Decor: Outdoor fireplaces and grills

Updated Feb 2, 2018

Homeowners are taking two distinct style paths with outdoor fireplaces. They either want something that looks old, with traditional shoulders and a straight chimney, or a sharp-lined, contemporary form with a wide base that angles up, says Mark Fernandes, chairman of the National Stone Council.

“What’s old is new again,” he says of the throwback to rustic fireplaces reminiscent of those found in country farmhouses. These hearths are usually made of dry-stacked ruble stone. Cut granite is a common choice for contemporary-style fireplaces, which Fernandes says are popular in Florida and Arizona. As with many types of hardscaping, stone is the material of choice.

“Right now people are going nuts over stone,” says David Long, owner of David Long Masonry in Birmingham, Alabama. Long’s father, originally a brick mason, learned the dry-stack-stone trade 20 years ago when his company began receiving requests for stone features. Long says he offers clients brick or stone fireplaces, but for the past three years they’ve all chosen stone. “We’re going through a trend,” he says.

Fernandes confirms this, saying it’s the third rise in stone popularity to occur during the past 100 years.

J’Nell Bryson, owner of J’Nell Bryson Landscape Architecture in Charlotte, North Carolina, says her clients are selecting brick as well as stone, depending on their budgets and home style. Brick fireplaces cost $2,000 to $3,000 less than stone ones.

Style-wise, Bryson says a brick fireplace doesn’t have to exactly match the brick in your customer’s home, but should be in the same color family. Brown brick with dark mortar has an earthy look and is a favorite in her area.

Stacked bluestone is the most common choice among Bryson’s clients who want stone fireplaces. Long builds his outdoor fireplaces out of a dark fieldstone called moss rock.

From grills to full-blown outdoor kitchens
Outdoor grills range from small fireplaces with a grate on top for cooking to sophisticated grill tops with teak wood cabinets underneath. Fernandes says the trend is toward the latter, along with everything else you’d expect to find in an indoor kitchen. Cocooning after Sept. 11, 2001, sparked a movement toward outdoor living spaces, he says, and is partly responsible for the surge in construction of outdoor grills, fireplaces and complete kitchens. “You substitute any country resort hotel right in your own house,” he says.

The outdoor kitchen started with a stainless steel grill in a stone base then a refrigerator and sink were added, followed by cabinets and countertops and the switch to grill tops instead of traditional grills.

Bryson says her clients purchase the grill, and she incorporates it into cabinetry or a brick or stone box, sometimes with cedar doors. Wood-burning ovens like those in pizza restaurants are popular with her clients who are chefs or have a serious interest in cooking. The ovens themselves are sold in kits that cost about $4,000, and the surrounding enclosure is crafted out of brick. The process is labor intensive and leads to a total cost of about $10,000 for the client.

Make it unique
In addition to Sept. 11, the uptick in demand for outdoor grills and fireplaces also springs from the wealth of the baby boomer generation and homeowners’ desire to create a physical representation of their unique personalities, Fernandes says. So when designing either of these features, don’t expect a client to want exactly what he or she has seen elsewhere or something you’ve already done.

“The whole idea of self-expression has moved into the area of architecture,” Fernandes says. “And that goes into the outdoor living space.”

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