While summer spreads heat waves across the country, there’s another thing bringing heat to the nation, too: outdoor fire pits and fireplaces.
For the past three years, the amenity has been ranked as the most popular outdoor design element by the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA). Plus, as of this past April, creating an ideal outdoor environment was one of the most searched topics on Pinterest.
While the 2019 survey from ASLA hasn’t been published yet, the trend continues to grow, even here in Northern Virginia. McLean-based home building company Miller & Smith incorporates fire pits in outdoor settings throughout NoVA, including its recent town home collection, Upper West at One Loudoun. Here, Patti Wynkoop, leader of architectural design and product development, shares what it takes to design outdoor fire features in the region.
Fireplaces seem to be highly desired for outdoor spaces here in NoVA. How do you make a fire pit fit aesthetically fit an outdoor environment of a home?
If you’re a family who wants to enjoy the outdoors all year round, an outdoor fireplace or fire pit is a great go-to. The biggest aesthetic challenge for fire pits is designing an outdoor area that is large enough to accommodate the fixture—especially when incorporating the piece in a rooftop terrace and/or deck layout. Cozying up by the fire is only enjoyable so long as there is enough room to gather, move freely and truly enjoy the outdoor living space. It’s also important to pay attention to furnishings that complement the fire pit/fireplace. For outdoor entertainment, composite furniture such as sofas, lounge chairs and end tables are notoriously maintenance-free, fade-resistant and easy on the eyes. Just like indoor furniture, you can add cushions and fade-resistant throw pillows to your outdoor furniture for comfort and enjoyability throughout the year.
What are the challenges that come with building an outdoor fire area?
There are a couple of key considerations when incorporating an outdoor fire pit or fireplace. First is access to space for ongoing maintenance tasks, such as power washing and snow removal. Especially in our area, weatherproofing against wind, snow and rain is a huge challenge. And for obvious safety reasons, it’s also important to consider the weight of a fireplace or fire pit when designing outdoor terrace and deck floor systems.
Are there any trends with fire pit areas that are unique to the NoVA region?
In terms of style of a fire pit or fireplace, about half of our homebuyers prefer the super-traditional rustic aesthetic, while others lean toward transitional materials that are clean, sleek and a bit edgy. A covered or partially covered terrace or deck is the most requested setting for a fireplace or fire pit. Homebuyers in our area want to enjoy their outdoor spaces and fire pits for at least three seasons.
How do Northern Virginians want to design their backyards compared to years past, and what features are frequently requested?
Over the years, outdoor living spaces have come a long way in terms of design. What once was a space to simply store the grill and place a plastic picnic set has now evolved to lavishly landscaped patios, ornate outdoor family rooms and beautiful spots for “backyard staycations.” Thanks in part to the HGTV phenomenon and saturation of home improvement shows, we’re also seeing more California-inspired living designs, where the great room sliders open up to a covered terrace, giving the space the feel of one big room. We no longer see the separation of spaces as today’s homebuyers are hungry for seamless indoor/outdoor living. Outdoor spaces also have evolved into entertainment hubs of many homes as outdoor music and speaker systems are trending—even more so than TVs.
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