Words by Hannah Tapping
Unique, design-led gourmet spaces take al fresco entertaining to new heights.
Over recent years, outdoor space has become a prized possession. It has offered us freedom in times of uncertainty and a safe haven in which to be able to entertain and be with family and friends. Each environment is different, whether it be a city courtyard or expansive rural garden, something that Zowie and Gareth Rees, owners of outdoor living company Heart, Smoke and Soal, know only too well. I was intrigued to find out what had brought them to the world of outdoor kitchens and dining. “My first job was preparing and cooking barbeques for a large number of guests every week,” explains Zowie. “I loved the smell, taste and atmosphere. As you can imagine after cooking for large numbers over a couple hours, I would have the smell of barbeque and wood smoke literally oozing from every pore, but I loved it!”
The couple travelled widely, cooking as much as possible outdoors wherever they were in the world, using local produce to try out new recipes. Zowie is a self-confessed foodie, with an impressive collection of over 200 cookery books on her shelves and now that they are settled in the UK, their own kitchen garden is bursting with fresh produce. Running a successful plumbing and heating business for 12 years, and after the birth of their son Soal, Zowie and Gareth decided that they wanted to combine their love of outdoor cooking and food with their practical expertise in order to bring luxury outdoor entertaining and living spaces to homes in the south west.
Heart, Smoke and Soal (named for their son who is also a budding young chef) offers a bespoke, design-led process to help clients realise the full potential of their outdoor space. They personally select all of the manufacturers based on quality, style and functionality, testing each piece of equipment to ensure it is fit for purpose. With their own passion for outdoor living and cooking, Zowie and Gareth are excellently placed when it comes to advising on projects. Zowie explains how the process works: “Clients will make contact with us and we follow up with a no-obligation chat to talk through initial thoughts and ideas. The first step to designing an outdoor kitchen is to define what you need from your space.
Small or large, there are designs and products that can ensure you have everything you need to cook, live and entertain outdoors in style. There’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ when it comes to outdoor living spaces which is why we offer a bespoke service and a range of products that are both elegant and practical.”
The couple have invested in an impressive, fully-stocked showroom, where clients can view products and design ideas in situ, and the stock-list covers the whole gamut of outdoor living products. Pergola and patio covers come from Renson, chosen for their aluminium construction and wide range of contemporary designs, while for a more traditional approach to all-weather protection, The Lapa Company is recommended by Zowie and Gareth for their handcrafted, thatched and cedar shingle gazebos and garden buildings. “While we can have some glorious weather in the UK,” explains Gareth, “it can also be inclement and so it’s important that if you’re investing in an outdoor living space that it is usable as much as possible. We recommend a home visit that allows us to get a feel for the space and how the area is likely to be used. Having these conversations really is key to understanding our clients’ wants and needs. From here, we head to the drawing board, where we will specify the design and create a visual, choosing products that we feel suit the brief and budget.”
I learn that the most important part of any outdoor kitchen is the cooking equipment and this comes in the form of a range of products. Luxury grills and outdoor ovens are de rigueur in the world of outdoor entertaining and enable ease of entertaining for large numbers. Zowie and Gareth conducted a lot of research before choosing to work with Firemagic, BeefEater and Wolf. “By having more than one grill manufacturer we are able to tailor our products to all budgets. It also gives customers the choice between freestanding or built-in options, gas or charcoal. We personally test all of the grills and ovens that we sell, ensuring they meet our own exacting standards before making them available to our clients,” adds Gareth.
But what if you have a smaller outdoor space? “Ceramic charcoal grills are very versatile,”
answers Zowie, “they can be used to grill, roast, bake or smoke any food and they don’t take up a lot of room. Similarly, table-top pizza ovens from the likes of Alfa have a similar flexibility while their elegant Italian design means they also look the part. We also appreciate that some of our customers prefer to take a more traditional approach to outdoor cooking and so we were able to source sustainable firebowls from Kadai. Each bowl is unique, can be up to 100 years old and is handpicked from Rajasthan by the Kadai team.”
For both Zowie and Gareth it’s vital that the brands they supply align with their own ethos of service, quality, form and function. This is no more apparent than in their relationship with Vlaze who create design-led, British-made vitreous enamel modular furniture, that can be moved freely from indoors to out. Design specifically for the living environment, and at once sustainably made and fully recyclable, the lustrous colours are created by fusing powdered glass to steel at temperatures in excess of 800 °C in the same factory that manufactures much of the iconic signage for London Underground and the Paris Metro.
Similarly, Glowbus®, who create handmade fire pits, take functional fire to a new level. With each piece in the collection adding a design dimension to the elemental. With a belief in sustainable and ecologically responsible products, Glowbus® only work with the most durable materials, ensuring the products have the ability to create special moments for a lifetime.
The fact that there is such a range of products to choose from is testament to the couple’s understanding of how outdoor living and entertaining can be made to work on many levels and how our approach to cooking outdoors has evolved over recent years. “Rather than just a sausage or a burger, people are trying new recipes with influences from the likes of social media, chefs and home cooks. With lockdown over the past years, people have spent more time at home trying new things and so we need to be able to reflect that in our offering,” says Zowie.
With this in mind, Heart, Smoke and Soal host regular open days at their showroom, inviting award-winning chefs to join them for live cooking demonstrations on their equipment. Brand representatives are also invited to join in the days, available to answer any questions. “We feel that being huge foodies ourselves, with a real passion for cooking outside, sets us apart. We regularly use the brands we stock ourselves in our own outdoor kitchen. The open days fulfil this side of our passion, with equipment fired up outside so that guests can smell, taste and really live what we are all about!”
They recommend a five-point approach to outdoor kitchen design that takes into account space, budget, supplies (in terms of water, gas and electricity), weather and climate, and ultimately your own cooking style. “With so many options in terms of the aesthetic of a kitchen you can really go all out and make the space unique to you, but it also has to work on a practical level,” says Zowie. “We have recently launched an online shop offering accessories, condiments and lifestyle products and regularly post recipes on our blog which we hope gives culinary inspiration to our customers.”
Open day information and showroom appointment booking is available on the Heart, Smoke and Soal website where you can also find more information on the brands available.