“The hardest thing about outdoor kitchens is making them look good,” says Scott Specht, a principal at Specht Harpman, based in New York and Austin, Texas. “They’re often bulky, built into masonry or fully enclosed in a little house.”
Specht is a self-described minimalist who likes to hide kitchen components in other parts of the house (a small fridge in the bedroom, for example). So it’s not surprising that this kitchen virtually disappears in plain sight, outdoors and within full view of the main house’s floor-to-ceiling windows. The pool cabana mirrors the stucco cladding and profile of the U-shaped house—as though one leg were sliced off and set across the garden, with a swimming pool between. Here’s how the design team created an open pavilion that is as polished as it is practical.
The client wanted a full kitchen for entertaining, but she didn’t want to see appliances when she looks across the courtyard, says project manager Amy Lopez-Cepero. The see-through stucco cube frames an ipe-clad kitchen core—a box within a box. The cabinets’ horizontal wood bands match those on the sides of the main house and hide an oven, dishwasher, refrigerator, icemaker, and beer tap. “They’re thicker than appliance panels,” says Lopez-Cepero. “You open the cabinet and then open the appliance behind it.”
Specht employed a small visual trick to reinforce the kitchen’s sense of floating in the landscape. “At the top of the cabinetry core, we wanted the feeling of nature flowing through, but we had to attach it to the ceiling,” Specht says. He wrapped the soffit in a mirror strip, so the kitchen appears to hover under the roof. Messier cooking tasks take place outside, where a barbecue grill, burners, and smoker are built into a lighted niche that runs the length of the building.
Original plans included an off-season “boat cover” for the structure, but the kitchen is recessed far enough to keep the elements at bay. Instead of using metal hardware, cabinet fronts are kerfed, “so you don’t have to touch a cold thing in the fall,” Lopez-Cepero says. Appliances are marine-grade, as is the cabinets’ Sikkens finish, which will keep the wood from going gray. And the concrete floor is virtually indestructible. “The owner uses the kitchen to can fruits and vegetables,” she adds. “You can make a mess and spray everything down afterward.”
Kitchens are social hubs, and the cabana’s front-to-back openness welcomes a crowd—or caterers maneuvering party supplies. “In summer it accommodates a full bar with bartenders,” Specht says. “And in the winter, caterers often use it as a staging and prep area for indoor parties.” Movable furniture also encourages flexibility and flow. The communal ipe table locks into place along the kitchen’s outer edge. Its placement lets partiers walk right up from the pool and grab drinks, and extra-tall bar stools accommodate the grade change between the cabana and patio. The table also can be pushed outside, or against the kitchen counter to wait out the winter.