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A firepit creates the perfect mini social hub for cold winter days and evenings

The seasons are changing – but why wait until you’re cold before getting your heating options sorted – your outdoors included? Landscape designer and creative director of Landart Landscapes Matt Leacy shares some tips for a fire pit that invites regular use

By Matt Leacy, landscape designer and co-founder of Landart Landscapes

“We’re only weeks away from winter, and while we’ve had a very mild autumn there’s a fresh chill in the air – making it ideal fire pit weather,” said Matt Leacy founder and creative director of the award-winning Landart Landscapes.

“You can’t beat the fun and relaxation of sitting around a fire– it’s like bringing one of the best parts of camping to your home,” says Leacy.

“Plan a menu that can be eaten from your lap – bowl foods like hearty soups, stir fries, pastas, curries or something out of the slow cooker are great, or finger food like sausage sanga’s, sliders or burgers.  Then kick back and enjoy gathering around the fire for the ultimate cosy gathering.”

Landart Landscapes is one of Australia’s leading landscape design businesses, and has seen a surge in requests to include a fire pit in designs over the past two months – with more enquiries flowing in each week.

“We’ve designed and installed some spectacular fire pit areas,” says Leacy.  “And unlike some outdoor kitchen structures or pools they don’t need council approvals and are relatively quick to have up and running in a short amount of time.  

"One of our most recent designs includes everything one would need in an outdoor living space. It has an area for cooking food and another for lounging and conversing – all complemented by the warmth of a fire pit that can be easily swapped for a coffee table in the warmer months.”

Some of Matt Leacy’s top tips to take into consideration when building a fire pit:

Finishes and materials

It’s not difficult to create a fire space that looks like it’s always been there.  The great thing about a fire pit is that the more you use it the more it will season and look great where you’ve set it up.  We’ve used some more rustic earthy finishes including huge boulders, sandstone blocks and beautiful old reclaimed timber in some recent builds.  But have also created sleek modern designs that include recessing fire pits into decking and concrete and integrating within a garden design.

Use the light

Fire pits give a beautiful ambient light that is much softer of an evening than some man-made lighting options.  You could add some subtle lighting in surrounding garden beds if needed, or consider festoon lighting, but where possible let your new fire light your outdoor space.


Consider the space you’re building in

Designing a fire pit is all about the size of the fire or source of heat. If it is a really large opening that enables a bigger fire then it is harder to get the fixed seating the right distance away.   As the fire burns for longer it usually gets hotter, or if you are only wanting the fire on for an hour or so it may not be large enough to warm the seating area – which makes fixed seating a bit problematic.   

You may be better off not building in the seating and giving guests the flexibility to move and adjust their position around the fire to suit their personal preference. You don’t want them sitting so far back that they feel cold, or right on top of the fire so they leave feeling like they’ve been toasted!

Fixed seating works really well with a smaller fire pit, or where the dimensions of the available fire space doesn’t exceed 600mm in diameter.

Proximity to your house & general safety

Ensure you’re setting up far enough away that embers can’t end up in gutters or surrounding bushes.  Ideally also have a garden hose/water source close by in case it’s needed.

Consider how you will use your pit 

Will you have kids toasting marshmallows and walking around the fire pit? Or will it be more a relaxed adults retreat? If your fire pit will be a family affair try to set up where the kids can also run and enjoy spot light, hide and seek, lawn games or even swimming in warmer weather, while the adults can kick back around the fire and still keep an eye on them.

Durability  

If your fire pit is going to be outdoors permanently you need to invest in something that is durable and will stand the test of time in all weather.  It should also have a drainage hole for wet weather.  Steel offers a durable surface, and rusted steel gives a great weathered look.

Cooking

If you’d like to be able to put a roast or casserole on in your fire pit you also need to consider the size of your pit and its ability to take the added weight of a cast iron pot of food. It also needs to be large enough so you can keep coals generating beside it to enable you to adjust the heat under the pot as required. 

Wood storage

There are a plethora of stylish ways to store your timber that can be sourced from retail outlets and garden centres, or you can build-in something more permanent.  A wood heap, when stored neatly, can actually add to the appeal of your outdoor fire pit – just as well stacked timber indoors is now very often a feature of indoor fire places.  We often integrate storage of timber into our designs – which adds to the functionality and ease of use of a fire pit.

Ease of access

The easier your fire pit is to use, the more you will enjoy languid days and evenings gazing into the flames.  If you have seating in place, and a permanent spot that your fire pit is set up (and all the timber stored nearby ready to use) chances are you will spend more time around your fire pit.

Front or back?

If you don’t have the room in your backyard, consider devoting front yard space to your fire pit.  If your front yard is exposed to the street look at screening your fire pit area with hedging or fencing and screens to give you protection from the wind as well as privacy from neighbours.  

Devoting some of your front lawn to a fire pit set up can also help future proof you from any further water shortages next summer – with less lawn to water and maintain.

Design

It’s important to consider how your fire pit will blend with and enhance what’s already in your front or back yard, and what sort of look it will add to your property.  Research and look at different options, and consult an expert if you can.  They will give you ideas you wouldn’t have thought of yourself on how to maximise the space you’re working with.

Proximity to neighbours

Assuming you like and want to maintain good relationships with your neighbours (or want to avoid complaints from a difficult neighbour!) consider where you place your pit and what the impact may be on them.  If you think you’ll be out late sitting around the fire with family and friends try as best you can to set it up on the opposite side to where you know your neighbours’ bedrooms are.  

Also be mindful of smoke and washing lines and their outdoor living spaces wherever possible.  Although, if you’re doing it right and using dry timber, there should be very little smoke generated.

Story by: Trendsideas

Photography by: Jason Busch

24 May, 2020