It's difficult to imagine a more down-home, comfortable scene than sitting around a campfire in your backyard with your friends and children, toasting marshmallows and sharing a soft drink, beer or glass of wine.
While summer is an ideal time to enjoy the warmth and beauty of a campfire and the pungent odor of burning wood as you share stories, discuss politics or gossip about the people down the street, by its nature, a fire is generally considered to be a three-season amenity. However, the range of fire amenities that are now available to homeowners is amazing -- and they certainly can be enjoyed year-round.
If you prefer an odorless fire, you can choose to fuel your fire with gas. Beyond the traditional brick and block fire pits or the portable metal bowls, there are full masonry fireplaces, fire bowls/urns, firewalls and even fire tables.
Northwest Metalcraft in Arlington Heights (www.nwmetalcraft.com) has 40 or 50 different ones available for sale because they are so popular, said owner Daniel Mayer.
Firewalls look like an indoor fireplace without a chimney. Instead, the propane gas fire burns in front of a solid wall that can be made of a variety of materials, ranging from artisan glass pebbles or squares to masonry tiles in a variety of colors and styles.
Fire urns and bowls are exactly what they sound like. They spout fire when they look like they could just as easily display flowers. A large one can be used as a focal point and gathering space, while a pair or grouping of smaller or elevated ones can be used around a pool or large yard for atmosphere. Constructed of a combination of fiber-reinforced concrete and high temperature refractory cement, they come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors.
Fire pit tables that burn propane through glass beads or charcoal are also popular. Generally made at somewhere between a coffee table and dining table height, these structures serve double duty. The fire pit portion in the middle can be almost invisible while you are eating (hidden by a Lazy Susan or a flat cover) and then afterward, the cover can be removed and it becomes a tabletop fire pit. They now come in many different colors, styles, materials, shapes and sizes and some have adjustable flames.
This year Northwest Metalcraft is even offering wine barrel fire pit tables with granite tops for those who want something unique. They come in a number of different sizes and designs and burn propane accented by glass pellets.
"There are some who are wood-burning purists and that is what they want," Mayer said. "But many women don't like the smell of smoke, so they choose to have a fireplace fueled by either propane or natural gas and we put stones, ceramic logs, broken glass or geometric shapes in the fireplace to enhance the look of the fire, just like what we can do for an indoor fireplace."
Firefalls, which combine fire with water, are another option. They feature a gas fire in front of a wall of glass or masonry tiles, but a wall of water cascades down the wall behind the fire, mixing the elements of fire and water. LED lights illuminate the waterfall to add to the effect. Northwest Metalcraft can order these to meet each homeowner's particular needs and tastes.
"It is so nice to be able to sit outside in the evening and enjoy the mesmerizing effect and the magical ambience of a fire. It is so much better than just sitting outside with nothing interesting to look at," Mayer said.