Designing for Fire
Gathering around a fire is an ancient human activity that maintains its magnetic attraction, even now. As a feature that so viscerally attracts us and so often is the backdrop of our favorite memories, why not design more than one location in your home or yard where you can encourage the comfort of a fire.
October 3, 2019
Wood-burning, gas-burning; fireplaces, fire pits: how to make the most of opportunities to gather around a fire.
I was visiting friends back in New England recently on a beautiful autumn day (one of those rare days that makes me wish I still lived there), and the evening was capped by sitting around a wood fire in their backyard, surrounded by forest and the orchestral call of grasshoppers chirping. We passed around some drinks and laughed until late in the night, content to be warmed by the fire and lulled by the ritual of finding the perfect piece of wood to keep it going. The memory stayed with me through the next day as a highlight of our visit and it triggered some deep dives into my favorite memories with friends and family.
Turns out, fire plays a big part in most of those memories.
Sitting on the beach with our boys on their first backpacking trip this past summer roasting s’mores and telling stories. Seeing the (gas) fire blazing while we opened Christmas gifts and then watched the kids play with their toys. Warming ourselves by a roaring fire in the cold interior of British Columbia after a long day at Mile High Resort, with friends talking about our kids riding their bikes for the first time. (Side note, we love that place, you should all go check it out.)
Fire is a great uniter. It is the original television, and the joy of watching flames dance is something engrained into pretty much everyone. It is a sight to behold and the ultimate setter of moods.
While I may not often think about fire in such grandiose terms, I’m aware of the value of it when designing a space I want to be special. Fire is central to cozy coffee shops, helps anchor restaurants, and can be the “welcome home” gesture in an apartment building that calms you after a long day. On a current project under construction, we have numerous spots for fire and they all serve unique needs.
When you think about your goals for your project, don’t just think about the aesthetics of the fire, but the story behind how you’ll be using it. In this particular project, we have fire in the following locations:
- A restored wood-burning fireplace in the original living room. While wood fireplaces in the interior of a house have all sorts of concerning air quality and energy concerns, there’s no doubt that they’re evocative. In this case, there was no eliminating this existing fireplace for the client and it sets the backdrop for numerous treasured family holidays.
- A gas fireplace in the family room on the other side of the house. Gas fireplaces are fairly efficient and, most importantly in my mind, can be turned on or off quickly. These are great for setting the mood when you want to watch a movie or sit and read a book.
- A grand, wood-burning fireplace outside in a covered outdoor room. This room will be comfortable on a cozy and rainy November day and helps anchor a large outdoor space.
- A gas outdoor firepit on a view deck. The deck is far from the ground and wood would not be practical. This allows you to come up at sunset with a glass of wine, light the fire, and then 30 minutes later, head back down.
- An in-ground stone firepit for wood fires tucked away in the tree canopy of the yard. This allows for a bit of adventure for grandkids and friends to hike down to a private part of the yard, get a fire going, and tell stories and roast marshmallows. This allows you to create a special spot on your property that adds to how you use your home. Most Seattle homes don’t have yards big enough, but with some creative landscaping and siting, you can often get this feature on lots much smaller than you would imagine.
Creative thinking about how you use fire and how it sets the backdrop of your life will help unlock design potential on your property and be the backdrop of stories for years to come.