Cozy Up | To the Outdoors

enjoy every season with a custom fire feature 

Since the early ages, campfires have been meeting our basic needs, keeping us warm and well fed. Now, our kitchens and home heating units do the job. But there’s still something primal we crave from the flickering flames: a relaxing place to gather with friends and family. 

From the natural and rustic to the modern and luxurious, today’s options for fire pits and other outdoor fire features can complement any style home. Just a few steps outside your back door, you can serve up fresh air and fun.

Meet me at the pit
Local landscape and hardscape professionals agree that adding a fire feature to your backyard will not only enhance your property but also your family and social life.

“It’s a classic thing; from the beginning of time we’ve been wanting to gather around a fire,” said Ashby Perrow, a design/build sales professional with Southern Landscape Group.

Many fire pit projects happen because a homeowner decides to build or remodel a patio, he said. “A lot of time, they tell us they want a patio and a fire pit, where the fire pit will be central to the design.”

Even though fire pits and outdoor fireplaces can be installed year-round, he said his company sees a spike in requests around fall and spring, “when the evenings are chilly and people are antsy to get outside.”

Fire features increase the amount of time during the year that people would use the space, “so they get more value out of their outdoor living area,” said Rebecca Mahanes, the operations supervisor for Land Tech Group. She added that a lot of her clients use their fire pit or fireplace as a welcome spot for family and friends.

“Some people may not want a large gathering inside their home, but if they have a nice outdoor space, they are more comfortable,” she said. “During the height of COVID, this was particularly true, because people were tired of being isolated and looking for comfortable outdoor spaces to gather safely.”

Homeowners can choose various styles, shapes and sizes of fire pits. Although many companies will install kits (pre-designed with standard, but often limited, choices in materials), they also encourage the homeowner to customize their space. They will walk you through the entire design process, including determining the best location for your fire pit, and help you create a one-of-a-kind outdoor haven.

“We’re client-focused and try to be very customized with our work,” Perrow said. “We ask how the client wants to use the space; it really ties back into what their aesthetics goals are.” 

While many homeowners choose the traditional cylindrical pit, there are more options than ever before. You can go with a standard brick wall design or raise the bar with natural stone installed by a skilled mason. The newer designs include a wider top surface, with plenty of room to prop your feet or park your food and beverage. A popular accessory, especially for woodburning, is the spark guard, a metal mesh that covers your pit and provides a measure of safety.

Many people prefer simple, rustic fire pits that match their natural surroundings. If your fire pit will be near a wooded area or garden space, you may want an in-ground pit circled by large rocks to create a campfire feel. Or you can go even bigger with the rocks and design a boulder fire pit, where the center of a very large boulder is dug out to hold the fire. You can also find fire pits that resemble a natural feature, like the Bryndle Root Fire Pit, a gas fire pit that is built with cement but looks like a tree stump.

In recent years, fire pits have paved the way for a more modern feature called fire tables. Fueled by gas burners buried under lava rocks, these narrow, rectangular pits, usually about the height of a coffee table, produce a consistent, soothing glow. You will often see them with a clear partition called a windguard to keep it aglow on a windy night. 

Also among the most attractive new fire features to hit the market are fire bowls. Like fire tables, the calming flames sprout out of a pile of rocks to embellish pools, decks, and patios. The bowls can be filled with “fire glass,” shiny glass made specifically for fire bowls and fire tables. The combination of the glistening glass and the dancing flame is mesmerizing. Fire bowls can also double as a water fountain: installed at the edge of a pool or waterfall, these features add a luxurious feel to your space. 

Mahanes recalls a local homeowner who added multiple features: two fire bowls, two fire/water bowls and a fire pit. “The variety of fire elements created a very nice ambiance at night with all of the elements running.” 

Wood vs. gas 
The fire pit design often comes down to your choice of fuel. Although many still prefer to burn wood, the convenience of a gas pit makes it a popular choice, especially when you can start your fire with the flip of a switch. 

“Gas fire pits seem to be the most popular, particularly for new construction homes and people who don’t have regular access to firewood,” Mahanes said. “People who opt for the gas usually do so because it is cleaner and easier to maintain. They don’t have to get any wood or clean out ashes later. People who opt for the wood burning usually do so because they like the smell of wood smoke, the crackling sound of burning wood, and they can have a larger fire they can control. It comes down to personal preference.” 

While gas fire pits can cost more due to installing a gas line, Perrow said that many homeowners prefer woodburning so they can create a memorable experience for children and grandchildren. 

Going smokeless 
One drawback to a traditional woodburning fire pit is the smoke, which can sting your eyes and leave you with an odor that lingers. If the smoke and stray embers are a concern, you may consider a smokeless fire pit. Brands such as Breeo and Solo Stove have specially engineered a self-contained, portable device that increases airflow and eliminates smoke. With its versatility, you can move it around if you want to rearrange your outdoor living space for particular events. 

Also available are smokeless fire pit inserts and special rings that make the insert a perfect fit in your traditional stone surround pit. Easily removable, they are quickly becoming a backyard favorite.

Fireplaces: A grand gesture
Outdoor fireplaces, although not as common locally as fire pits, are a feature that can really make a statement. 

“Typically, we fit them into the design so that there is plenty of space for comfortable furniture for lounging in front of the fireplace,” Mahanes said. “Sometimes the seating area in front of the fireplace is covered with a pavilion or pergola. We also add on firewood boxes or other side walls. They can be customized many ways depending on the size of the space, the user and the budget.”

Some homeowners who want to plan for larger crowds install a fireplace as well as a fire pit, to give guests separate but different areas to gather.

Fireplaces have long been called the heart of the home, and companies like Land Tech Group and Southern Landscape Group can help you create an outdoor living space that is just as comfortable and inviting as the fireplace in your living room.