Four Outdoor Fireplaces
From a Napa-inspired fire pit to a poolside gathering spot, these fireplaces lend warmth and personality to local backyards
Photos courtesy of Mchale Landscape Design; taken by John Spaulding photography
Jill and Michael Bushkoff had lived in their Avenel home for more than 15 years with a backyard that Jill says “was really only used by the dog.” Having added a kitchen and sunroom to the rear of their house in 2004, they decided it was time to tackle the yard, setting out to add a pool and outdoor living space—which wasn’t going to be complete without a fireplace. “Michael loves a fire,” Jill says.
The couple hired Daniel Robey of McHale Landscape Design, who led them through a process that had to meet the strict requirements of Avenel’s architectural review board, which specified that any outdoor structure needed to be physically connected to the main house. Robey designed a white pergola stretching from the house to a three-sided living area and kitchen that was built with the same brick and standing seam metal as the addition. “Once you’re down at the pool,” Robey says, “you don’t have to walk back and forth for anything.”
The new living area includes a television over a wood-burning fireplace that ignites easily with a gas-powered log lighter. Robey used a tall but shallow Rumford fireplace for the project. “It’s meant to throw the heat out as much as possible,” he says. Two niches, one on each side of the fireplace, hold firewood and help to create a focal wall.
Topping it all off—literally—is a copper chimney cap that resembles the one the Bushkoffs have at their vacation home on Kiawah Island in South Carolina. Along with gas lanterns hanging from the brick columns of the structure, the new tableau allows them to go on vacation just steps away from the house.
The Rosen family of Glen Echo Heights often entertains around their backyard fire pit. Photo by Michael Ventura
Andrew and Stacy Rosen wanted to do something with their yard in Glen Echo Heights. The problem was a pool wasn’t going to work. The small yard backs to a steep slope, so a pool would have filled the entire space and left no room for entertaining or relaxing with their children, Jared and Emma, now 17 and 15, respectively.
The next best thing: a fire pit and conversation area. Andrew’s sister lives in California’s Napa Valley, which the Rosens visit regularly and where a favorite spot is Ma(i)sonry, a wine seller and art gallery with a large stone fire pit on the terrace. “I said, ‘Why don’t we re-create that fire pit?’ ” Andrew says, noting that he tracked down the San Francisco firm that designed it so he could get its exact dimensions.
Back home, the Rosens called Todd Krellner, a designer with Shorb Landscaping in Kensington, to build something that was nearly identical to the Napa fire pit. “My client had a real clear vision of what he wanted,” Krellner says, but achieving it wasn’t easy. Crews had to level a portion of the sloping property and build a stone-faced retaining wall to hold back the hill behind it. They also poured 2 feet of concrete as a foundation for the raised terrace where the gas-powered fire pit now sits. “We don’t do many of those—not like that,” Krellner says.
“Our goal was to create a new, functional space—a new room—and we absolutely achieved that,” Andrew says of the project, which was completed in 2011. “We sit out and entertain outside a lot. The kids have been perfecting s’mores for years.”
Photos courtesy of Mark McInturff
In 1996, Jeff Bergers and his wife, Cindy Braak, hired Bethesda architect Mark McInturff to transform their ’60s-era split level, also in Bethesda, and create a flowing interior layout befitting the work of Frank Lloyd Wright. At the time, they didn’t worry about the aging deck in back because they were leaving to live overseas for several years.
When they returned in 2006, they called McInturff back to make the rear as pleasing as the interiors. His solution was to remove the old deck and add a more substantial terrace and courtyard between the bedroom wing and dining room. Key to the plan was extending the dining room roofline all the way out to the back edge of the terrace, creating a covered eating and entertaining area anchored by a fireplace and chimney identical to the one inside.
Bergers initially wanted the indoor fireplace to be double sided, but McInturff’s team suggested bookending the porch with a second gas-operated fireplace. “We just leapt at that idea,” Bergers says. “It adds a visual element that you don’t see that often.”
Architecturally speaking, “It’s a way of pulling the outside in and the inside out,” McInturff says. Not only does the fireplace mirror the interior, he explains, but the flagstone banding aligns with the same design on the entry court and garden out front. “The geometry of that whole porch goes all the way through the house,” McInturff says. “It’s very much about extending certain lines.”
Photo by Hilary Schwab
When Chris and Lydia Antoniou’s two children were younger, they often ran out the back of their Potomac home and down a wooded slope to a stream below. Chris says all that tree cover didn’t leave much room for a patio. “It was a relatively dark, dank area,” he says, “so we didn’t use it a lot.”
In 2013, the couple decided to remove several of the trees near the house and add a pool. Bernie Mihm of Poolesville-based Fine Earth Landscape, who had worked with the Antonious previously, told the couple they could find inspiration by looking at several nearby pools he’d designed. “That gave us some other ideas,” Chris says, noting that they saw pergolas over dining areas, hot tubs next to pools and freestanding fireplaces. Chris and Lydia decided to add all three elements to their new backyard design, and are especially happy with the wood-burning fireplace. Built from locally quarried Carderock, the fireplace has Pennsylvania flagstone ledges on each side that can be used to serve food or as additional seating.
“The fireplace itself really extends the time of day and number of hours you can use the pool—it makes the pool so much more inviting,” Mihm says. “You can go for a swim and roast marshmallows.”
Chris says his daughters, Christine, 24, and Suzanne, 18, still get plenty of use out of the backyard—but of a much-improved and grownup variety.
Jennifer Sergent is a home and design writer based in Arlington, Virginia.