them is that you can set fun stuff like Petoskey stones, beach glass, and other personalized items in them.

NHC: And outdoor kitchen No. 2?

DW: This is an approximately 150-square-foot kitchen detached from a home on Burt Lake. We used large indigenous granite boulders that visually connect the kitchen to the most amazing adjacent hot tub and spa. The kitchen floor and the countertops are cut and polished granite flagstone that plays out the indigenous granite theme.

The grill is Viking with a high-BTU ProSear burner—it gets a lot higher temps than the other burners. The idea is to throw a steak on the ProSear and it seals in the juices. Then you reduce the heat and let it cook four minutes on both sides.

The white Atlantis cabinetry is both element-resistant and picks up the white architectural detailing in the home. This outdoor kitchen is outfitted with a lot of the amenities that you would recognize in an upscale kitchen—ample drawers and storage, a pullout trash can, pullout recycle bin. There is also a beverage center and icemaker.

NHC: Which brings us to outdoor kitchen No. 3

DW: The homeowner came to me just wanting a space for a grill at first. Working with the home’s builder, Glennwood Custom Builders, we evaluated the space, and there was just a natural place for an outdoor kitchen. It’s attached off a three-season room and set beside an outdoor fire pit where the homeowners and their guests pull up to watch the sunset over Walloon Lake.

The kitchen features a granite fireplace, Michigan granite floor, Atlantis cabinetry with pullout drawers, rollout shelves, pullout double recycle bin and a Lynx grill. One thing I want to point out is the tile windbreak behind the grill. It’s important to determine the prevailing wind direction when you plan the grill placement because if the wind is coming in the backside of the grill it affects the BTU’s.

Photo(s) by Todd Zawistowski