A fire element can add a spark of drama to a poolscape.
American Fyre Designs A fire element can add a spark of drama to a poolscape.

In a word, fire features are hot.

The No. 1 landscape design element for 2015 is a fire feature, according to the latest annual survey from the American Association of Landscape Architects.

That means you can expect more clients who are planning to integrate this product into their backyard living spaces. But with so many styles and sizes to choose from, careful consideration needs to be given before making a selection. That is to say, certain backyard scenarios call for certain types of fire features.

Here, we’ll explore the various fire features available and how each can be used to set the scene just right.

Accent or anchor?
To select the right fire feature, first consider what it will be used for.

If the aim is to simply accessorize a pool or spa, consider a series of fire bowls or urns – especially in the case of a Greco- or Tuscan-inspired pool design that calls for Old World flair. To truly complement the water, these features can include small scuppers, allowing water to spill into the pool below. The contrast of fire and water is a nice touch.

Fire features do not have to be limited to the pool. Some offer more portability. What’s nice about units that house a propane tank – vs. those that are plumbed to a gas line – is that they can be placed anywhere. Some clients may prefer having the flexibility to accent certain parts of a yard or patio for certain occasions.

But if you want something that will anchor an outdoor space, or give new meaning to an underutilized section, then go with something more substantial, such as a fireplace.

Fire tables housing a tank can fuel accessories such as urns.
American Fyre Designs Fire tables housing a tank can fuel accessories such as urns.
Fire tables create an instant gathering spot.
American Fyre Designs Fire tables create an instant gathering spot.

Fireside chat
Just keep in mind that a fireplace will be the dominant focal point, and that might not be appropriate for all situations. For example, if the swimming pool is supposed to be the star of the show, so to speak, your client might not want an overbearing fireplace competing for attention.

For something with a lower profile, but equally inviting, a fire table is a great alternative. Like a fireplace, a fire table creates an instant gathering place.

But these units also present certain considerations – height, for example. Low fire tables are popular for several reasons. A 15-inch-high table with a dancing flame in the center tends to be more comfortable. You can rest your feet on it and, because it’s lower, you can get closer to the heat source. However, a table this low will not have the room to conceal a propane tank. That means it will have to be plumbed to a gas line.

That might be a deal-breaker for some customers. But there is a work-around. In this situation, I’d recommend that the low table serve as a sort of secondary or satellite table to a larger dining-style fire table. The dining table would house the tank, a regulator and a hose to fuel the smaller table. I’ve seen this scenario in many backyards. It serves the need to have a formal place to eat and a less formal place to sit and chat. Just be sure that the client understands both tables call for appropriately sized furniture – higher seats for table dining and lower seats for lounging.

Shape also is important. A square table would suit a modern, geometric pool, whereas round complements a freeform pool.

None of this is to suggest that fire features must be expensive custom jobs. On the contrary, manufactured units can work well within any design scheme. Customers like that they can see and feel the furniture and know exactly what they’re going to get.

That brings me to a point about selling pre-manufactured fire features: Be sure to adequately display them on your showroom floor. Shopping is a tactile experience, so get creative and arrange inviting vignettes where customers can sit and envision these products in their own backyards.

Garry Lieser started Designs by Garry in 1986 with a small line of interior furniture that he designed and manufactured in Orange County, Calif. The company expanded into outdoor fire features and was purchased in 2012 by R.H. Peterson Co., in City of Industry, Calif. Lieser continues with his artistic developments and product designs with the Peterson family, now under the name American Fyre Designs.