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Today’s homebuilders and landscape designers are making room for fire-lit gathering spaces at a faster pace than ever before. And with that trend, the fire pit has graduated from a standalone metal bowl or makeshift fire ring lined with old bricks into permanent installations with dramatic features and controls.
A 2016 survey by the American Society of Landscape Architects found that 75 percent of landscape architects expected to install fire pits in their projects that year, and fire pits overall ranked as the most popular outdoor design element for 2016 — surpassing landscape lighting and outdoor seating. The trend has only continued.
One reason for the popularity boom may be that the fire pit is becoming an all-hours amenity, according to Susan Nadolski, director of business development for Eldorado Stone’s outdoor line. “It’s not just about using the fire pit outside at night. It’s also using it in the morning with a nice cup of coffee, or in the middle of the day with a good book or your laptop.”
With that in mind, homeowners and designers have a variety of propane fire pit configurations to consider. One popular new design is the fire bowl: cauldron-style fire features, usually constructed of precast concrete, and available in a range of sizes. Renee Schmitz, vice president of business development for the Outdoor GreatRoom Company, says concrete is an ideal material for fire bowls, allowing manufacturers to accommodate the actual bowl shape, while still offering a design finish that works well with the elements and complements landscapes and home exteriors.
Both Schmitz and Nadolski note that large fire bowls can make great centerpieces for outdoor living spaces, while smaller versions work well in more-intimate areas, such as private patios. They’re also perfectly sized for decorative installations around pools or in seating wall corners. Try pushing a few together to create a gathering space with more visual interest.
Coffee Table Transformation
If homeowners are increasingly spending time by the fire pit with coffee in hand, it’s little surprise that some configurations now incorporate table surfaces. “We’re seeing growth in outdoor product designs that mimic interior applications,” Nadolski says, so these applications can serve as both coffee table and warm gathering spot. Eldorado Stone offers designs that have a table-style landing space with an integral fire pit set off to one side, as well as fire bowls that can be covered by a stylish wood top and used as a table when a fire isn’t necessary.
Even the materials of these tables can reflect traditional interior choices. The Outdoor GreatRoom Company’s Vintage collection of distressed wood tables includes square or linear orientations with central fire pits surrounded by glass. Whether it’s classic s’mores or sophisticated wine and cheese pairings, table-style fire pits give homeowners a place to entertain outside with the same conveniences they would have indoors.
These designs also let fire pits pull double-duty, which can be helpful for smaller spaces. “The fire pit has really taken over from the fireplace in outdoor living, but footprints are going smaller on some new homes as well,” Schmitz says. “These tables can help no matter what size you need for your outdoor space.” With fire pits ranging in price from a few hundred dollars to more than $10,000 depending on size and functionality, being able to get an outdoor table and a fire feature in one can help stretch the budget when necessary.
Controlling the Elements
Beyond creating a cozy gathering space, fire features make back yards interesting by adding an element of drama — and no fire pit is more dramatic than the Evolution 360. Introduced by Hearth Products Controls in 2013, the series incorporates both fire and water to create outdoor living centerpieces that wow.
“Fire-and-water applications had been done before, but not as an appliance,” explains CEO Greg Steck. “Instead of building from scratch on-site, the Evolution 360 can let you have a combined fire and water feature up and running in a couple of hours.” The self-contained system doesn’t require a pond or pool to operate, and lets homeowners easily control fire, water, and integral LED lighting with a remote control.
That element of control has been an area of advancement for the industry in recent years, Steck says. Smaller units are often match-lit, while larger installations can be turned on and off with the push of a button, similar to a gas grill. Electric ignition options, involving a light switch or handheld remote control, are widely available. Additionally, Hearth Products Controls offers Bluetooth connectivity for some of its models, capitalizing on the home automation trend by allowing users to operate their fire pits from their smartphones. “We’re hearing a lot of people are putting in multiple fire pits, so having the Bluetooth option is really nice in those instances,” says Keith Lambert, digital marketer for Hearth Products Controls. “Instead of walking around the back yard to turn everything on or light the fires one by one, they can operate everything from inside the app.”
It’s a luxurious option for propane fire pits that’s simply not possible with basic wood fire rings. So if your client is the type who prefers relaxing by the fire to the hassle of cleaning up wood chips and ash, consider outfitting your next outdoor space with the convenience of built-in fire pits fueled by the home’s propane storage.