Coming up with the right recipe for an outdoor kitchen or living area can lead to a challenge in the ingredients.
For Brad and Tracey Lusk of Peters, Washington County, the menu was determined by the shape of the preparation area.
Meanwhile, Rachel and David Logan of South Fayette had to deal with an entirely different situation.
The decision to add an outdoor living area — and the direction of the design — often requires a great deal of flexibility in dealing with its shape and size and the equipment included, professionals say.
Jeff Blunkosky, owner of Pittsburgh Stone & Waterscapes in Washington County, says the projects can be as simple as enclosing a grill in stone for about $2,000 or as elaborate as a major site change for $30,000.
He says he often will do a design that fits what clients want — or his ideas about the best way to use a property. Then, he will forward the sizes of equipment space to someone dealing in that kind of hardware.
"I don't want to be a grill salesman," he says of leaving the choice of equipment up to someone else.
Conversely, Mike Buckiso, owner of Fireplace & Patioplace in Mt. Lebanon, sometimes refers people, like the Lusks, to Blunkosky to decide on the size and layout of the project before equipment is chosen.
Regardless of the way they are conceived, such projects are getting more popular.
Buckiso says there are five going on right now in his Peters neighborhood. Blunkosky says he is dealing with 10 to 12 inquiries right now and handles about 75 a year.
With that popularity, though, comes a word of caution.
A job for the knowledgeable
Work on outdoor kitchens and spaces with that kind of equipment would seem to throw open the door to designers or contractors.
But Mark Uchida of A ReMARKable Kitchen in Blawnox has not moved in that direction because he says he is not comfortable doing the outside tasks.
A handful of local landscapers agreed they do not get into it either.
Ken Moeslein, CEO of Legacy Remodeling in Dormont, does a great variety of remodeling, but says plumbing, electrical and other technical issues in outdoor jobs do not entice him.
"Those guys that are doing outdoor kitchen jobs are really doing something unique," he says. "I would warn anyone looking in that direction to make sure their contractor knows what he is doing."
Buckiso agrees, saying he knows a handful of landscape and stone workers he recommends when a client inquires about the possibility of such work.
The Lusks and the Logans both worked with Blunkosky, but came to him in different ways. The Logans simply were searching for some sort of deck to add outside use to their home. They ran into Blunkosky at the Duquesne Light Pittsburgh Home & Garden Show, and he stopped out to see their property.
"He was very good at listening to what we wanted," she says. "When he suggested an outdoor kitchen, I thought: 'Oh, great, another place to have a mess that will need to be cleaned up.' "
Instead, she adds, what once was simply a backyard now provides a variety of uses for entertaining and for their six children.
Lusk was talking about equipment with Buckiso and when he began to describe his hilly property. Buckiso says he knew Lusk should talk to somebody about what to do with it before he went much further.
Blunkosky was not surprised at the terrain issue.
"Everyone in Pittsburgh lives on a hill," he says, adding that dealing with such matters is one of the biggest tests in design.
Lusk says the landscaper attacked the hillside issue "with all of his computer design tools" and put together a proposal for an area that includes a kitchen, seating area, fire pit and pergola. It has become a gathering spot outside the way kitchens have turned into rally spots inside, he says.
A way to stay outside
Blunkosky believes the collapse of the housing market around 2007 made homeowners decide to stay in their current properties.
The focus then turned to the development of new outdoor equipment and "bringing the indoors outside."
Buckiso says wood-fired, brick pizza ovens seem to be leading the charge outside these days. Besides pizzas, they also can be used to cook chicken, steaks or "even bake an apple pie," he says.
"They are the hottest thing right now, and the coolest, too," Buckiso says, adding they range from $2,000 to $30,000.
Blunkosky says he tries to make outdoor living spaces reflect the indoor design so that going from one to the other seems like a natural step. He also says the use of roofs can give outdoor areas a greater range. Such protection from the weather allows for TVs or sound systems, which also make the outdoor experience mirror the indoor one.
"People are looking for a reason to stay outside," he says.