By Rebecca Denton
When Ed and Susan Mackey designed their west Nashville dream home, they included a cozy patio space where their children and friends could gather and relax.
The crowning touch: an outdoor fireplace.
Built into a covered patio, the family’s stone-and-brick fireplace lends a rustic feel to the serene view of their backyard pool, waterfall and stone pool house flanked by dogwood trees.
Warmth is just a bonus.
“This extends the length of time when we can come out to the patio,” Susan Mackey says. “In the winter, we’ll come out here, especially when we have friends over, and the kids will toast marshmallows. It’s a topic of conversation – and it’s soothing to look at even when it’s not lit.”
The Mackeys are just one of many families using outdoor fireplaces to expand their entertaining space while creating the welcoming feel of a living room outdoors, says Mark Lunsford, vice president of the Hearth & Grill Shop in Nashville.
“This used to be a West Coast trend, but it has steadily moved our way,” he says. “We’re getting more islands built on patios or porches with outdoor refrigerators, built-in grills and outdoor fireplaces.”
In other words, a plain old backyard doesn’t cut it for today’s busy families. Homeowners want an outdoor space that doubles as an oasis.
That can be accomplished on most any budget, Lunsford says, with fireplace and fire pit choices ranging from portable, wood-burning chimeneas in the $100 range to gas-fueled, masonry-constructed fireplaces in the thousands.
Sue and Steve Maxson of Franklin had a fireplace with tile and cedar veneer built into their covered porch for about $2,000. Adding oversized wicker furniture, a television set and a trickling fountain transformed the porch into a tranquil spot to kick back.
“We just like sitting in front of the fireplace,” Sue Maxson says. “We have a drink at night and just relax, or read the paper out there on Sunday morning.”
Lunsford remembers when outdoor fireplaces were practically unheard of, but sales have soared in the past five years. Now outdoor fireplaces and fire pits make up a growing portion of his business, with choices ranging from $150 to $2,500 and up.
One model in the $3,500 range is a combination water fountain and gas fire pit called a Ring of Fire. With the push of a wall-mounted control, a lighted fountain springs to life and a circle of flame bursts forth in the center, creating an instant focal point.
Glossy features in home- decorating magazines and recent sightings on HGTV and ABC’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” have helped fuel the flame of this alfresco trend, experts say.
Nancy Moore, owner of The Porch Company in Nashville, says it’s increasingly common these days for homeowners to request a fireplace built into their covered porch.
Her customers typically spend between $4,000 and $12,000 on outdoor fireplaces in their quest for ambiance, relaxation and an escape from the sterile, air- conditioned environment of their homes, she says.
“Back in the ’50s and ’60s when air conditioning became commonplace, we thought it was incredibly wonderful,” she says. “Now we want to see, touch, hear, feel and get away from the artificial place our homes have become. It’s a way of getting back to our roots.”
Choosing the Right Fireplace
Here are a few tips to keep in mind when considering an outdoor fireplace:
• Cast aluminum is the material of choice for freestanding outdoor gas fireplaces. It won’t warp, rust or crack, and it can be moved easily.
• Steel or copper is your best bet when looking for a freestanding outdoor wood-burning fireplace, such as a chimenea.
• If your outdoor fireplace will be built-in, stainless steel is preferred for its durability.
• Which is better, wood or gas? Ventilation and maintenance are always issues with wood-burning fireplaces, but some folks prefer their crackling ambiance and old-fashioned charm.
• For screened-in porches, gas fireplaces are the way to go, experts say. They’re convenient and smoke-free.