Lakewood Ranch couple gets kitchen of their dreams -- and it's outdoors

After nearly three decades of seeing the world and moving 11 times because of a career in the Army, Russ and Tracy Spengler settled permanently in Lakewood Ranch in 2014 — they had vacationed in this part of Florida previously — and built a home in the new Esplanade community.

With their son grown and living on his own, the Spenglers could craft a house to suit the lifestyle needs of a couple who like to entertain, swim and live casually in an open-floor plan house. And, Russ is a passionate cook. No store-bought bacon for his family; he makes his own.

“We don’t need a big house, just a functional, new and stylish one for two people,” said Tracy, a former yoga instructor who does her sun salutations at the swimming pool area on the lanai. “We opted for a model of 1,856 square feet with two bedrooms and two baths and a den that is flexible space.

“The kitchen, dining area and family room merge together and flow out onto the lanai. When we built, we took the standard-size lanai that came with the model because we knew that was only the beginning of the plans we had for the outdoor area.”

Russ Spengler is the cook in the house, and for years he’s wanted a fully outfitted outdoor kitchen where he could grill, smoke, host seafood boils, make pizzas and cook breakfast for a crowd on a restaurant-size griddle. So, after the Spenglers moved in, they began an outside addition that doubled their everyday living space.

A view from the swimming pool to Russ and Tracy Spengler's outdoor kitchen. The bar is clad in stacked travertine and the counter is granite. The floors are travertine. Retractable opaque screen walls descend at night for privacy or when high winds or driving rain threatens to spoil a party. 

There is as much enclosed outdoor space as there is indoor, and they use the outdoor space more. They added a swimming pool, extended the walls and roof and put down travertine as the floor. When they were designing their ultimate outdoor cook’s kitchen, the Spenglers were referred to builder Ross Davies, who became their guide and collaborator in turning raw space into the kitchen Russ Spengler has always wanted.

Although the pool area, dining spaces and relaxing area near the fireplace are inviting and comfortable, the outdoor kitchen is the star of the show, and it’s where most of the Spenglers’ budget for the addition went.

“Russ did a lot of research into appliances, layout and amenities,” said Davies, “and that’s essential if you want to get the most of what is a big financial investment. Appliances for outdoor use cost more because they are specially made to withstand the elements and they are often double-clad. We went with stainless-steel outdoor appliances and were able to get lots of cabinet storage and even soft-close drawers.”

The kitchen has two under-counter refrigerators, a deep sink, a Vollrath Bull grill and a separate Teppanyaki griddle. Russ enjoys Japanese-style steakhouse cooking, although he stops short of the flying knives. And he can make hungry-man breakfasts on this restaurant-type griddle.

Spengler also invested in an oversized gas-powered burner set into the counter that can accommodate an enormous pot for seafood boils. When not in use, the burner is concealed by a handsome Indian rosewood custom cutting board that Davies had made for the space.

The Spenglers outdoor kitchen has a five-foot long restaurant-grade hood because the homeowner cooks for a crowd and love to grill, smoke and cook on a special griddle. His Fathers Day present was this red Kamado Joe ceramic cooker which can be used to make pizza, bread, roasted or grilled meats and fish and lots more. 

A Father’s Day gift from Tracy — a red Kamado Joe ceramic cooker — completed the major kitchen cooking essentials. This cooker bakes, smokes, grills, roasts and can make pizzas. Russ had wanted one for a long time, but not until he had the right kitchen. Now he has it.

To ensure that the cooking is safe and smokeless, the homeowners bought a 5-foot long, high-powered commercial vent hood. The counters are polished granite, the backsplash is travertine and the peninsula and buffet are clad in handsome split-stone travertine.

Opposite the cooking station is a long buffet with a wall-mounted television above it. The feature wall above the buffet is travertine and is a focal point of the room. Davies designed and installed it. The lanai came with a fireplace that ruined a television that the Spenglers mounted about the mantel. So Davies reconfigured and reinforced the whole surround to protect the television from heat damage.

Tracy bought resin wicker lounge furniture and metal-and-glass dining sets at local stores. The color scheme for the Spenglers’ home and outdoor entertainment space was inspired by a trip to Hawaii.

“We wanted to bring the golden color of the sand and the blues and greens of the water and sky into the whole house,” she said. “Getting the right granite and travertine colors was tricky, and I relied on Ross for that. We looked at a lot of stone samples but got exactly the right ones in the end. It was not easy.”

Two finishing touches that the Spenglers decided on — after they were deep into the process and reaching the maximum of their budget — made a big difference to the look and flexibility of the outdoor space. They invested in automatic, heavy-gauge screen curtains that descend at the touch of a remote to make walls that provide security, privacy and protection from rain, sun or wind.

One of the television sets in the lanai of the Spengler home in Lakewood Ranch is mounted to a articulating arm so that can change direction. The striking travertine wall in back of the buffet is custom and was done by Ross Davies. The bar conceals an under-counter refrigerator, one of two in the room. The buffet counter is polished granite. The floor is polished travertine. 

The Spenglers bring down the screens every night, and especially like the effect in the winter when they light the fireplace. “It makes the room cozy and private, and it looks completely different than when we’re open to nature,” said Tracy.

The other improvement is the pine tongue-and-groove ceiling in the lanai. Ross Davies hand-stained every plank. Recessed lighting and fans bring function and convenience to the look.

“It makes the whole space unified and so beautiful,” said Tracy. “We loved the look so much that we asked Ross to do the same thing in white for our inside family room. Of course, that led to my having the dark kitchen cabinets painted white, but I love the beachy tropical look. Until you try a different kind of ceiling you don’t realize what a difference it can make.”

Russ Spengler appreciates the beauty, too, but he rarely looks up when he’s in his outdoor kitchen. He’s totally engaged with his magnificent appliances at eye level.