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Laurie Rudd

Beyond the flame

Outdoor fire features enhance and entertain

All Agio fi reAll Agio fi re pits are crafted for portability.
Whether inspiring family stories or emitting trance-inducing light, fire has long created entertainment beyond the flame. From early open fire pit designs, today's category of fire feature products has progressed in construction, features and functionality. When coupled with the popularity and proximity of today's outdoor rooms, the gathering and entertaining potential of fire has never been greater.
     "Fire features no longer are just about the fire, it is about the gathering with family and friends and expanding the enjoyment of the outdoors," said Clint Blevins, president, California Outdoor Concepts, based in Tustin, Calif.

CHAT ROOM
The entertainment factor in fire features was recognized early by furniture manufacturers entering the category.
"Our first fire pit was 24 inches high with a 42-inch round hearth top and a side table that housed a propane tank," said Terri Lee Rogers, co-owner and co-president, OW Lee, based in Ontario, Calif. "We soon came to realize that the fire pit can be multifunctional, incorporating dining, cocktails or fireside enjoyment." OW Lee has trademarked the name "Casual Fireside" to encompass all aspects of entertaining with the fire pit as the focal point.
     Another pioneer in the category is Virginia Beach, Va.- based Agio, which recognized the potential of incorporating chat and fire into an entertaining accessory for the outdoor room. "With one of the fastest growing categories in outdoor casual furniture being the deep-seated chat group, it was only natural we would transition our fire pits into a five-piece chat set," said Bob Gaylord, president, Agio. "In these sets, fire pits add great value by not only providing ambiance, but also added mild warmth during chilly days or nights." Today, nearly 90% of all fire tables sold are chat height and the popularity and entertainment factor continue to grow. "Our fire pits can also multi-task when needed, doubling as cocktail or coffee tables perfect for relaxing with an after-dinner dessert or a cordial," Gaylord said.

FIRED UP DINING
The popularity of gathering around the light and warmth of a fire easily progressed to a new level with the introduction of dining fire tables. "Although the fire provides the focal point, we are designing to enhance dining and gathering options," said Steve Lowsky, president, Pride Family Brands, based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. "At the same time, our designers have worked to give each dining fire table the same attention to detail used in our furnishings."
 

The Laredo diningThe Laredo dining height table from OW Lee offers choice in base and table top design and fi nish.
    In 2012, Pride Family Brands introduced a unique 108-inch rectangular dining table with a 60-inch gas element that provided a centerpiece for the large table-scape. The introduction of this fire table as well as both chat and high dining designs into the company's collections were a result of overwhelming customer response to the category.
     "For 2013, we quadrupled the fire pit category, as with all other categories to include all frame finishes and a choice of 13 cast top designs to coordinate with a customer's entire patio," Lowsky said. "We saw a need for luxury fire tables and pits in the marketplace and the concept was embraced immediately."
     At California Outdoor Concepts, Blevins responded to a need he saw for a dining fire table to suit compact outdoor spaces with the introduction of a bistro fire table. "This design is a mini version of a fire table, yet is available with options including two base designs and colored granite table tops," Blevins said.

ENTERTAINING FEATURES
Putting the entertainment factor into outdoor fire pits, chat sets and tables has grown with the development of accessories designed to promote multi-seasonal use and enjoyment. "At Tropitone, our focus is to develop products that will allow our consumers to enjoy the outdoor experience through added features within our products," said Frank Verna, director of sales, Tropitone, Irvine, Calif. "The introduction of the table top grill pan is an example of creating an entertainment experience beyond the ordinary fire pit." The Tropitone grill pan allows the end user to participate in an interactive cooking experience popularized under the generic name, Korean BBQ.
     California Outdoor Concepts offers an ice bucket feature while OW Lee units can include a Lazy Susan outfitted for each hearth top on round pits. "This allows the ability to use the fire pit as a dining, counter or cocktail table when fire it not desired," Rogers said.
     Portability is a popular feature for the Agio fire pits, creating entertainment to go. "One of the most notable things about an Agio fire pit is the ability to move them, whether to simply reconfigure the outdoor room furniture or to pack up and move to a new home," Gaylord said.

Tropitone’s fi re pits’
Tropitone’s fi re pits’ safety features enable heat to be adjusted for the season and the setting.
Pride Family Brands’ 108-inch fi re dining table allows for group entertainment.
Pride Family Brands’
bistro size fi re table
A bistro size fi re table from California Outdoor Concepts delivers a reduced size and price point.
Woodard offers simplicity of style yet multiple options in fi re feature designs.
fi re feature designs.

     Many manufacturers see options in tabletop designs or finishes as a valuable and growing feature of the category. Woodard's collection of fire pits offer simplicity by design, but with the ability to customize. "We have tried to incorporate a simple style and design into the fire pits so they can be used with many different furniture designs and collections," said Matt Weiss, senior VP of sales and marketing, Woodard, based in Coppell, Texas. "The ability for the customer to purchase our fire pits with mix and match top and base combinations as well as any of the finishes that Woodard offers has been a huge success." For numerous manufacturers, a variety of table tops, base designs or media options have been instrumental in fueling the popularity of fire pits with consumers. "I feel the most popular feature of our pits is the breadth of choices," said Rogers. "OW Lee fire pits offer the consumer the ability to truly customize their fire pit to complement their design scheme."

     Tropitone's Verna also notes that safety features are important in the fire units' ability to provide entertainment and enjoyment from blowout pilot light boxes to Btu capacity. "Our units offer a range of output that provides the user with versatility for variations in outdoor temperature and activities," Verna said.

ENTERTAINMENT BY DESIGN
Cruces, N.M.-based Outdoor Fire Concepts finds its fire features are primarily used by pool builders and landscape professionals to provide entertainment through the application of their technology. The All Weather Electronic Ignition System (AWEIS), which can be used with natural gas or propane, has the technology to operate by using a wall switch, hand-held remote, any pool controller or smart home system. The unit has a built-in safety switch that shuts off the gas in inclement weather. "Utilizing this technology, our most popular design is the Fire Pots," said Pat Klohr, owner, Outdoor Fire Concepts. "Fire Pots come in different colors and textures that can be incorporated with any style of décor." Outdoor Fire Concepts designs have been incorporated into fire on water surfaces and the creation of colored flame effects for entertainment to flow throughout outdoor spaces.
     The Rings of Fire pit is one of the latest fire features designed by Cal Spas to entertain outdoors. "The backyard is the new living room since consumers are entertaining more in their backyard than they did before," said Shiva Noble, executive VP, Cal Spas, based in Pamona, Calif. "We felt it was necessary to offer all the features and options they need to entertain in their backyard." With the Rings of Fire pit, two standing stainless steel rings overlap to create a vertical "circle of fire" atop a triangular base. If circles of fire did not entertain enough, the unique fire pit also features 15 two-inch multi-color LED lights underneath the tabletop.

Rings Of Fire’
Cal Spas ‘Rings Of Fire’ Fire Pit entertains with dual circular rings of gas fl ames atop an LED light-emitting base.
The technology from Outdoor Fire Concepts is responsible for entertaining fi re effects in water and landscape applications.
Outdoor Fire Concepts
Helios fi re vesse
The Helios fi re vessel from Stone Forest is designed of natural stone for nature settings.
The King Isosceles fi re bowl from John T. Unger Studio entertains with handcrafted artistry.
King Isosceles fi re
  

ARTFUL ENTERTAINING
Entertaining outdoors also can include aesthetic entertainment coming from the combination of the function and the form of artful fire features. Stone Forest of Santa Fe, N.M. offers artistic fire features that take their lead from nature's blueprint. "Our hand-carved fire vessel designs are truly functional sculptures chiseled from blocks of granite," said Cameron Johnson, marketing manager, Stone Forest. "We have been working with natural materials for over 20 years and take pride in the fact that our designs for the landscape are of the landscape. Our products are for people who appreciate outdoor living and find entertainment in the addition of artistic beauty in their surroundings."
     Sculptor and creator of the recycled material fire bowls, John T. Unger of John T. Unger Studios, Mancelona, Mich., creates his sculptural Fire bowls in much the same manner. "Each fire bowl is intended to have an immediate visual appeal as well as providing a story, meaning and social interaction," Unger said. "For 2014, I am working on new designs that will feature intricate relief sculpture as well as creating fire bowls in a new range of sizes."

FUTURE FIRE
This element of entertaining beyond the flame is fueling tremendous growth in the category. "With the growing success of the fire pit category, many manufacturers have come into play within the last few years," Gaylord said. "Nothing makes a category grow like good competitors designing and investing in new and worthwhile products."
     Manufacturers and craftsmen across the category are unanimous in plans for expansion of fire feature lines for 2014. "In 2014, we will be expanding the line based on the continued popularity of adding fire to the outdoor experience," Lowsky said. "The luxury component of fire features is the area in which our customers will see expanded designs and options."
     Woodard has several ideas for expanding the line including adding several new base options. "We believe that we are just scratching the surface when it comes to where we can go with the designs for this category," Weiss said. "From different shapes to new top designs, this category will be a focus for us in the future." At California Outdoor Concepts, Blevins sees the media as an area for expansion. "Five years ago, 95% of gas fire features utilized gas logs; today, only 2% utilize logs and 98% use glass media," Blevins said. "We see opportunity to grow with options in this area."
     Through the centuries, fire in the outdoors has progressed from utility to esthetic. All the while, its ability to entertain has never diminished and is burning even brighter than ever in today's outdoor rooms.

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