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5 Designer Tips For Choosing a Fire Pit

Written by Kerrie Kelly, ASID on Tuesday, 31 March 2015 1:28 pm
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We've all been waiting for the sun to come out so we can enjoy a little more time outdoors. As my clients begin to get their backyard entertaining spaces up and running again, there is almost always talk of a fire pit. There's just something about gathering around a fire at the end of the evening with some hot chocolate or a glass of wine that's as warm as the fire itself.

If you're thinking of adding an outdoor fire pit, here are five quick tips to consider before you get started.

1. Location, Location, Location!

For safety and security, an outdoor fire pit should be at least 10 feet away from the house and shouldn't be placed on your wooden deck. Some communities have specific requirements about placement in relationship to the house, so check your local city or county website for details.

Next, map out the space you'll need for the fire pit itself. Outdoor fire pits are generally anywhere between 18 and 48 inches in diameter. You'll need space for people to sit comfortably around the fire, but remember that people tend to back away from the fire as time progresses. Plan for an additional six to eight feet of space for chairs and movement.

2. All About That Base

Outdoor fire pits come in all kinds of shapes and sizes these days, but they boil down to three base styles:

An actual fire pit is dug into the ground and completed in any of several different finishes (more on that below). These are obviously permanent structures, so plan your backyard layout accordingly.

Coffee table fire pits resemble low tables and, when not in use, they can be covered and used as an actual table.

Raised bowls bring a stylish, artistic element to the space. Whether metal or concrete, deep or shallow, these simple components can be customized for exactly the look you want.

3. Find a Fabulous Finish

You'll have a lot of choices in terms of materials for your new outdoor fire pit. First, decide whether a mobile or stationary unit is best for your space and the way you entertain.

Mobile fire pits are great when you have the space to move the party, depending on the weather or the view at a particular time of the year. They're also a great way to try out a fire pit before you invest in a more permanent structure.

Mobile fire pits are almost exclusively made of metal, but can be found with accents and finishes for traditional or contemporary design styles. Rust, patina or paint can be leveraged to customize the look for your particular taste.

Stationary fire pits offer a custom look, and actually become a part of the architecture of the house. Choose a finish that complements the exterior of your home and the outdoor furniture you'll be using.

Stone finishes that resemble slate, natural stone, limestone or even pavers are a safe and solid choice that works well with traditional or transitional spaces. Concrete bowls are trending these days, and look great in more contemporary spaces with an eco-friendly design.

Bronze, copper and stainless steel have the unique ability to bring a historic vibe, an industrial look or an ultra modern, artistic flair to your outdoor entertainment space. Prefabricated models made of metal tend to serve a more traditional or transitional design style. Talk to a custom metal worker if you'd like to explore a fire pit that also serves as a statement piece in your yard.

4. Fire It Up!

Now you're ready to gather your family and friends and light that fire. We love the smell and sound of an actual wood-burning fire - not to mention the convenience. Most communities have restrictions about whether and when open fires are permitted, so check for those details before you make a decision.

Propane is efficient and super safe, too. It works much like your outdoor grill, with a hose attached to a hidden propane tank. Propane has the added advantage of allowing you to have a little more fun with the contents of the pit. You can cover the propane jet with all kinds of material, from natural and colored gravel to fiberglass crystals in finishes that resemble glass.

5. Precautions

As delightful as an outdoor fire pit is, you should never forget that you're dealing with open flames. Make sure you have a plan if things get out of hand. A strategically placed fire extinguisher is the best option here. Placing your fire pit near a hose is another great choice. If neither of those is an option, keep a bucket of sand and a bucket of water nearby. A roaring fire is that much more enjoyable when you have confidence that youâre prepared to put it out, whether it spreads from its confines or you're simply ready to call it a night.

Kerrie Kelly is an award-winning interior designer based in California who also enjoys writing about outdoor yard design for Home Depot. Kerrie is the author of the popular book Home Decor: A Sunset Design Guide. You can view a selection of fire pits, including styles Kerrie refers to, on Home Depot's fire pits page.
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