06-13-11 | News">img

Fire Features Lighting the Landscape

By Gregory Harris, LASN

This new construction project included an outdoor kitchen, patio covers, balcony, driveway, vanishing edge pool and four fire features. A pair of 42” diameter pre-cast concrete fire bowls flank the sides of this vanishing edge pool. Concrete scupper bowls match the fire bowls and spill water gently into the ends of the pool. In the background, a freestanding pergola and custom fireplace create a viewpoint for the California nightscape.
Photo by Paul Jonason, courtesy of
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Outdoor living spaces continue to gain in popularity as homeowners look for ways to extend their entertainment areas from indoors to outside. One burgeoning feature to these outdoor spaces is the use of fire.

A recent American Society of Landscape Architects survey found that 94.2 percent of the respondents rated fire pits and fireplaces as somewhat or very popular as a residential design element in 2011.


This contemporary design demonstrates the use of multiple levels to create a stronger sense of outdoor rooms, the biggest trend in exterior design today. The bold fireplace burns round fireballs made from refractory fireclay. The mantle cantilevers out three feet and was cast in place of four-inch thick concrete following specially engineered plans.
Photo by Paul Jonason, courtesy of

Fire features, particularly fire pits, can be relatively low maintenance while adding flair to the outdoor space. In addition, the design of fire features can range from modest to extravagant, with many clients requesting fire features that combine fire and water.

“Fire and water are very instinctive, natural elements,” said Darren Wittry, president of Greenwood, Ind.-based Ambiance Gardens Landscapes. “Fire and water have a calming effect.”


Boulders and natural stone are a signature feature of the fire features built by Ambiance Gardens Landscapes. The boulder used to create this fire pit is Greene County sandstone and weighs 900 to 1,000 pounds.
Photo Courtesy of Ambiance Gardens Landscapes

Scott Cohen, president and garden artisan of The Green Scene in Northridge, Calif. echoed Wittry’s sentiments.

“Restaurants are using fire features for visual effect and it calms customers down during their wait for seating,” he said. “This same relaxing atmosphere can be achieved at home with fire and water features.”


This fire pit/water fountain feature designed by Fredell Enterprises was meticulously constructed, requiring approximately 250 man-hours to complete. The fountain needed to be perfectly level to allow for ideal water flow.
Photo Courtesy of Fredell Enterprises

Cohen described fire as the biggest trend in landscape design and construction for both residential and commercial projects. Cohen noted that fire features at residences are not exclusively fire pits. Exterior fireplaces are also a popular addition to the landscape.

“Fireplaces create an anchor for outdoor rooms,” he said. “They are nice to look at even when they are not in use.”

Fireplaces can be functional as well as visually appealing as some homeowners use their fireplaces in conjunction with their outdoor kitchens. Fire pits are more of a decorative feature.


The boulders placed around this fire pit are used for seating as the pit itself is at ground level. A level surface is key for this fire pit installation. There is a gradual pitch inside the fire pit that allows for water runoff and a French drain has been installed under the fire pit for water removal.
Photo Courtesy of Ambiance Gardens Landscapes

Fire features can be designed in a number of ways, including in pits, bowls or flush with the ground. Many fire features are fueled by gas, but some fire features are built to hold logs as the fuel.

Paul Fredell, owner of Fredell Enterprises in Colorado, Spings, Colo., said most of his fire feature installations are fueled by gas.

“The cost of a gas fire pit is considerably more, but homeowners can’t go to bed not knowing if the embers (of logs) are out,” he said.

Fredell said his business’ forte is the high-end residential customer. When a customer selects a gas-fueled fire feature and the need arises to place a gas line to the fire feature, he sub-contracts the gas line installation out to a gas contractor. The fire features can be designed to be lit via wall switch, match lit or by remote control.


Metal logs that are designed to mimic the appearance of natural wood, bringing a rustic feel to a gas-fired pit, were added to this fire feature. In addition to the logs, “pine cones” and “pine needles” have also been placed in the fire pit, and like their log counterparts, they are made of steel.
Photo Courtesy of Fredell Enterprises

“Most of our customers select the remote control to light their fire pits,” he said.

Fire and water tend to coexist when it comes to decorative fire features and the landscape. Many of Cohen’s clients have fire features next to their swimming pools and hot tubs.

“This combines the reflective quality of water to fire,” he said. “The water provides a mirroring effect for the fire.

Cohen, whose new book “Scott Cohen’s Outdoor Fireplaces and Fire Pits” was recently published, said he is seeing more requests from his clients to incorporate water and fire in the same landscape element.

Fredell said one of his clients requested a fire feature that could be installed on his patio area near the swimming pool. The solution to this request was a fire pit/water fountain feature that was meticulously constructed, requiring approximately 250 man-hours to complete. The water flows down a large, cylindrical concrete base while the fire feature is a bowl that sits in the water at the top of the fountain. The rate of water flow and the intensity of the flame are adjusted using a control panel located at the bar area of the patio.

Wittry said using natural elements is key to his projects. Many of Wittry’s fire features include boulders from Indiana stone quarries. The boulders are used as fire pits as well as seating around the fire feature.

“Every stone is different,” he said. “The hues, the textures and the colors make every landscape project unique.”


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