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FIRE FEATURES CREATE COZY SETTINGS

Lowcountry residents love their outdoor living spaces, especially at this time of year: The air is crisp and the temperature drops starting in the late afternoon as darkness falls. Sitting by an open fire when it’s chilly outside is many people’s idea of a perfect fall or winter evening. Lowcountry homeowners head to their backyards, patios or decks to enjoy the season and good company. 

Scientists believe that modern day humans’ desire to relax around a fire is evolutionary. Stone Age man socialized around campfires and felt safe and warm while bonding with friends. The urge to gather around a fire is hard-wired in us, anthropologists claim. In the modern world, outdoor gatherings usually involve a firepit, outdoor fireplace or fire table — functional and aesthetically pleasing additions to any outdoor living space. These fire features have been growing in popularity, particularly in destinations like the Lowcountry with extended fall and early spring seasons.

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“It’s a very fast-growing part of the outdoor hardscape and the outdoor living industry,” said Dennis McGlynn, an operations manager for enhancement projects at The Nursery. “The outdoor living experience is the big attraction now.”

Tim Niemiec, owner of American Paving Design in Bluffton, agrees. 

“You see a lot more people expanding their outdoor living spaces, and that’s a (fire) feature people want to add,” he said. “It gives the outdoor living space another dimension, and it provides a gathering area where a group of people can congregate.”

These days, fire features come in a variety of styles, materials, colors and shapes. And with a wide range of prices available, it’s easy to find the right feature for any budget and taste, adding warmth and ambiance to your outdoor get-together.

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After all, what would a Lowcountry oyster roast be without a place to gather with a glass of wine and good friends, skewered marshmallows at the ready for delicious, melty s’mores? 

While many might opt to add full outdoor kitchens or large open fireplaces to their backyard hardscapes, experts say the trend seems to be skewing toward firepits, tables and bowls. 

“Firepits and fire tables have increased significantly, especially fire tables that allow more access. When they’re not in use, they serve as a coffee table,” said Lee Mitchell, owner of Travertine & More in Pembroke, Georgia.

Firepits and tables are natural gathering places, with room for everyone to sit and soak up the warmth and atmosphere.

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“We sell more firepits than anything else because of the variety of styles and the price points,” Mitchell said. “Everybody loves a fire pit.”

Niemiec said he’s “seeing a lot more fire tables and fire bowls. Less wood-burning and more gas in a sleek, modern look. Clean is the look. It’s all encompassing.”

Mitchell, though, said he still sees the appeal of wood-burning hardscapes. 

The sound of “traditional wood crackling can’t be beat,” he said, noting that metal inserts can help “eliminate 95 percent of all smoke so people don’t have to play musical chairs running from the smoke.” He points to the Breeo brand, whose smokeless firepit boasts a double-wall, secondary combustion design. 

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That’s not to say, though, that the traditional outdoor fireplace is going out of style: Courtney Jansen, a member of the sales team at Distinctive Granite & Marble, said it’s still a popular addition to any outdoor living space — especially when skillfully constructed of materials like travertine or soapstone.

Other materials frequently used in fire features include bricks, natural stone, oyster shell stucco, pavers and Savannah gray brick. Recommended higher-end brands included El Dorado Outdoor, Tremron, Belgard and Outdoor GreatRoom Co. 

Thinking about a ready-made or DIY project to add an outdoor fire feature to your backyard oasis? Low standing wood or charcoal firepits made of metal begin at about $100, and do-it-yourself kits for a built-in fire pit can cost $500- $2,500 or more. If you hire a designer and installer for a custom-made firepit, expect to pay from $3,000-$15,000. A custom designed and installed fireplace will cost $8,000 to $25,000, Lowcountry experts said.