Backyard Barbecue Nirvana

The bi-level terrace in the back yard of Tim and Kathy Stewart's contemporary Concord Township home is a vast improvement over the lumber deck that once occupied the same spot. The couple's Unilock-brand paver structure requires almost no maintenance.

"The first year we moved in here, it took us all summer to sand it and strip it," Tim, a foreman for Trimor Corp. in Twinsburg, says of the now-defunct wooden deck.

"It was 14 years old," adds Kathy, a health-and-personal-care specialist at Heinen's supermarket in Aurora. But she agrees the work just wasn't worth it. "Two years later, it was looking exactly like it did when we first moved in. We said, "Forget this!"

The couple goes on to extol the virtues of their 600-square-foot curvilinear retreat: how perfectly flat the interlocking paver surfaces are, how the built-in Unilock-brand lights that illuminate the steps connecting the upper and lower levels look like ordinary pavers during the day. But their favorite feature is undoubtedly the built-in grill on the lower level. Indeed, Tim talks about it like it's his favorite toy, a luxury he's allowed himself after years of sacrifice to put two children through college.

"Tim has always enjoyed cooking out on a grill, whether it be charcoal or gas," Kathy says. "We knew right from the get-go that we were going to have one."Finding a grill insert, however, turned out to be a challenge. "Now everybody's got them ? Lowe's, Home Depot," Kathy says. "It's become a more popular thing. But two summers ago, we couldn't find one anywhere."
Joe Super, landscape design manager for Yard Smart Landscaping in Olmsted Falls, succeeded in locating a stainless-steel insert with a smoker, rotisserie and warming plate.

"I have a large [extended] family," Kathy says. "We wanted something big enough that we could cook a lot of food at one time." The insert was slipped into a sandstone countertop on an L-shaped base built out of the same pavers used for the terrace. (Joe talked Kathy out of using tile for the countertop, explaining that it wouldn't hold up as well in winter.) A low-voltage spotlight lights the entire area at night.

While the Stewarts had an attached stone-topped bench added to the base so family and friends can sit and chat with the cook, they stopped short of installing a sink, refrigerator and other outdoor-kitchen amenities.

"The grilling area is just so close to the kitchen," Kathy says. "Why go through that added expense?"

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