Fire Pit, Bowl, Table, or Outdoor Fireplace: Which Should I Choose for My Home in Bozeman or Big Sky, MT?

Written By: Mason Shaffer

Feb 13, 2020 11:31:51 AM

Have you ever noticed that people are just drawn to fire? As humans, we are intrinsically drawn to both the light and the heat that flames give off, making a fire feature a desirable addition to many outdoor living projects. Fire features can add a sense of ambiance that is hard to accomplish in any other way.

However, when it comes to choosing the fire feature that is right for your property, you might be unsure as to what will work best. Is a fire pit, an outdoor fireplace, a fire table, or a fire bowl right for your property in Bozeman or Big Sky, MT?

We’ll discuss the different options and some important points of consideration so that you can determine which fire feature works best for you.

Is an Outdoor Fireplace Right for Me?

First and foremost, it’s important to mention that any decision such as this one is very personalized and though we will share our expertise and professional opinion, we also understand that some clients have a strong preference for a certain option. These thoughts and ideas are meant to help you reach a place where you’re able to determine what will be best for you and your property.

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Outdoor fireplace in Bozeman, MT

With that being said, for a lot of outdoor living projects, we do tend to advise against adding an outdoor fireplace, for a few reasons that we’ll explain. 

Even though they are quite popular in design magazines, and we’ve certainly built some of them (there are some projects to which they are better suited than others and we’ll get into that, too), a lot of times they aren’t the right fit.

Here’s why.

An Outdoor Fireplace Attracts all of the Attention

When you add an outdoor fireplace to your outdoor area, it is going to become a focal point (and for good reason). Outdoor fireplaces are tall and when designed and built right, they are beautiful. 

But in Bozeman and Big Sky, MT, where we are designing outdoor spaces that allow people to truly appreciate their views, an outdoor fireplace can steal the spotlight. Honestly, we are usually trying to make the view the spotlight.

An Outdoor Fireplace Can Be Obstructive 

In addition, an outdoor fireplace can actually play a role in physically blocking the view that we’re trying to enhance. Because they are tall (and often wide), the structure is going to be obstructive. If you’re sitting down in front of the fire (as you will likely want to), you’re not going to be able to see over or around it.

However, if you have a view you’d like to block or some privacy to achieve, this can be helpful. But with scenery like we have in Montana, that’s not typical.

An Outdoor Fireplace Becomes the “Purpose” of the Patio

Finally, we also find that when you add an outdoor fireplace to your space, it often becomes the main purpose of being outside. A lot of times, that can take away from the multi-functional goal that we are typically trying to achieve when creating a patio. We are generally looking to keep the patio space as flexible as possible.

What Fire Features Are Best for my Outdoor Space?

Now that you understand a little bit about why an outdoor fireplace might not be our ideal choice for a lot of the projects we work on, let’s talk a little bit about what might work better.

Beautiful fire feature in Big Sky, MT

A large portion of the time, we recommend a fire pit or a fire bowl as the ideal fire feature choice on outdoor living projects in Bozeman or Big Sky, MT.

This is generally for the very reasons why a fireplace may not be the best choice.

For one, both fire pits and fire bowls do not cause obstructions to the view. They are low to the ground and you can still enjoy the expansive scenery from all angles. They also do not command attention in quite the same way as a large and vertical outdoor fireplace. They become more a part of the overall space.

We feel this also makes the space more flexible. It’s not as though everyone has to just gather in front of the fireplace and stare at it. And speaking of gathering, we also love that a fire pit or a fire bowl allows people to gather around it. The fire can be enjoyed from all sides and it’s just a lot more inclusive than a fireplace where guests must only sit on one side.

In terms of a fire table, we don’t deal with these too often. 

Usually, when you think of a fire table you think of a piece of patio furniture that has a gas-powered fire built into it. This is usually something that the homeowner would purchase on their own and is not really part of our overall design process. Most of our clients prefer custom fire features that we design and build for them.

Customized Fire Features

We can also get incredibly unique when we are doing a fire feature design. It does not necessarily even have to be a fire pit or fire bowl but could be something completely original.

fire boulder landscape fire feature

In fact, we did a fire boulder for a client in which the boulder itself had both a fire feature and a coffee table area carved into it. This was for a mountain-based property that needed something truly natural in order to “fit” the space. The other fire features we had considered were all too modern-looking so we decided to create our own.

Gas-Powered vs. Wood-Burning Fire Features

As you think about fire features, another point that you will need to consider is whether you prefer gas-powered or wood-burning. Most people tend to have a hard preference one way or another.

Some of the pros of gas-powered are the fact that they are clean burning, produce no smoke that can blow in your face, can be turned on instantly, and don’t require any wood storage. 

But for many, the sound and the smell of a real wood-burning fire is like no other. Roasting marshmallows over a gas-powered fire pit just isn’t the same for some people.

Of course, we have also encountered some neighborhoods where an open flame is not allowed so this eliminates the possibility of a wood-burning fire pit. This might be one of those cases where an outdoor fireplace becomes the better choice. If the homeowner is really partial to wood and is not allowed to have an open-flame fire pit, then we could build a wood-burning fireplace which would be contained and therefore permissible. 

Incorporating the Fire Feature at Your Bozeman or Big Sky, MT Property

It’s important to mention that choosing the best fire feature is just one part of the puzzle. Actually designing the fire feature to fit your space is also really critical or else you aren’t going to enjoy it to its fullest. In fact, a poorly designed fire feature within your space can end up having a negative impact.

There are many points to consider including where the fire feature is going to go.

beautiful fire pit and landscape view

This is important and has a lot to do with how you will be using the space. You want the fire feature designed in an area where it will allow the space to be fully functional the way it was intended to be.

You also want it designed in an area where it will look the best. 

But there are also practical considerations such as designing a wood-burning fire feature in a location where the direction of the wind is not constantly blowing smoke in your face.

If the wind is a major issue on your property, then this might be another time when a fireplace does become the right choice. With an outdoor fireplace, the smoke is directed up and out of a chimney.

Choosing the Fire Feature that is Right for You

In the end, you have to make the choice that is right for you. Although these are some of our ideas and they do apply to a lot of projects, as you can see, every single circumstance can differ and every property that we work on is unique.

But that’s one of the reasons that you are choosing to work with a pro—and we commend you for that. There are a lot of factors to weigh and even many considerations that you might not have thought about (such as the wind’s direction as one example) and you are relying on a professional to steer you in the right direction.

By doing so, you can gain confidence that you’re going to be happy with your final choice. This is important as you are investing time and money into seeing your vision take shape. You deserve to have every single aspect of your complete project come together in a way that is both pleasing and functional and allows you to enjoy the space to the fullest.

Are you ready to get the process of designing your outdoor living area with a fire feature started at your Bozeman or Big Sky, MT home? Let’s connect and talk about your project. Then, we can meet and begin talking about your ideas! We can’t wait for you to be able to enjoy your beautiful new space.

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Topics: Landscape Design, Hardscaping

Posted by Mason Shaffer

Mason has earned both a degree in Ornamental Horticulture and a graduate degree in Landscape Architecture prior to joining our team in 2011. Outside of work, you will find Mason spending quality time with his wife and two little girls. They will likely be exploring the outdoors, camping, fishing, golfing, planting, or just playing in the dirt.