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  • One of the greatest failures of many outdoor kitchens is the absence of storage cupboards. This Dawn Whyte design demonstrates how under counter storage can be just as useful outdoors as it is in your own indoor kitchen.
  • This lovely tropical landscape is a perfect match for the rich color and lines of exotic hardwoods. Here cabinets are hidden in the woodwork to maintain its beauty without interruption.
  • Cupboards for an outdoor kitchen that blend into other stainless steel appliance faces creates a more uniform appearance which is so important when fully open to view as this beautifully designed cook center.

Cabinets are just as important to the outdoor kitchen as they are an indoor one. They are usually located beneath the working surfaces in more modest designs. For upscale projects which include more substantial overhead structures, there are more opportunities for wall mounted cabinets as well.

Outdoor kitchen designer, Dawn Whyte of the Lake Street Design Studio in Michigan stresses the importance of waterproof storage for satellite kitchens that must be nearly self sufficient due to the sometimes long distance back to the house. "One of the most common problems is cabinets that aren't finished inside. A beautiful stainless door may open to a dark cavern that isn't well suited to your needs. We always recommend drawers and a pull-out shelf so you don't have t kneel down to get inside, so it's much faster and easier to retrieve what you want."

Outdoor kitchens vary in their degree of protection from the elements. The luxury home may feature a significantly large structure with a solid roof and walls to protect the interior from weather, water and UV exposure. Where the kitchen is little more than an island cook top beneath a beam shade arbor, the cabinets will be fully exposed.

Obviously, interior cabinets will not survive here because they depend on pressboard or plywood that will absorb water and expand to destroy the cabinetry very quickly. Materials for outdoor cabinets are very specific, often listed as "marine grade" and will prove surprisingly resistant to moisture.

The vast majority of outdoor kitchen cabinets are made of marine grade polymers or stainless steel. While the cabinet is made of less expensive materials, the doors themselves may be different to create a specific look for less money.

Polymer Board Cabinets

Polymer board is known as HDPE or high density Polyethylene. It is a strong plastic-like material was first invented for marine applications and therefore resistant to sun, rain, saltwater and snow. It is 100% waterproof and therefore will not expand or contract, rot or rust. Marine grade polymer includes UV inhibitors to resist degradation in direct sunlight.

Pros: Cons:

Easy to clean

Limited range of colors

Non corrosive

Look isn't as rich as wood

Impervious to water

Made from petrochemicals

Stain resistant

May look like plastic

Stainless Steel Cabinets

Steel is hot for kitchen cabinets and it's ideal for outdoor kitchens, particularly those for modern architecture and landscape design. The metallic look of this 304 grade steel is clean and bright, adding a very contemporary appeal that integrates well with appliances and grills using the same material choice. This is about a third more in cost than polymer cabinets. Stainless steel can also be used for the cabinet doors while the remainder of the material is polymer. Stainless should be 18 gauge thickness, although some are thinner at 20 gauge, which may require more reinforcement.

Stainless steel can be produced with textures and patterns, with other unique finishes that allow more outstanding finish details.

Pros: Cons:

Offers look of metal without rust

Hard to keep clean fingerprints, birds, oils etc

Matches appliances and grill

Hot to the touch in direct sunlight

Various texture and pattern options

More expensive

Wood Cabinets

When an outdoor kitchen is well protected beneath a weatherproof pergola, wood cabinets are a real option. They allow woodwork in the house and other adjacent structures to be repeated outdoors too. However, wood for outdoor use must be carefully selected for its ability to withstand temperatures, weathering and UV exposure with marine grade lumber. These cabinets are best limited to teak, operly finished with oil or a water seal to ensure maximum life span and to preserve the color and beauty of the wood. Repeat applications may be required.

Pros: Cons:

Warm look similar to indoor cabinets

Fades with time

Wood grain is visible

May break down over time

Tips for Cabinets

Adjustable legs - Take advantage of adjustable legs. Floors outdoors aren't always perfectly flat and adjustable legs allow the vertical position of the unit to adjust and avoid instability.

Exterior trim - Crown moldings and other small details can give a plain polymer cabinet a whole new look.

Hardware - Installing quality slides and hinges is vital to keeping drawers and cabinet doors functional no matter how challenging the elements. Stainless steel hardware ensures there will be no corrosion to interfere with smooth functions.

Companies that provide outdoor cabinetry:

Landscaping Network

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