This last month of summer has been cool, especially at night. So the weather has been perfect for sitting outdoors around a fireplace and the coming months will get better, one by one, straight through to Halloween. But some of the best examples of outdoor stone fireplaces come from western and southern climates where they are prime features of stunning landscaped exterior living spaces that can be used year-round.
Stone is key to fireplace architecture. The color, size, type and texture is critical to the character and style of any fireplace and there can be a surprising amount of variation. The fireplace built into a walled garden [top] is one of my favorites. Cut stone creates a flat surface that gives it a slightly modern look and the walls are high enough to provide real privacy. Located in Sonoma, California, it looks quite Italian to me with its shallow, low cast concrete hearth and angled steel awning supported by braces. The chimney, neatly tucked behind the wall, is also steel. Then there’s the gravel floor which Roche and Roche, the landscape architects and designers, know well from living in Tuscany. There, gravel garden paths and walkways are common — just looking at this photo I can hear the distinctive crunching sound gravel makes which reminds me of country walkways in Italy.
An eccentric stone boulder fireplace on Lake Michigan is an original. Designed by Sala Architects’ Katherine Hillbrand, it’s actually a double-sided outdoor-indoor affair with a towering chimney that rises up through the low roof. (The clue is the double flue vents on top!) The boulders looked piled up as the mortar holding them together is set back so the silhouette of each stone shows. And the hearth is so organic it looks like the mouth of a yawning stone giant. This must be a glorious place to lounge at night.
I was curious about why an architect would design a fireplace chimney that went through the roof. This photo of the opposite side reveals a mirror image fireplace room set up indoors. The furniture is more comfortable and the doors slide, which lets the outdoors in when it’s too cold or snowy to venture out.
Set at the intersection of a blue stone patio and a path through the shrubbery, this fireplace must have been inspired by one of those lantern fixtures you find flanking a doorway. I say that because, like a lantern fixture, the fireplace is also open on three sides. The pitched steel roof and chimney have a squared off lantern shape, too. It’s a very pretty idea that offers firelight from the approach to the patio, from the patio itself, and the from the walkway. A deep shelf extends out onto the patio and provides a wood storage bin below.
It must be wonderful to climb out of the pool after a nighttime swim, wrap yourself in a towel and run over to sit in front of an outdoor fire. This fireplace, angled at the corner of a pool patio, could be stone or even stone veneer. The squatty shape and sloping shoulders don’t make it the prettiest girl at the club but its presence gives a standard pool patio the aura of a spa.
Not everyone will love the angular look of this long low gas-fueled fire pit for an urban backyard. But what appeals to me is the length — I can easily see six people in chairs sitting all around it sipping wine and keeping their feet warm on the edge. And over time, the latte-colored stone will become more interesting as it weathers and develops patina from use. And while I really like the style of this fireplace, I wouldn’t want to be tasked with keeping the stone on that patio looking clean!
A round, country-style firepit was built from local stone by a Connecticut designer and her husband for family use. The large benches that encircle the fireplace do double duty. There is wood storage in some sections and sound system speakers are also concealed in the base of the benches so evenings can be musical.
(Source: rocheandroche, salaarchitects, midwestliving, arnoldmasonryandlandscape, flickr, HB)
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