Part 1 – Keepin’ it Real
Admittedly, there is nothing better than the real thing: the sight, sound, and smell of a real wood-burning fire pit. Few of us urban dwellers though, have the type of space in the type of place where you can just grab a few logs and fire up. And as a staunch modernist, I never really understood the idea of attempting to simulate the “real thing” – in the case of fireplaces and fire pits, this means ceramic logs and mineral wool embers. My opinion is that if you can’t have the real thing, then perhaps this is the opportunity for something different.
Nowadays, particularly in urban areas, the majority of fireplaces and fire pits use gas, propane, and ethanol as fuel. So it doesn’t necessarily make sense to dress them up like their wood-burning counterparts. Sure, you can derive some pastiche or nostalgic value from an artificial log fire, but if you seek something with a modern and authentic feel, then there are alternatives that make much more sense in the context of contemporary living.
One of the key design elements of a modern gas, propane, or ethanol fire pit is the topping medium – in other words, what does the fire come out of? In the case of ethanol burners, this can quite simply be the burner itself – essentially, the vessel that contains the fuel. In most cases, these are clean, modern stainless steel boxes of various shapes. Functionally, these boxes are engineered to maximize the visual appeal of the flames and this usually means that there is an exposed opening from which the fire emerges. Left unadorned, these can be quite nice and certainly suit modern, minimalist, and industrial spaces. Dressing these up with stones or other decorative media tends to look like what it is: a dressed-up stainless steel box. Natural Gas and propane burners on the other hand are the opposite: uglier bones but with more aesthetic flexibility.
The technology behind natural gas and propane fire pits necessitates the use of some kind of topping medium. At their essence, these burners are pipes that seep gas, and therefore, fire, and if you saw one that was undressed, that’s exactly what it would look like. Where there are holes (ports) in the pipe is where there will be flames. Topping mediums serve to distribute and randomize the flame so that it looks more ‘natural’ – else the fire emerges in the geometric shape of the burner. The topping, therefore, is an essential element in the overall look and feel of the modern gas or propane fire pit.
Next up, the options…