With an array of unique designs, backyard fire pits provide a warm and inviting place to gather.
By Tanya A. Yacina
The addition of a fire pit to an outdoor space can offer many benefits, especially when more and more people have been staying home during COVID-19 restrictions, but still want to gather safely with family and friends. Fire pits provide ambiance to a patio or other backyard area, while creating a warm, multiseasonal retreat.
According to Ruben Flores, owner of Laguna Nursery and Visionscape Inc., a fire feature adds romance, desire, warmth and intrigue to an outdoor space, as well as the opportunity to relax, contemplate and converse with others.
“The more intensified use of the garden finally is being realized,” he says. “One of the wonderful things as a result of the pandemic is the realization that we need to be outdoors more. And, our environment is so conducive to that; it has been a push of mine for decades. We should be spending 80% of our home time outdoors, and fire pits or fireplaces have become a staple of almost all high-end garden designs.”
While fire features are growing in popularity, the setting dictates what type and size should be selected as well as the positioning. According to Mike Pyle, owner and lead designer at Mike Pyle Landscape Design and Consulting—established in Laguna Beach before he recently moved to Dana Point—and co-host of HGTV’s “Inside Out,” which premiered in April, a successful fire pit installation is all about placement and making it a focal point. Of course, the materials are also an important part of the design process.
“You need to have enough space around the fire pit for seating, as well as foot traffic, so the area isn’t cramped,” Pyle says. “I try to stay away from metals because of the rust factor, especially if you’re close to the water. I feel that GFRC [a lightweight fiberglass-reinforced concrete] is the most durable and, with the honed finish, it doesn’t stain as easily as a smooth stucco.”
For larger outdoor areas, Pyle recommends a rectangular fire pit with a built-in ledge so a plate or cocktail can be placed on it, allowing the structure to double as a table. For small spaces, Pyle advises a small bowl since they take up less space.
Flores also opts for small fire pits—sometimes even built into the ground—when dealing with limited space because they are less obtrusive. For larger areas, though, he says bigger is not always better, and suggests adding two smaller elements instead of one large piece in residential projects.
“Our fire pits tend to be more organic than the normal round or square box with a beverage holder edge—obviously, it depends on the style of the home and the level of design,” Flores says. “We run the gas lines and the electronics, so it can be a remote-controlled operation or key as desired.”
Form and Function
Flores and Pyle’s companies both offer fire pit design and installation services. Both focus primarily on residential projects, but also design and install fire features for hotels, restaurants and commercial properties.
“The client and the home and the setting help to determine the look,” Flores says. “However, it’s better when it blends with the surroundings—that formal 18th century urn transformed into a fire element or three boulders placed so that the fire emanates from the center [with] unexpected heat [and] light from the center, or a very clean-lined concrete form that allows the contemporary home to enjoy that warming and romantic element that beckons the viewer.”
Flores says his favorite type of fire feature is one that allows him to “relax and be ultra cozy.” “One where I can see it from a distance and it calls to me to ‘come sit,’ ” he adds. “… One that allows me to sit close or a bit distant depending on the weather, emotion or friends.”
In way of accessories, Flores says that what’s included depends on the client and the frequency of use. He recommends a nearby, weatherproof storage area to contain cushions, pillows, glassware and more.
“Some fire pits sit without cushions for months until the client decides to place the cushions on the stone seating area. In that case, a beautiful stone choice or concrete finish or wood pattern is very important,” he says. “It needs to look good 24/7. Then, when used, it needs to be easy to prep.”
Pyle adds that a fire pit must be complemented by appropriate seating, while a rug, pottery and string lights also add a nice finishing touch. “There is nothing better than having a gathering around a fire pit,” Pyle says. “It is a great element to bring people together, have a glass of wine and have conversation.”
A Hot Topic
Weather-friendly accents, as well as the fire pit itself, can take your exterior design to the next level of luxury.
Both people and pup friendly, this nautical-inspired TRIMARAN STRIPE DENIM IVORY INDOOR/OUTDOOR POUF by Dash & Albert is easy to position and reposition around a fire feature, as well as easy to clean as necessary, $228, with advance order at Tuvalu Home Environment. (949-497-3202; tuvaluhome.com)
This PALOMA OUTDOOR OCCASIONAL CHAIR made of marine-grade polypropylene rope stretched over metal framing offers a practical addition to surround an outdoor fire pit. Lightweight yet strong enough to stand up to the elements, the chair comes in vintage (black) and a color called vintage sand, $1,100, with advance order at Nuance Home & Lifestyle Boutique. (949-494-8833; nuance-home.com)
Ready to be the center of any outdoor space, the 48-inch SANTA CRUZ FIRE BOWL comes in four color options and is handcrafted with a custom patina finishing process. The unit operates with either a standard propane tank or natural gas hookup, and 80 pounds of lava rock are included, $2,986, from OC-based Mike Pyle Design. (mikepyledesign.com)