Walk into Julie and Ben Pruet’s west Little Rock backyard and you may think you’ve entered a European provincial garden. Manicured shrubs, benches for lounging and classic sculptures and art forms abound in the idyllic setting. However, the space hasn’t always looked like this. For years, it remained an untouched canvas before the couple embarked on the renovation. “It was Julie who had the vision for the garden,” says Ben. As a nature lover and garden enthusiast she sketched her ideas and began working with a group of professionals to pull everything together.
For Julie and Ben Pruet, escaping to the European countryside doesn’t require purchasing tickets or packing bags. Rather, the couple simply steps outside and wanders through their garden, making their way to the arched doors that lead to their Old World-inspired outdoor kitchen.
Travels through Europe influenced the couple to infuse their West Little Rock home with Tuscan ambience, a look that carried over to the home’s exterior and grounds. When Ben retired a few years ago, Julie cooked up the idea of a European-inspired outdoor kitchen as a mutually enjoyable addition. “The kitchen was my retirement gift to Ben,” says Julie, “a space where he could enjoy grilling, and I could share in the experience with him. We love being outdoors on the beautiful days here in Arkansas, and wanted to bring a little of our indoors outside.”
Blending the outdoor space with the style of their home was a priority, and Julie worked with builder Jack Hartsell, designer Kim Brockinton and decorative painter Andrew Bruckman to give the new area rustic appeal. “Even though this kitchen was basically for my husband’s use, I wanted it to be a space that would be visually pleasing for us and for entertaining as well,” she says. “Being an engineer by background, it is all about the functionality for Ben, but for me it was much more than stainless steel appliances and a prep area for cooking.” Julie ensured that each element in the kitchen, including the stone and Western cedar construction materials, Spanish cedar cabinets and island, bronze metal vent hood, copper light fixtures, textured and colored walls, along with aged shutters and arched doors, added to the overall Old World look she envisioned.
Since many rooms in the Pruets’ home offer views to the backyard, the couple designed the kitchen as a part of the overall outdoor space, yet located it where the cooking area would not be visible from indoors. “The side part of our yard was a perfect spot to create a wall with doors and shutters to make an intimate little kitchen,” says Julie. “It opens to the rest of the garden, yet is a separate and complete space on its own.”
In outfitting the area, the couple wanted the flexibility to cook on both charcoal and gas grills. “Ben enjoys using a charcoal grill for some foods, because it provides a more intense heat,” says Julie, “while, on the other hand, he enjoys using a gas grill for convenience and easier temperature control for many dishes.” In addition to the pair of grills, they added a gas double burner for sauces and sautéing, an ice caddy for cold drinks, plus an under-counter refrigerator nearby. A movable island was built specifically to fit the kitchen, and functions as both an eating and work area, as well as a space to store kitchen necessities.
“With our busy lifestyles, it’s become a space to relax and spend time creating meals together or with family and friends,” says Julie. “But it’s also become our destination for a morning cup of coffee or breakfast occasionally. It’s provided much more enjoyment for us than we ever anticipated.”
Contractor Jack Hartsell Construction, Little Rock, (501) 376-2871
Designer Kim Brockinton Interiors, Little Rock, (501) 661-7600
Decorative painting Bruckman Studios Limited, Little Rock, (877) 650-0304, bruckmanstudios.com
Landscape design Stafford Fine Gardening, Little Rock, (501) 350-8039
Landscape maintenance Botanica Gardens, Little Rock, (501) 614-3000, botanicagardens.com
Stonework Bennett Brothers, Little Rock, (501) 455-5040, bennettbrosstone.com
Appliances, barstools Antique Brick Outdoors, Little Rock, (501) 375-0060, antiquebrickoutdoors.com
Countertops, sink Inside Effects, Little Rock, (501) 954-8866, inside-effects.com
Vent hood Metal Works Inc., Little Rock, (501) 455-3700