Even when you live in a warm climate like Laguna’s, you’ll find both indoor fireplaces and outdoor fire pits incorporated in homes of all styles and sizes. The American Society of Landscape Architects found that fire pits are among the top three most popular outdoor design elements for 2015, and it’s easy to see why they’re so in demand: They create a warm, inviting ambience in any space and now, a slew of new options are making them more beautiful, environmentally friendly and on-trend than ever before.
When installing a new fireplace in your home, fuel type is one of the first considerations. In Laguna, direct-vent gas versions are currently trending: They offer an eco-friendly alternative to wood-burning options and take up less space because they don’t require a chimney. Plus, they’re virtually hassle-free and more efficient—the pollutants spill out into the vent rather than into your home. With their bundles of faux lumber, direct-vent gas fireplaces are even catching on with people who favor the crackle and aroma of traditional timber.
“It’s less cumbersome to use,” says Joe Kramer, owner of local construction firm J. Kramer Corp. “Some sealed units can be switched on with a light switch. They produce a fair amount of heat and people tend to use them more, rather than having to get chopped wood, lighting it and cleaning up after it.”’
Inclination toward this style has only increased due to a South Coast Air Quality Management District ban enacted in 2008, which prohibits wood-burning units in new developments. These types also lend themselves to sleeker, more contemporary designs that work well for the open-concept floor plans that are in high demand right now. Direct-vent gas versions bode well for continuity in sweeping spaces, as the traditional massive brick units tend to close off areas of a home.
In a remodel of a midcentury Laguna house, for example, Joe worked with recently deceased architect Mark Singer to open up a living room divided by a plain brick fireplace. Replacing it with a dual-sided glass version that could be accessed from both sides created a more modern look and improved the flow of the space.
In general, however, centering the unit along a focal wall is ideal, particularly when balanced with a view. Many Lagunans are currently opting for a wide, rectangular shape, which can coordinate with an expansive vista when well executed. “Our views here in Laguna are sacred,” says Clark Collins of Collins Design & Development.
When finishing off a fireplace, minimalism is key to a modern look. Mantels are often absent in the latest designs, falling in line with the contemporary aesthetic. A popular alternative to the bare look is to opt for simple, understated styles made of reclaimed wood or metal. Similarly, sleek materials are currently on-trend for “surrounds,” the architectural element that borders the hearth: More homes are incorporating concrete, smooth plaster, metal, and polished and honed stones.
“If you have a really beautiful stone, maybe you don’t need anything else,” Clark suggests. Although understated, a modern fireplace can become a striking focal point with a surround made of a striated stone veneer—one of this year’s most in vogue looks.
Get Cozy Outdoors
Based on the latest home and design trends, gathering around an outdoor fire never loses its appeal. Hosting guests on a cool autumn evening is the perfect opportunity to bring the party outside and lead the group to a seating area wrapped around a fire.
But in deciding where to place a permanent fire pit—portable options are still banned as of June 2011—you first need to determine where your fuel source is coming from. Newly installed fire pits are required to be gas-burning in Laguna; for those who don’t have a gas line running from the house to the backyard, Eric Peterson, owner of San Juan Capistrano-based Capo Fireside, has a solution.
“Tie into the line that runs from gas supply at the home’s water heater or main gas line,” suggests Eric, who lives in town and is familiar with local fire codes. “… Then run it to the location where the fit pit is going to be.”
Given the ongoing concerns about firestorms in Laguna, fire pits must be located at least 20 feet from combustible materials in fuel modification zones (10 feet for parcels of land not designated as fuel modification). Once you determine placement, it’s easy to get creative with design.
What’s trending right now in local backyards are minimalistic fire pits with clean lines, which can either complement your home’s architectural style or stand out as a bold focal point. Eric explains that the shape and size of your fire pit can vary dramatically, ranging from rectangular options to combination table-footrest varieties. However, the circular, raised features surrounded by seating continue to prevail and won’t go out of style anytime soon.
It’s also important to choose sturdier materials that can stand up to the elements outdoors, as well as ongoing exposure to heat. To start, your contractor will line your pit with a reinforced material—like a steel ring or fire brick—to protect whatever material you use from the heat, which can cause cracks, drying and premature deterioration.
Because fire pits are subject to the elements, certain exterior materials should be avoided even if they fall in line with the trending aesthetic; contractors will be the most helpful resource in choosing safe materials. Limestone can be a stunning facade for a contemporary fireplace, for example, but should be avoided outdoors because it retains moisture, which can lead to unsafe cracking in the foundation.
Popular ultramodern exterior finishes include marble, granite and slate, all hard rocks that are less likely to explode upon contact with heat; they also bring a luxe quality to backyards. Marble, for example, can pop against a darker wood patio, while granite can blend seamlessly with a paved patio.
For the space around the burner ring, lava rock is a modern and appropriate option. Thanks to its composition, it helps break up and distribute the fire to create an aesthetically pleasing display of flames. You can also take the contemporary approach a step further with another on-trend material: small pieces of recycled, tempered glass, which serve a dual purpose of function and style. They’re available in nearly any color to match your decor and also eliminate residual ash after the flame is extinguished.
Fire pits can be a fun do-it-yourself project, but it’s wise to do your homework before you begin. If you’re not completely familiar with city regulations but want to take your backyard space to the next level, work with an experienced and reputable installer who can help you create your dream outdoor retreat.
— Written by Margie Monin Dombrowski