Small outdoor kitchens: expert advice, ideas, and inspiration

Short on space? Wish you could have your own space al fresco where you can cook, relax, and entertain this summer? Even if you’ve got a small garden, you can still design your dream outdoor kitchen.

But where should you start? Could you really create a seamless indoor-outdoor connection? What about appliances, lighting, and storage? Fear not – we’ve got the answers to all of your questions. We’ve asked industry experts to share their top tips on successfully designing a small outdoor kitchen. Plus, we’ve got so many inspiring ideas and projects lined up.

First, what does any outdoor kitchen need, no matter its size? The basics: storage, a preparation area, cooking appliances, a fridge, and a dining or seating set-up.

Today, we’re going to explore all of the above and show you just what’s possible in a compact space.

We always recommend reaching out to the professionals, who can help bring your vision to life, for help with anything from the design process to practicalities such as plumbing and electrics.

Also, do your research before beginning the design process – such as finding out whether you need planning permission or not. Even though we’re talking about a small project in this article, it’s always worth checking.

The checklist

Ready to find out how you can design your dream small outdoor kitchen? Then, let’s begin…

Small outdoor kitchen layout ideas

So, where should you start? With the layout – you need to get it right, especially since you’re working with such limited space. The easiest way to approach this is by trying to recreate your indoor kitchen outdoors.

For storage and the preparation area, you can opt for a small bank of units where you can keep your outdoor crockery set and cutlery, barbecue tools, and utensils, plus spices and condiments organised.

To make your bank of units more multi-functional, include a tiny outdoor sink, which is extremely helpful for preparing fruit and vegetables for the grill or a quick wash-up. Keep in mind you’ll need access to plumbing.

If you’ve got a bit more space available in your garden, a compact U or L-shaped layout with a small peninsula is another great option. “Counter or tabletop space is a must. The versatility allows this element to be used as a bar, buffet, or a seated high table with outdoor barstools,” says Francesca Morris, senior buyer at Garden Trading. Plus, you can also easily integrate your cooking appliances in this set-up, and thus save space.

And, another amazing layout idea is the galley style. This way, you can look after the food sizzling away on the grill while entertaining your guests, who can enjoy an icy cocktail at the island.

Stainless-steel outdoor kitchen with sink
Formalia Outdoor, price on application, Scavolini.
bespoke outdoor kitchen with sink, tap, fridge and grill
Bespoke KönigOutdoor outdoor kitchen in Neolith Iron Grey, featuring a Fulgor outdoor grill and a Vitrifrigo fridge.
yellow kitchen design in a small garden with fairy lights
Vlaze Adapt range with kitchen grill and island in Ochre, price on application, Garden House Design.

Storage, sorted!

What is a kitchen without storage, right? So, choose enough cabinets to ensure you can keep all your essentials on hand – from cooking utensils and spices to outdoor crockery and cutlery. “Opt for practical cabinetry that functions as both storage space for cooking essentials and features a handy countertop for preparing food for endless nights of easy summer dining,” recommends Helena Davies, head of buying at Barker and Stonehouse.

“If you’re really tight on space, placing a single cabinet alongside your barbecue won’t take up much space but will make for a practical, stress-free cooking area that’s perfect for hosting,” she adds. 

Some of the most popular materials for outdoor cabinets are stainless steel, wood, and masonry. As these units sit outside throughout the year, they need to be resistant to weather changes and UV rays. “Maintaining an outdoor kitchen is simple if you treat it how you would your kitchen indoors,” says Andy Baxter, managing director at Maze. “Be sure to clean the surfaces and cupboards after each use and invest in a cover for the colder winter months.”

outdoor kitchen configuration unit
Bali outdoor kitchen configuration unit, Maze. A small unit starts from £1199.
small outdoor kitchen made from wood with a grill
Grenada outdoor kitchen, from £459, Barker and Stonehouse.

The work surfaces you choose for the units are equally as important as they also need to be durable and weatherproof. “When designing an outdoor kitchen, the use of durable materials that will not be damaged by the elements is imperative,” advises Andres Alonso, architectural and design expert at Cosentino UK. “Surfaces that last whilst maintaining their integrity and beauty are essential.”

Apart from being highly-resistant to temperature changes, the materials need to also have UV protection so you can enjoy them for as long as possible.

durable materials for use outdoors
Exterior Dekton by Cosentino in Avorio and Grafite, from £400 per sq m.

Outdoor kitchen appliances

Having a main multi-functional appliance will save you space while still providing you with plenty of cooking functions. For example, you can opt for a dual-fuel oven, which allows you to barbecue and bake pizzas, bread, or cakes. However, if you are fully team BBQ, there is a wide range of options available – from egg-shaped barbecues to firepits. Click here to browse our selection.

Then, a small fridge is another great addition to your outdoor kitchen. These days, you can find compact solutions for all your needs. You can keep your favourite wine bottles or soft drinks icy cold to enjoy al fresco.

Don’t forget to seek the help of an electrician to sort your appliances, lighting, and any cooling or heating solutions.

small outdoor kitchen with durable surfaces and a statement barbecue
405 Midday (quartz surface), from £450 per sq m, Caesarstone.

The indoor-outdoor connection

The indoor-outdoor link is crucial. Where possible, ensure you place your small outdoor kitchen as close to your home or kitchen extension as possible.

If you’ve got a tiny garden and don’t have space for an outdoor sink or fridge, for example, it will be easier to access your indoor set-up. However, to ensure you keep your guests’ drinks cold, go for a beverage cart with a built-in cooler, which you can easily move around when needed.

To create a seamless connection, choose the same flooring material (if suitable) for your outdoor design. You can take it one step further and work with a bespoke outdoor kitchen company to recreate the look of your indoor cabinets in the garden.

small outdoor kitchen positioned next to the indoor design
Atlas Plan Boost White Nest worktops, price on application, The Surface Collection.
grey indoor and outdoor flooring
Marlow kitchen in Navy, Benchmarx. Prices start from £3599 for an eight-unit kitchen.

Lighting for your small outdoor kitchen

Think fairy and festoon clusters, lanterns and spotlights, strip and wall lights. What do these beautiful solutions have in common? They need to be suitable for use outdoors, so choose lighting that’s rated IP65.

“You should take weather and moisture into account. Moisture-resistant materials such as metals with protective lacquers work best in damp climates. Additionally, windy environments call for wind-resistant fixtures like wall lights, flush mounts or pendants on the pole in order to prevent the risk of safety hazards due to loose dangling parts,” advises Mara Rypacek Miller, managing director at Industville. “With a covered roof on your pergola, however, you will have lots of options when it comes to choosing IP65 waterproof lighting, as it will be more protected than an open structure.”

To set the mood right for balmy summer evenings, layer your lighting. “Whatever you decide, it’s worth considering the lighting early on in the design process and not leaving it as an afterthought. The lighting will play an important part in enhancing the overall look and feel, helping to create the perfect outdoor oasis” says Mara.

compact outdoor kitchen design with a bar
Trail Quartzita outdoor tiles, £45.95 per sq m, Walls And Floors.
garden lighting
Brooklyn outdoor and bathroom wall light in Pewter, £90, and Swan neck outdoor and bathroom dome wall light 8 inch in Pewter and Brass shade with brass wall holder, £169, Industville. Photography: Joanna Kossak. Designer: Chris Harrington.

Dining and seating

Complete your small outdoor kitchen with the help of a dining table and a couple of chairs, so you can enjoy meals al fresco. We’ve got plenty of ideas, from bold and colourful sets to industrial bar-style designs, perfect for entertaining – click here to explore our edit.

But don’t stop at dining. You can also include a nice and compact lounger for catching some rays or an egg-shaped hanging chair for gaining an extra seating spot. Come this way to shop our roundup of the latest outdoor seating solutions.

compact dining table with black chairs
Starburst round teak table, £399, and Mate chairs, £149 for a set of two, John Lewis.

Seek the shade

The UK weather is unpredictable, but lately, we’ve been blessed with hot summer days. So it’s worth investing in durable cantilever parasols or even compact pergolas to enjoy balmy days in the shade. To add a pop of personality, have fun with this finishing touch and choose bold and colourful fabrics and materials.

“Those unfriendly gusts of wind can be a problem when dining al fresco, so it’s best to invest in some good shelter over your outdoor kitchen and dining space to prevent any food from blowing away,” advises Lisa Cooper, head of product at Thomas Sanderson. “Awnings can be tailored to your exact requirements, including wind sensors and heating or lighting options, so everyone can enjoy the outdoors comfortably,” she says.

al fresco dining area under striped awning
Awning in Breton Wintry Magic, from £2743 including motorisation and wind sensors as standard, Thomas Sanderson.

Enjoyed this post? Check out our guide to creating the perfect holiday-inspired outdoors

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