In 1929 the architect Le Corbusier, a pioneer of modern design, created a rooftop garden for a Paris apartment that included an ornate fake fireplace. The faux hearth was intended to be a surreal statement on the state of contemporary design yet it proved to be remarkably prescient. More than half a century later, as affluent homeowners from London to Los Angeles seek to extend summer’s warmth into late spring and early autumn, outdoor fireplaces are a trend.
They can resemble everything from fire pits to old-fashioned coal stoves complete with chimneys and their popularity comes in spite of an economic climate that has slashed renovation budgets and caused landscape architects to scramble for work.
“People have always wanted some way to lengthen summer,” says Madrid-based landscape architect Eduardo Mencos, whose work includes residential and sprawling commercial projects. “A fireplace in the garden is a very simple way to achieve that and it also extends the living and social spaces of a home.”
Though the decor value of indoor fireplaces as focal points has long been acknowledged, with a brief hiatus in the 1960s and 1970s, their growing backyard presence is based largely to an influx of stylish, sophisticated models that help to add contrast and perspective to gardens, say landscaping experts. Clean lines and simple shapes define many contemporary models, which often utilise stylish materials such as galvanised stainless steel. Some open-air gas fireplaces have a designer’s edge that is almost sculptural.
Retailers, who are expecting a 5-10 per cent drop in overall outdoor furniture sales this year, are aggressively responding to the new demand. Montigo, a Vancouver, British Columbia-based firm, has a line of stainless steel, stand-alone gas fireplaces with a very modern aesthetic. The company’s Linear model is a vent-free, gas fireplace made from stainless steel and glass. Meanwhile Escea, a New Zealand manufacturer, has added to its vast range.
Californian company Ecosmart is gaining notice for producing attractive, eco-friendly models that are popular among fans of sustainable modern design. Its Q model was recently named “coolest green product” by a leading property magazine and can be placed indoors or outdoors. It comes with a ventless burner that allows it to escape being affected by wind or rain. Made from weather-resistant glass fibre, stainless steel and glass, it is fuelled by denatured ethanol. “We’ve had huge demand for our outdoor models,” says Stephane Thomas, director of The Fire Company, creator of Ecosmart. “The focus is on bringing the inside out and enjoying alfresco living all year round.”
Fire pits are also part of the trend, exploiting the appeal of a real fire to create a cozy atmosphere, particularly in contemporary homes with small spaces, say home builders. The SquareStar Architect Gas Fire Pit is an industrially inspired design with a sleek metal construction and adjustable, real gas flames.
“These garden items offer not only function but also form,” says Polly Dickens, global creative director of the UK’s Conran Shop. Cutting-edge fireplace designs for the garden further underscore the outdoor furniture industry’s push towards a new aesthetic rigour in the garden, she adds. “Patio furniture can now fall victim to the same whims of fashion as interior items. A design-friendly component is very alluring as public awareness of design grows.”
The cost of installing a wood-burning outdoor fireplace varies widely. Depending on size and sophistication, installation costs range from $12,000-$15,000 and bespoke versions between $30,000 and $100,000. By contrast, gas-powered models cost less – $1,000-$3,000 depending on size – while still helping to sate the need to stare into flames.
“People sometimes worry that smaller outdoor fireplaces can’t provide the same cozy, communal experience as an indoor one,” says Thomas. “But these smaller ones are so sophisticated and technologically savvy that they can actually impress homeowners.”
Garden gear: slug solutions
Recently I harvested a bowl of home-grown salad from my inner-city garden, writes Jane Owen. It was garnished with a lively dressing of slugs, so I ordered a consignment of the microscopic, worm-like nematodes that predate on them. The invisible worms are the most effective weapon in the available anti-slug armoury, which ranges from full-on chemical warfare (some slugs seem immune) to animal-friendly pellets (useless) to picking the slimey creatures off my plants at night after rain (highly effective but time-consuming).
Nematodes are watered into the ground and continue to massacre slugs for about six weeks. There are a few downsides. The nematodes are relatively expensive unless you count the destruction that would otherwise be wrought on your plants. Also, they do not attack snails – but snails are easier to find and destroy than slugs (feel around plant pot rims, look under pots and containers and in garden walls). Finally, the nematode is not indigenous to the US and so it is not usually available there.
Which takes us back to traditional methods. Ducks have a voracious appetite for slugs and snails offset by the mess that they make. Vaseline or grease, smeared around the tops of pots, are effective until the slugs find their way into the soil via drainage holes. Barrier methods, such as broken up eggshell, certainly work but they look awful and are fiddly. I have the same issues with beer traps. The latest, vaguely organic anti-slug treatment is ferric phosphate but, having spoken to a few people who have used it, I am not convinced. So, for those in the US who cannot lay their hands on the nematodes, copper rings are the best bet.
Nematodes can be bought from a number of sources, including www.nemasysinfo.co.uk
Beer traps and slug deterrents are available from www.organiccatalogue.com
Ferric phosphate is contained in Growing Success Advanced Slug Killer, from www.monrobrands.com