Fire & Water

In recent years, fire features have been evolving in exciting new ways. It used to be that people only did simple fire pits. These were small features that mimicked a pile of rocks with a little flame in the middle. Now the trend not only includes much larger fire pits but also formal outdoor fireplaces crafted from fine materials like stone, cast limestone and travertine.

A custom full size fireplace can cost significantly more than a fire pit, but homeowners find that the extra cost gives them a substantial addition to their outdoor living space. When it comes to creating an outdoor living room, there is simply no better element than a fireplace. It serves as an anchor that creates and defines the space.

Fire is a stunning decorative element on its own. It’s no longer simply something to gather around, but also something that can provide visual appeal in the yard. To create this visual focal point, we use majestic bowls and troughs of fire to add striking highlights throughout the yard. The effect is both elegant and primitive at the same time.


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For the romantic at heart, it goes without saying that nothing heats up a relationship like an enticing fire. Whether it’s an intimate fireside chat for two or a late night dip in the swimming pool by firelight, that glowing warmth makes everyone feel like getting closer. Ironically, fire features often spark trouble between men and women during the planning stages of patio design. When women think about fire in the landscape, they often think ‘fireplace’ and see themselves sitting in the cozy flickering light with a nice glass of wine, holding hands with their loved one or reading a good book. Men on the other hand think ‘fire pit’ and see themselves gathered around a roaring fire with their buddies drinking beer or scotch while the kids roast marshmallows.


While I frequently get caught in the middle of that debate, I have a full bag of tricks for building fires that satisfy both needs. With careful design, homeowners can enjoy a fire feature that kindles romance one night and ignites spirited camaraderie the next. For all the magic that fire provides on its own, its magnetic appeal is dramatically enhanced when it’s coupled with water. I use the two to create fascinating, almost surreal effects.

In one landscape, huge bowls of fire on each side of the spa send flickering reflections dancing across the surface. In another, an eight-foot long fire trough behind the swimming pool provides a magnificent focal point that greets guests as they walk through the front door of the home. In another, fire is placed at a strategic level with the rim of the spa so that flames appear to be rising directly out of the water.

Many of these special effects are very affordable; with just a little extra money you can create a terrific night show in your landscape. I have several practical tips for getting the most from these features:

Fire is a great way to enjoy the view. If you have a lot with a view, locate fire features at
the edge of the property in a place where people will have a chance to enjoy the fire while
taking in the surroundings.

Consider the view from indoors too. Place features where they can be easily seen from
your interior living and entertainment space so people can enjoy the show indoors and

If you’re going to have fire, do it right! Install a generous number of gas rings to create
the effect you want. That way, you’ll be able to adjust the flame from mild to wild to suit
the mood of the evening.

Locate your fire where warmth will be most welcome. Placing fire near the spa, for
example, provides a way for people to continue to enjoy the area in comfort in or out of
the water.

Plan for safety. Always locate fire features away from traffic areas and take prevailing
winds into consideration. Above all use common sense when operating fire features to
keep your evenings safe and beautiful.