Decorating with flames is latest outdoor trend

  • Article by: DEBBIE ARRINGTON , Sacramento Bee
  • Updated: June 15, 2013 - 1:06 PM

Outdoor fire features are going upscale, from simple pits to “fire furniture” and even “fire fountains.”

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Fire pits have become upscale, made to match any patio furniture with such features as automatic ignition and a propane tank hidden in a pull-out drawer.

Photo: SHNS photo courtesy Scripps Networks Interactive,

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Water’s cool, but now fire’s hot.

Just as bubbling fountains became ubiquitous back-yard accessories, outdoor fire features have become the newest must-have addition.

“Before, almost no one asked” for a fire feature, said landscape designer Michael Glassman, of Sacramento, Calif. “Now, almost everybody asks for it. Fire adds another element to the yard. It adds ambience and the drama of the flames. It gives you another reason to go outside.”

Glassman estimated that 45 of his past 50 customers, “wanted some sort of fire element.”

A recent survey by the American Society of Landscape Architects reflects that demand. Among outdoor design features expected to be most popular this year, 95.8 percent of survey respondents rated fireplaces and fire pits highly. The only feature that ranked higher: back-yard grills.

“It’s a social center,” said Buzz Homsy of California Backyard. “People don’t want to spend all their time at the patio table or dining area. [But] people want to stay outside, especially in good weather.”

Last year, Homsy’s Sacramento-based company sold more than 500 high-end fire pits and other fire features, priced at $500 and up.

“Primarily, there’s more interest in early spring and late fall. They’re a way to extend your outdoor season. You can enjoy a crisp evening outdoors,” Homsy said.

Like the back-yard grill, fire pits have gone upscale, made to match any patio furniture with such features as automatic ignition and a propane tank hidden in a pullout drawer. In an outdoor setting, they create instant impact with the push of a button.

Because of restrictions on burning wood, propane — or natural-gas-burning fire features — have become the most popular options.

“You can use them anytime,” Homsy said. “You can even cook on some of them.”

Fire pits have morphed into “fire furniture” — fire tables, fire bars and fire banquettes. The flame area is surrounded by porcelain tile, decorative metal or natural stone. Slate is popular, too.

“They’re not ‘pits’; they’re furniture,” said Don Massie, outdoor living expert for Green Acres Nursery and Supply. “They can be chat height [such as a coffee table], taller like a dining table, or even bar height. Manufacturers of patio furniture almost all are coming out with fire tables, too.”

Green Acres added high-end fire furniture — mostly priced at $1,000 to $4,000 from such makers as Outdoor Concepts and Oriflamme. It was an instant hit.

Home Depot also has seen a surge in fire pits. Among its best sellers: Hampton Bay’s wood-burning Collette fire pit ($149).

“It’s definitely a rising trend,” said Stacey Spillman, Home Depot’s national merchant for patio and pool. “We see customers buy simple basins in multiples for outdoor parties. But we’re seeing more interest in fire-pit tables with room for drinks or fire-pit chat sites with matching chairs.

“The other major trend is pits fueled by propane,” she added. “You don’t have to actually build the fire, but you still have the great look of the flames.”

Wood or propane?

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