AN OUTDOOR FIREPLACE or fire pit invites us to linger in the garden long past twilight and into the evening chill. Fire evokes shared associations of warmth, community and fun. A landscape design that includes an outdoor fireplace is one that will be enjoyed both day and night, and well into the cool season.
We didn’t realize we would enjoy the fireplace as much as we have.”
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Fireplace or Fire Pit—The Differences
FIREPLACES AND FIRE PITS make a gathering place for company to enjoy nighttime warmth and light outdoors. And they can be designed to burn either wood or gas for fuel. The differences, though few, are worth noting:
- A fire pit invokes the campfire tradition. So seating is “in the round”. This type of arrangement can accommodate a bigger crowd and makes for easy interaction across the campfire.
- A fireplace naturally creates the effect of a living room outdoors. Seating forms a semi-circle or U-shape as in a living room. It’s a subtle difference, but will matter if you prefer the campfire to the “living room” type of atmosphere.
- A fire pit works well when you have an open area that is naturally protected from wind—because there is no chimney to draw smoke away. Fire pits require a large cleared area because there is no firebox or chimney to contain errant sparks picked up by the wind.
- An outdoor fireplace takes up vertical space but doesn’t require the same open area and clearances as a fire pit. The sheer mass of a stone fireplace and chimney makes its own wind protection. And the chimney draws smoke up and away from the party seated at the hearth.
- The simplicity and low profile of a fire pit can capitalize on a view during the twilight hours.
- A fireplace IS the view. It anchors the landscape design and makes a powerful visual statement.
Outdoor Fire Pit Design Styles
The simplicity of the fire pit concept concept does not limit its style potential. These three examples should make that clear.
This beautifully simple design makes use of a clearing surrounded by trees (though a safe distance away). The boulder garden, slab steps and level gravel fire area define the space.
“Pit” is hardly the word to describe this cool modern fire lounge. The stonework is clean lined and highly finished. Features include a built in couch and travertine coping on the coffee table style gas-fueled flame source.
View this fire pit and pool environment
The stone coping around this circular shaped fire pit (gas fueled) offers a toasty foot rest if you scoot your chair closer. Located between a spa and dining area, this fire pit makes an inviting place to pause after dining or soaking. View images of this outdoor living space
Outdoor Fireplace Design Styles
As you view the following examples, you will see how the materials and aesthetic of each fireplace is in tune with the surrounding stonework, patio surfaces and planting beds. The construction materials set the design styles—and they range from rough-cut stone and boulders to block to stucco surfacing. Fireplaces may be built into a retaining wall to hold back a slope. They may screen out neighboring buildings or set a visual anchor near a property boundary.
Free Standing Fireplaces
These two stand-alone fireplaces make different statements due the materials used and the design style followed. On left, rough-hewn blocks and slab mantel, along with the deep arched firebox give this fireplace a powerful and ancient character. On the right, this trim, neutral toned Mediterranean style fireplace is smooth and light where the other is robust, massive and etched with colors.
Rustic Style Fireplace
Mediterranean Style Fireplace
Primitive Style Fireplace
Again the materials used and the construction method set the aesthetic for this cave-like fireplace. Above the crude hearth slab, a gigantic boulder serves as the mantel. This fireplace appears to have been hacked out of a rock pile.
A stone fireplace is the focal point of this outdoor living room patio sheltered by a pavilion. This pavilion uses auxiliary heating elements built in at the ceiling to keep the entire area comfortable for use long into the cold season.
Design Guidelines for Outdoor Fireplaces
THERE ARE SOME PRACTICAL CONSIDERATIONS that determine where a fire feature can be located on the property. Your landscape architect will advise you of these when designing your landscape:
- Scale. Fireplaces make a statement in the landscape scene. It’s imperative they be sized correctly in relation to the size of the house over distance. Your landscape architect will know how to scale the fireplace properly so it fits into the overall environment.
- Location. A fireplace can be built into a retaining wall or set free standing in a corner of the property. The location of the fireplace must relate well to other features and activity areas such as a pool, a spa or outdoor dining area.
- Zoning Regulations. Outdoor fireplaces (and fire pits) are subject to residential codes that limit proximity to property lines and buildings. Your landscape architect should be familiar with these rules.
- Prevailing wind direction. You would not want to have your fireplace hearth facing into the wind for obvious reasons. And you would to not want smoke to blow toward the house.
Fireplaces & Fire Pits in the Landscape
The garden is a different place at night. A fireplace or fire pit lets us experience that dimension of the landscape. There is nothing quite like staying up late gazing into a campfire with friends. Like watching a sunset or sunrise, the appeal is universal. It’s guaranteed to inspire time after time.