The changing face of fire
Sampling of innovations poised to set sales ablaze
Laurie Rudd -- Casual Living, 3/14/2011 1:29:55 AM
WHETHER WITH its comforting warmth, glistening illumination or dancing artistry of color, fire holds a fascination unlike any other feature being incorporated into today's outdoor rooms. Consumers have long responded to the relaxing or socializing ambiance of fire features and now are embracing the innovation and change that is occurring across the industry.
"We are finding that it goes well beyond the fire," said Clint Blevins, president of Tustin, Calif.-based California Outdoor Concepts. Blevins spoke from experience selling fire pits since 2001 when he said, "We have realized that we were really selling a gathering area; a place to be with friends and family."
As a gathering spot, fire features continue to be high on consumers' wish lists when planning outdoor rooms. In a recent Casual Living HGTV consumer survey, 63% of consumers surveyed would add a fire pit in creating a home resort; ranking above grills and far exceeding pools or outdoor kitchens. With each year, the design innovations and advanced functionality of fire features change and improve. For 2011, innovations should be on every outdoor retailer's list of must-haves as the products show potential for setting the market afire.
For 2011, Blevin's California Outdoor Concepts will incorporate an unlikely companion to fire with the Waterfall Fire Pots, La Paz and La Jolla. "The uniqueness of the combination of fire and water make these an instant success," Blevins said. Each unit is disguised within a decorative vessel and incorporates a gas flaming cap element with water flowing down the solid base. Stone-like exteriors in black or chocolate brown complement the multiple arctic flame glass colors.
Another nemesis of fire is the inspiration for the new FirePots from WindFlame. Built to withstand snow, drizzle and wind, these FirePots will include 37 new pot designs this season. "They burn with large, vibrant and dancing flames, visible from a thousand feet away and resist winds up to 25 miles per hour," said Jim Davidson, owner of St. Paul, Minn.-based Luminosities, Inc., the manufacturer of the WindFlame FirePots. "Each candle burns for five hours, using bio-fuel Palm paraffin wax, contained in thin metal tins, which are easily recycled when empty." To fill demand for larger units, LandScape Fire Pots also will debut this year. "Each is large enough to be seen from afar and includes full-sized flower pots with burning gel inside," Davidson said.
Each year, fire features are introduced that not only complement casual furnishings but become an integral part of furniture sets.
One such unit is Designing Fire's Oriflamme Fire Table, which consumers can customize from the table top choice to a patented design motif for the fire. "We offer the only table on the market that stands 19" high, standard coffee table height," said Heikke Nielsen, director of sales and marketing for Designing Fire. "The fire table has been designed to be self-contained with a customized 11-pound propane bottle." Oriflamme Tables are lightweight and portable as well as handcrafted in the USA, resulting in a fast production turnaround. "Our customers like getting into designing custom fireplaces that are then available three weeks from order," Nielsen said.
Contemporary design rules as Urban Fire presents its 2011 introductions. The Woodbridge, Ontario-based manufacturer will debut numerous fire tables that are coffee table height and also able to hold a propane tank. "We are launching designs with a drawer below the fire," said Hugh Sutherland, owner of Urban Fire. "The gas tank is placed at a horizontal orientation within a drawer beneath the fire, but if the customer is hooking up to natural gas, the service drawer can hide outdoor speakers or general storage." An optional remote ignition is a hot feature for the company's models. "We are filling a niche with our contemporary designs," Sutherland said. "However, for 2011, we are adding to the stainless, black, brown and bronze options to match the finishes of outdoor furniture."
An early leader in the fire pit category, Ontario, Calif.-based casual furniture manufacturer O.W. Lee is expanding its successful Casual Fireside program with new designs for dining, bar or occasional table fire units. Larger surfaces as well as mass appeal pricing options are among the changes being introduced.
"Our Casual Fireside collection offers the customer the ability to incorporate a fire pit into their outdoor room that matches or complements their outdoor furniture and decor," said Terry Lee Rogers, O.W. Lee's vice president of sales and marketing. "By offering features such as a Lazy Susan and dining and bar height fire pits, we are providing a higher level of versatility and an enhanced enjoyment of fire."
O.W. Lee, which offers glass or gas log fire inserts, also is working on alternative hearth tops as well as a bio-fuel option that was inspired by the desire to provide fire features in covered or indoor areas.
One change underway may appear to be in name only, but the fire bowl does have an added flair and artistry beyond yesterday's traditional fire pit. An example is the Artisanal FireBowls being introduced by designer, sculptor and manufacturer John T. Unger.
"As a sculptor, I am fascinated by form and am finding that the simplest designs are the strongest," Unger said. Featured in The New York Times, the John T. Unger line will debut four designs for 2011. Each is handcrafted, emphasizing form without sacrificing functionality. "The raised bowl allows you to sit comfortably without having to lean forward to stay warm," Unger said. Recycled materials are utilized in the construction of the line.
From Unger's rustic recycled pieces, Urban Fire's Hercules Bowl is in stark contrast but equally as impressive. The Hercules Bowl is constructed of a sleek stainless steel design with safe-to-touch crushed glass within the bowls' fire area. Much like Unger's designs, the Hercules Bowl is proving to be popular for contract and hospitality installations.
Table top fire
For 2011, The Outdoor GreatRoom Company is introducing a new technology for creating fire as a centerpiece for any table. "With the Venturi Flame Technology, we can provide a unique flame in an art form without requiring normal fuel sources and the hassle of gas lines or electrical hook-up," said Ross Johnson, sales and marketing manager for The Outdoor GreatRoom Company of Burnsville, Minn. "After our initial release (of the table top models), we were very pleased with the demand." The units have subsequently received UL listing.
"We feel 2011 should be a break out year," Johnson said. "Mobility, design, green and unique, these and other factors are driving how we plan to supply the market - and the growth potential appears to be just starting."
The Venturi Technology also made possible a portability of fire that has resulted in flames that become wall art. The Outdoor GreatRoom Company's soon to be introduced wall-mounted Inspiration gel-fueled fireplace can use any existing wall, interior or exterior, and involves an economy of installation time and effort.
"The Shimek family's entrepreneurial mindset and experience with flame products is what inspired the technology," Johnson said. "The exciting part is that Venturi Technology is scalable in size and not limited to a single fuel source." Each unit can be further enhanced with highly reflective Diamond Glass Fire Crystals.
Fire features are taking many shapes to enhance lifestyles as well as bottom lines.
"Our growth last year was in excess of 300%," WindFlame's Davidson said. "We expect an even larger increase in 2011."
Whether windproof fire pots, portable fireplaces or fire-centered dining tables, fire features are hot. The face of fire is definitely changing, and these changes are adding a glow to the entire casual industry.
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