Whether it’s installing a new kitchen faucet or building an entire new wing, making our homes more healthful, functional, and beautiful also provides a sense of control and comfort in stressful times.

By Annette Reeves

The world is full of dichotomies today. We’re forced to stay home but yearning to get out. There are financial obligations to meet, but the ability to work productively is hindered by supply chain issues and a weakened labor force. We have a commitment to provide a strong education for our children, yet the fear of sending them to school is wrought with panic. And on the simplest of platforms, we have the innate social desire to be with friends, experience new tastes and smells, hug and be hugged, but we’re conflicted by a fear of public assembly. Our sense of control is shattered, our need for normalcy heightened. 

Anne Michaelsen of Anne Michaelsen Design worked in collaboration with Bridget Skinner Landscape Design to reinvision a previously multi-layered Mediterranean yard to create a warm, contemporary outdoor space. Photos by Ryan Garvin.

But with fear and conflict comes change, and while most of us have hunkered down at home and made the difficult decision to cancel much-needed vacations, the idea of making our homes into the perfect vacation spots has become the reality. At first, the small backyard space functioned adequately and the inexpensive BBQ from the local hardware store was perfect for the occasional grill-out. But as the outdoor space became more of a focal point and a safe gathering spot where college students came home to wait out the pandemic, family and friends social-distanced in small groups, Zoom classrooms and conference calls took place, and its importance reached a critical level requiring unctionality and safety. 

And what about Dad’s new-found culinary passion to test out a smoked rack of lamb recipe he saw on Food Network while babysitting the kids and trying to work from home? Or mom’s new dream to become Martha Stewart and create a farm-to-table scenario where she never had to go to the store and everything her family ate came fresh from her garden? 

 Anita Dawson of Anita Dawson Design created custom lower-slung chairs and an expansive table using weathered teak. This relaxed look was inspired by the client’s favorite travel destination, Ibiza. Custom lighting was also created to illuminate this inviting outdoor space. Photo by Brady Architectural Photography.

With restaurants only able to operate as take-out spots for several months, many found themselves pushed outside their normal comfort zones, seeking out new recipes, and creating culinary adventures at home rather than experiencing them at local restaurants. Creativity has reached an all-time high, as Travis Rotelli, West Coast Regional Sales Director at Kalamazoo Gourmet Grills, explains. “At Kalamazoo, we love to experiment and cook. Our website has hundreds of recipes that we have created on our own equipment. Since COVID-19, we’ve received dozens of calls from clients not just about barbecue appliances but about cooking tips. We are here and happy to walk someone through the process of cooking on their equipment,” he says. 

Kalamazoo’s expansive and beautiful “Food + Fire” cookbook features dozens of recipes with high-resolution images and step-by-step cooking instructions. And the equipment requested has expanded way beyond the traditional grill, side burner, and refrigerator. Rotelli says that the requests for outdoor design have become far more creative and expansive. “The requests and level of engagement is way up. We are seeing a request for more things to cook, even requests for smokers. They want to try and experiment with things that can take 6-16 hours. There’s a lot more exploratory cooking.” As people spend more hours at home, the necessity to throw a burger on the grill and be done in 20 minutes is no longer crucial. Now, ribs that take several hours to smoke are a reality and the budding epicurean can develop his or her desire to create the perfect home-cooked meal. 

This outdoor kitchen features Kalamazoo Gourmet Grills and Fire Magic products.

Bridget Skinner, an Orange County landscape designer, says that people are enjoying the time they are spending at home. Now, more than ever, they want appliances that allow them to cook any style, on any day, and at any culinary level. My clients are saying, “I wish we had done this so we could be enjoying it now,” Skinner says. “And if COVID ended tomorrow, they still want to ramp it up, they still want to enjoy it right now.” 

Skinner says that gardens are definitely on the uprise. “Families have time to be at home, they have more time to dedicate, and they want to stay out of the stores as much as possible.” Beyond that, the safety factor alone has driven the desire to build chicken coops and create herb, fruit, and vegetable gardens. The control factor, the ability to know where our food comes from and what it was cooked on, is a strong element as a result of stay-at-home orders. 

Adding to this is the fact that college students are home, high schoolers are choosing between home school or a hybrid schedule, and families spend more time together. Thus the immediate need for parents to create an environment that is safe, comfortable and fun is first on everyone’s priority list. 

Anne Michaelsen of Anne Michaelsen Design, a 30-year expert who graduated from the school of Interior and Environmental Design at UCLA, says the outdoor space has evolved such that everyone needs their own area to do their work and have their space. 

The designer’s son and fiancé came home to wait out the pandemic, and have yet to leave. “We have slowed down. It’s been easier to have everyone here more than I expected, but it’s required additional seating and increased outdoor spaces for everyone to enjoy. We’re using the outside as office areas, which requires space and privacy so each one of us can talk to clients and do our Zoom calls.” 

Kalamazoo Gourmet Grills’ Artisan Fire Pizza Oven, designed by Frank Mariani.

Michaelsen also believes that the outdoor kitchen is a crucial factor in the pleasure a home can bring. Currently designing her own outdoor kitchen with every bell and whistle she can think of, Michaelsen believes that families and friends will find comfort in cooking at home and developing their culinary passions with a variety of appliances. Who says you can’t have Italian on Monday with a pizza oven, Chinese Stir Fry on Wednesday with the Alfresco Versa-Power burner, and Santa Maria-Style Rubbed Chicken on the Gaucho Grill on Friday? Michaelsen, a longtime proponent of the pizza oven, encouraged a client 30 years ago to install one. “I’d heard of this thing called a pizza oven. My client didn’t even make pizzas but I somehow talked him into it.” Michaelsen’s intuition proved correct and her client not only continues to use his pizza oven but has become a self-proclaimed master chef, developing his own fancy recipes that go way beyond the simple pizza pie. 

Rotelli of Kalamazoo agrees. Offering a pizza oven that boasts temperatures beyond 800 degrees with a solid ceramic floor and dual temperature controls, the Kalamazoo pizza oven can fire up in 15 minutes and produce a beautifully browned dough with melted cheese and an array of toppings. “It’s the experience, it’s the fun that is created while using it, the memories, the togetherness,” Rotelli says. 

And with this transformation of the outdoor kitchen, the need and desire to get it done swiftly is a phenomenon the industry did not anticipate. Anita Dawson of Dawson Design Group, a well-known interior designer who creates beauty up and down the Southern California coastline, says she has signed three fairly large projects since the pandemic ensued. They were finalized virtually, without face-to-face meetings. “The ones that we are getting are big remodels, people saying, ‘I’m done with this house, I have to get it done’.” 

Anita Dawson of Anita Dawson Design transformed a 1970s-style ranch home into a modern coastal beauty. The outdoor spaces include a rooftop deck with coastal views and a pool area complete with Ipe decking. Photo by Brady Architectural Photography. 

With discretionary funds as a result of cancelling vacations and stock market upticks, clients have chosen to invest in their homes and they are ready to start now. “They want beautiful things and functional spaces that make them feel good. There’s an immediate need for normalcy amongst everyone and that need translates into ‘I want this done right now,’” Dawson says. 

Anne Michaelsen of Anne Michaelsen Design created a transitional space bringing a bit of the indoors outdoors, underneath the covered terrace. Photo by Ryan Garvin.

And while Dawson’s projects tend to be large and design changes as a result of COVID-19 may not be evident today, the health factor is on the forefront of her mind when consulting with her clients. “We’ve always focused on the integration of outside and in, especially in a geography where real estate is such a premium,” Dawson says. “But that didn’t used to mean a matter of life or death. We now need outside space as a health requirement, space to be safe, materials that are equipped to withstand the outdoors and that include hygienic factors.” 

Rotelli couldn’t agree more. Kalamazoo launched their Arcadia cabinet series several years ago, evolving the traditional masonry structure into a snap-in-place design featuring color, symmetry, beauty, and functionality. Boasting a base of stainless steel, the material itself is hygienic, not allowing germs and spores to grow and providing another layer of safety for communal gathering spaces. 

At the end of the day, normalcy is what people are searching for. What to believe, what not to believe, who to spend time with, and what sources to trust is truly questionable each day. By creating normalcy at home, whether it be outdoors or indoors, families find they can finally take a deep breath. Sitting down, smiling, and laughing at the end of the day, shutting down the part of the brain where fear and uncertainty exists, is crucial. Whether it’s installing a new kitchen faucet or building an entire new wing of the house, this is what people believe they can control and will provide happiness in today’s constant upheaval. Dawson sums it up eloquently, “People are finding that you have to provide the barrier to the outside and then make your space just as comfortable as you can. Today, protecting is the most important thing, being happy is the next thing.”   

Kalamazoo Gourmet Grills
Available at: PIRCH Costa Mesa, 3303 Hyland Avenue, Costa Mesa | 949.429.0800 |

Bridget Skinner
Landscape Design

Newport Beach | 949.697.6277

Anne Michaelsen Design
747 Dover Drive, Suite C, Newport Beach  | 949.922.1800 |

Dawson Design Group
4170 Voltaire Street, San Diego | 619.795.8353  |

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