Good day. My name is Victoria. I am delighted to write this testimonial for Explore Kitchens, who installed a new outdoor kitchen in our Reston, Virginia home earlier in 2022. It’s a pleasure to do so. I’d like to tell our story from the beginning, from how we moved to the house in the first place, to how we found Explore Kitchens, and then talk about the process of fitting the kitchen. I probably do not need to say it, but I will anyway, but we were thrilled with the outcome.
I live with my husband, Gary and our two wonderful daughters, who are three and five years old. Gary is an executive – he does well for himself. For a long time, this has meant we’ve had to live in the city. We always had nice apartments near the center of town, so he could get to the office or meetings more easily.
To be honest, that lifestyle was never really a problem for us. An apartment in the city meant we could save and invest a lot of Gay’s salary. All that time during our twenties and early thirties, we were accumulating a nice bit of wealth.
Times change. As we got into our thirties, our family became more of a priority. By no means did this mean that Gary should slow down at work, but it did mean we wanted to make some accommodations for family life. Living in the busy city wasn’t really something we wanted to do anymore.
Of course, Gary still needed to access his work, so city access at least by car was essential for us. Besides, we are city people, a house in the country wouldn’t really be for us. I think it’s good for the children to have access to the city as well. There are so many benefits and activities that come from living in an urban area. Nevertheless, it no longer made sense for us to reside in the urban jungle.
Given all of these considerations, we started looking in the suburbs a couple of years after our first daughter was born, when the second one was on the way. Like I say, Gary does well for himself, and we had a number of investments. Plus, we owned our place in the city. Money wasn’t really an issue or something that was going to stop us from getting the place we wanted. We wanted a nice neighborhood, with enough natural space for the kids to enjoy when they got older.
After a while, we found our place. It was a big suburban house in Reston, Virginia. It was quite close to my parents’ house, but we didn’t let that put us off. Joking aside, it was a beautiful place. There was a big garden with plenty of space for the kids to run around. We could even entertain guests there, should that be our desire.
For those who don’t know Reston, it is a picturesque area, full of woodland and open green space. There is hardly a place in the whole suburb that is not covered by trees, which are green in the summer, golden in the autumn and a charming brown in the winter. The roots grow beneath every house and every garden, which can cause its own problems, yet the foundations of our place seemed solid enough. The woodland areas mean that the area is cool even in the extreme heat of the summer. For these reasons, most houses don’t have a swimming pool, and ours didn’t either. Perhaps, ideally, we might have wanted one, but it never factored into our decision. Besides, it could have been a hazard for the girls as they grew up.
The house itself had a beautifully fitted interior. There were wooden fittings throughout the downstairs and an open-plan granite kitchen. The open nature of the lower floor was ideal
for us. It helped me and the nanny keep an eye on the kids at all times, particularly while they were young and zooming around at all hours of the day! In addition to that, it was comfortable and stylish enough for us to relax at the weekends or after Gary got home from work.
The exterior was of a white wooden façade. It was like something from a postcard. Normally, in our twenties, Gary and I would take long weekends away to places like this as a getaway from the bustling world of the city center. Now, it was going to be our reality. Although there was nothing wrong with our past life, as soon as we visited the area, I began to look forward to our new one.
I suppose our only slight hesitation was with the outdoor area. It was nice enough, and there was plenty of room out the back, as I mentioned. Really, though, when the place had been last renovated or built, little attention was given to the outdoor area. We Virginians spend a lot of time in our gardens when the weather gets warm, so I was a little surprised by the lack of attention given to that area.
All we found outside were a few trees that had not been maintained, a flattish lawn area with cut grass, and a few uneven paving slabs next to the backdoor. A standalone mobile barbecue was there when we viewed the property, but this was removed before we moved it.
Nevertheless, a few very minor grumbles about the garden were not enough to stop us from going ahead. As soon as the sale of our apartment was finalized, we bought the house in Reston and moved in. By then, our second daughter was already born.
In the first instance, not much in our life changed. We were able to see more of the nanny, which helped since we had doubled the number of children. There was more room for more people in the house now. In our old place, a spacious apartment though it was, we couldn’t have had two kids, myself, Gary and a nanny all in there at once. Now, in our three-story suburban house, there was ample space.
One change that did occur because of our extra space was our acquisition of a couple of retriever puppies. Gary has always loved dogs. He had them when he was a kid. We could never have them in the old apartment. We were allowed since we were the owners, but it wouldn’t have been fair to have dogs in that space. Really, they need a garden to run around in.
We also wanted to get the dogs when the kids were still young. Sure, it was a bit of extra stress, but it was better that the kids and the dogs grew up together. The new extra space and the hard floors downstairs meant that the dogs weren’t too overwhelming.
Generally, though, things remained largely the same for us. Gary got up a bit earlier. It was a thirty-minute drive for him to get to work now. This wasn’t the end of the world, and he was happy to make the small sacrifice. As far as commuting goes, thirty minutes is hardly at the difficult end of the spectrum.
For a couple of years, we lived in the house without much bother. Life settled down again after our second daughter’s arrival. Our first had started kindergarten and was developing into a little young woman, as she is still doing now. The second had started to walk and talk. It was like those couple of years flew by in an instant. One moment, we were living in the city with a baby and the next, we had two growing kids and a house in the suburbs. It really felt like a whirlwind.
The older and more active the kids got, the more the outdoor area bothered us. When you’re busy with two tiny kids, things like that don’t even cross your mind. But when those kids are older, and they want to explore, they want to play, they even want to socialize with you to a certain extent, a good area to do that becomes essential.
After all, that’s why we moved in the first place. We needed more space anyway, but we wanted to live somewhere that the kids could enjoy being outdoors. We definitely didn’t want to raise two daughters who sat inside all day. We wanted their childhood to be spent out in the sunshine, enjoying the trees and woodland. If we wanted that, then our attitude had to start at home.
So, ultimately, what we wanted was for the kids to spend more time out in the backyard. Until that point, it was just a place for the dogs to run around. But now, we wanted it to be a hub for the whole family. We had also thought about entertaining guests in the backyard as well but had never done it because the facilities weren’treally there. We hosted a lot of dinner parties in the winter but not many cookouts in the summer. We had the budget to change it, so why wouldn’t we?
Gary is a busy man. He provides for us, and he does it well. We are lucky to have a life of comfort and luxury beyond most people’s expectations. For the most part, running the home is up to me. That isn’t just a case of loading the dishwasher and feeding the kids. It’s everything from making sure all the bills are paid, the maintenance is properly done and that we live in a clean, secure and comforting home.
Naturally, when we decided to improve the outdoor area, it was a project that fell to me. Having an idea to improve an area is one thing. Deciding what to do is another. Particularly as a garden is just a big open space, there are so many possibilities.
For example, we could have put in a swimming pool. As I mentioned, this was maybe hazardous for the kids in the first instance but would be a great place to exercise and play later on.
We could have put decking outside the front door. We could have even put a playground in the garden. It really depended if we were going to cater for adults or kids. It also depended on whether we wanted to socialize out there or play out there. Was it a place for food, drink, and conversation or a place for running around and having fun?
Probably the best balance, I thought, was a place for food, drink and conversation. The kids could still enjoy that and would enjoy it more so as they got older. If we turned it into an adventure area for the kids and dogs, that would be great in the short term. Within ten years, though, we’d have two old dogs and two teenage girls who were no longer interested in throwing themselves into the pool and sprinting around the yard at full speed.
An area where we could all hang out, drink coffee, have breakfast, read a book and generally enjoy ourselves would be practical in both the short and long term. So, this was what I had in mind. But still, I had no idea what I actually wanted. The ideas I had were vague. They could mean anything from redesigning the whole area to just putting some seats and an umbrella on the existing paving slabs.
It’s fortunate that I had the time to do my research. I wanted to shop around and look at different ideas and only proceed with an idea if I fell in love with it straight away. It wasn’t a case of getting any old contractor in to put any old garbage in our garden. I wanted to create a space that felt like home for all of us, something that we’d love just as much in a decade as we do today.
Shopping around online was sort of helpful. I got an idea as to what was available in the market and the prices that came with that. But if I wanted something that I fell in love with, I’d have to see it in person with my own eyes.
I know that there are a number of trade shows in the area where companies who specialize in home improvements show off their products and prices. I thought it was the best idea to go to one of these.
I ended up going to the Capital Home Show at the Dulles Expo Center in Chantilly, Virginia. It was local to us, and I was able to drag Gary and the kids along because it was at a weekend. If I could have taken the dogs, I would have. It was a family decision!
The whole thing was easy. It was an all-day event, so we were able to get down there while it was still quiet, before the crowds showed up, and really have a look at what we wanted. It cost about $20 for all of us at the time. In the long run, that proved to be a bargain.
There were tons of home improvement places with stands and stalls there. The choice was staggering. Luckily for us, we were only looking for one specific area of improvement. Had we wanted our bathrooms done, or bedroom furnishings, or a new indoor kitchen, we would have come away spending a small fortune, or perhaps even a large one.
We spent a while looking around, chatting to some of the various vendors, but never really committing to any of them. I had a whole bag full of flyers and business cards that, in all honesty, I never intended to use.
But then, we came across Explore Kitchens. Their stand stood out to me from a fair distance away, and I went straight over there. They were displaying exactly what I wanted. I didn’t know that I wanted it until that moment, but at that moment, I knew I wanted it.
It was an outdoor kitchen, perfect for preparing food in the summer and using materials durable in the weather. It was ideal. The social element was so important to me. The idea that Gary or I could cook while spending time with the kids outdoors was exactly what we wanted. Had we gone with a different idea, we still would have been plagued with the problem of the kids and one parent being outside with the dogs while the other makes food inside. That’s a first-world problem, but if it was avoidable, I wanted to avoid it.
Something that particularly caught my eye from a distance was the glass cabinet doors on display. The shiny white kitchen cabinets with their glass cabinet doors dazzled even inside. I immediately pictured what they would look like in the hot Virginia sun. I wanted to have those gleaming white kitchen cabinets in the garden.
Even though I fell in love with the outdoor kitchen idea and the design presented by Explore Kitchens, I didn’t want to get sucked in by marketing. You have to be savvy with these things. A trader’s outward-facing marketing pitch might be brilliant, but its actual work can be different.
I took Gary and the kids over, and we chatted with the guys at Explore Kitchens. We told them about our place and the yard we had and that the outdoor kitchen idea seemed like a perfect fit for us. They took us through some of the options, like having multiple grills, different surfaces and specific textures designed to withstand the outdoor elements.
Sometimes, when you talk to tradespeople, they make you feel stupid with loads of jargon. They overexplain everything to try and get you to agree to whatever they want. It wasn’t like that with Explore Kitchens. From the moment we started speaking to them, they treated us all like adults, even the kids. They didn’t try and tell us what we needed versus what we didn’t; that was our decision. They simply presented us with the options.
Still, even though we were extremely impressed by what we found, we didn’t want to make a hasty decision on the day. It’s easy to get talked into a purchase but very hard to back out of it if you regret it. We took their information and told them we would inform them at a later date.
Really, I had my heart set on Explore Kitchens from that moment, and Gary was happy to follow my lead, but still we did some more research. Nothing we found really matched what we had seen at the expo.
Before purchasing anything or even getting back in contact, we looked at Explore Kitchens online and spoke to some people in the area. The feedback was nothing but top quality. Their customers, like I am doing now, are happy to give extensive testimonial reviews. Their online reviews are stellar.
With agreement from the whole family, we decided to install an outdoor kitchen. It was the stylish and versatile solution we needed. It wouldn’t take up the whole yard, just a small section by the back doors. If the kids still wanted to play in the garden with the dogs, they could do so, except now, Gary and I would have a comfortable space to watch them. If we wanted to have guests over in the warm weather, it was a perfect place to do it.
So, after all the deliberation and thought, we got back in touch with Explore Kitchens. We told them that we needed an outdoor kitchen installed, and we would first like to explore our options and get a quote for the work.
The whole process was much easier than I thought. I felt like we’d get bogged down by choices. I thought we’d be presented with a thousand different premade options and have to pick one or another. It was so much easier than that.
Clearly, with the industry experience, Explore Kitchens had learned that their customers don’t want to be confused by various packages. Instead, we were given full customization over the process. We were able to pick exactly, down to each detail, what we wanted in our kitchen. Of course, the deeper the customization goes, the higher the price is. That’s to be expected. If you’re not willing to pay for quality, then perhaps you don’t want quality at all.
Explore Kitchens sent us some custom forms so we could fully explore our options. It was a simple checklist. We made our way down it and selected the things we wanted. The level of customization really was baffling to me.
We perused their online digital tile catalog. We found they had Spanish tiling and stone. Real Italian marble accented tiles were there too. Looking at these, I started to get a vision of a Mediterranean-style area. In Greece and Spain, many of the coastal houses are white in color. Their stonework reflects the sun, enabling a comfortable and attractive dining environment. That was exactly what I wanted. These stones, available with full customization, enabled me to create the Mediterranean vibe I was going for.
Spanish tiling had its other advantages as well. Its suitability for warm outdoor climates makes it highly durable. When you’ve got a young family with pets, durability is key. Anything delicate or shoddy can and will be destroyed in a matter of moments. Had we installed downstairs carpets inside, I cannot even begin to imagine what sort of state they’d be in now.
Durable stone tiling was a must. There was nothing the dogs or children could do to damage it unless they somehow got their hands on a tin of paint, which seemed unlikely to me.
Gary and I sat down and went through the checklist that Explore Kitchens had sent us. We selected what we wanted and sent it to them. Our idea was to have multiple different surfaces featuring the various Mediterranean-style stones that I mentioned. We wanted multiple grills, able to prepare large meals with some variety. It was not just a case of putting a barbecue in the garden. We wanted a top-of-the-range, built-in grill able to handle the bigger tasks that come with cooking for four people (and two dogs!).
It was not just cooking and surfaces that we needed to consider. We installed a small refrigerator, several white glass-fronted cabinets, and a built-in trash bin. It was important that everything was built into the kitchen rather than in the way. It needed to be easy to move around, given the parenting demands we were under. We wanted vents to prevent too much smoke from building up while we were cooking and lingering for our meals.
Although we debated over some items on the list, we came to an agreement in the end (I got what I wanted!). We sent it off to Explore Kitchens, and the process started. Explore Kitchens were good enough to provide us with some literature before starting the works about how they went about things.
First of all, they came to us for an in-home consultation. Armed with our ideas from the checklist we had filled out, they came to examine the practicalities of making them a reality. They offered to do the consultation virtually so as not to be intrusive, but I wanted them to see it in person to really understand the space.
It took about an hour, and we got to know them a bit better, having first seen them at the expo. We had a few questions about timelines and spacing, which they answered confidently. We were a little anxious that our ideas might have been a little bold for the space we were working in, but they raised no concerns. In addition, they assured us that they would have raised concerns if they had been there.
Once the visit was done, we were asked if we were happy to proceed, which of course we were. We then had to allow some time for the actual space to be designed and to receive a quote for the project.
After this came through, and we had reviewed the quote as well as the drawings, we had to make our decision on whether we wanted to go ahead with the installation. It wasn’t a hard decision to make. The designs may as well have come directly from my brain. They were exactly what I was imagining. Gary and I instantly agreed that we should get the outdoor kitchen installed.
Before the installation started, they came to our house for a couple of appointments. With them, they brought their products, like samples of the Spanish stonework and the white glass cabinets, so that we could view them in the flesh. I suppose sometimes things look good on a design page or in pictures, but not so much in reality. That wasn’t the case here, but we appreciated the final chance to customize our style and color combinations.
When we were totally happy, we gave Explore Kitchens the opportunity to start the installation. Of course, this meant some disruption to our lives, but it was something we were prepared for. The kids had to spend most of their time inside. This wasn’t a huge problem because we had the installation done in the spring before going outdoors was a real necessity. The dogs went to live with my parents for a short while, which probably wasn’t their preferred option but was needed in the circumstances.
We weren’t concerned with the timeframe for the installation. A rushed job might have left us with an unsatisfactory product, which isn’t something we wanted at all. In fact, there was something quite enjoyable about watching the evolution of our new outdoor space. Each day, I went outside in the morning to have a look at the progress. Each day, it got a bit closer to our vision.
The installers were really friendly as well. Unlike a lot of other workmen we’ve had in the past, they actually got on with the job rather than standing around chatting and having constant breaks. Nevertheless, they were friendly to the kids and me and took the time to speak to us when we were passing by. It didn’t feel like we had outsiders in the house at all.
When working on high-value projects like this, I think it’s important that the installers themselves are courteous to the residents and the neighbors. Explore Kitchens definitely hit the mark with that. We cannot commend them enough.
Perhaps the best compliment I can give is that Gary is a very hard man to please. He doesn’t accept anything less than the best. Because of that, we’ve always had the best, so it’s what
we’ve all come to expect. He did not raise one single complaint throughout the entire process. For a man who is next to impossible to please, he certainly did seem very pleased. The work itself was complex. Given the fact that the grills and refrigerator were not standalone and had to be installed, it required a redirection of the gas and electricity supply. It was not a simple manual installation job but required delicate technical expertise. We’ve had renovations in the past where this sort of thing has dragged out or has been done incorrectly. There was no problem in this case. Explore Kitchens did everything flawlessly. We were almost sad to see them go when the project was finished. Perhaps that sadness would have been worse had we not just been presented with the outdoor area of our dreams. It was exactly as the design presented it. Spring was in full flow at the time of completion, and the sun was beginning to shine higher in the sky each day. On the first day after completion, it was a lovely day, probably the first one where you really wanted to sit outside. We had my parents over, got the dogs back, and hosted a cookout in the garden at lunchtime. It was the most perfect day. Gary prepared the meat while I did some salad on the new stone countertop. The kids played with the dogs, who they were delighted to see again, while my parents watched them. We sat out in the sun and ate our food. Gary and I may or may not have had a couple of glasses of wine. It was the picture-perfect day that we had imagined. Such a day wouldn’t have been possible just a few months before in our old garden. Someone always would have been running back and forth from the kitchen. We’d have had to go inside or wait to all go outside together. Now, after the project was done, we truly had a proper family space.
Since then, it’s been a revelation. We’ve had friends over for evening meals and for lunch. It’s been a summer of hosting, and we aren’t bored of it yet. Gary even had some of his work friends over. I think he just wanted to show off the outdoor kitchen.
The kitchen itself, after a summer of relentless usage, is in exactly the same condition as it was when it was installed. I’d be confident in saying that it will be the same again in a few years’ time. Such is the quality of the workmanship.
We cannot thank Explore Kitchens enough for their work. Their expertise and craftmanship have made a tangible difference to our family’s life. That difference will be noticeable for years to come. Compared to simply installing some seating or even a swimming pool, this was the far better option. When the kids are teenagers, their friends will be able to hang out in the outdoor kitchen. When Gary and I are old, we’ll still be eating out there. Even the dogs are happier.
It’s hard to work out which part I’m happiest with when so much good work has gone in. But, if I had to really think about it, I’d say it’s the white cabinets with the glass doors. I loved them as soon as I saw them at the expo, and I love them maybe even more now.
I’m happy to write this testimonial, and I’m thrilled with the work that Explore Kitchen did for us. If you’re in Reston or even the northern Virginia area, I cannot recommend them enough.
I’m told that they’ll be back at the Capital Home Show in January and February 2023, which is at the Dulles Expo Center again. It’s worth going along to check them out. Hopefully, and surely, you’ll have the same reaction I did. Had we not gone to the expo, we wouldn’t have the beautiful outdoor kitchen we have today.
Thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts on this. As you can tell, I’m passionate about the work we had done and passionate about my family home. Because of that, I wanted to share with you my brilliant experience with Explore Kitchens. I hope you have a similarly fantastic dealing with them.