All Fired Up | Page 2 of 3

All Fired Up

Whether entertaining clients or toasting marshmallows with the kids, area homeowners enjoy the warmth and beauty of their outdoor fireplaces almost year-round.

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Pass the Graham Crackers, Please

Holly Soistman’s hangout. Pictured from left to right are: Kendall Soistman, Kelly Russell, Fran Soistman, Hassti Hamedi, Holly Soistman and daughter Carly.In the first two years after their 2005 move from Pennsylvania, Fran and Holly Soistman had constructed a deck and a stone patio and installed an in-ground pool in their Darnestown backyard. In 2007, they were ready to tackle another outdoor project: a more formal space for entertaining. 

The Soistmans contacted Stephen Wlodarczyk of Botanical Decorators in Olney, who had done the patio and pool work. Wlodarczyk identified a few challenges: The new outdoor area was relatively far from the walkout basement, with a hill and the pool in between. He needed to create a “destination,” an area that people wanted to visit. So he designed an outdoor kitchen and lounge area anchored by a fireplace built from brown, blue and gray Carderock stone, quarried in Bethesda.

Today, the fireplace faces guests coming from the house and draws them to that part of the yard. The space won a 2008 Excellence in Landscape award from the Landscape Contractors Association (LCA) of Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Virginia. Wlodarczyk says the scale of the fireplace was critical. “The Soistmans wanted something artistic with stone detail that would attract guests, not one of those monstrous fireplaces that would overwhelm them,” he says.

Because the couple intended to entertain year-round and to build fires in the spring, fall and winter, Fran Soistman wanted a roof over the entire area to protect guests from inclement weather. But his wife wanted to see the stars on clear nights. In the end, the couple decided on a pergola with retractable canvas shades, which they use often. “Recently our dinner club met here and it started sprinkling as we were sitting around the fireplace relaxing,” Holly Soistman says. “We just pulled the shades and went on.”

The Soistmans frequently host gatherings with the 30 or so families in their Darnestown neighborhood. “We invite people to outdoor dinners and parties,” Holly Soistman says, “but we also call and say, ‘The kids are here playing. Why don’t you come over?’”

A gas starter makes the Soistmans’ fireplace perfect for spur-of-the-moment entertaining. “That means no kindling and no newspaper. You just throw on the logs, leave the gas on for five minutes, and it’s lit,” Holly Soistman says.

The Soistmans’ daughters, Carly, 13, and Kendall, 11, especially love to hang out around the fire and roast marshmallows. On any given weekend, a group of friends is likely to join them in the evening, dipping into Holly Soistman’s stash of graham crackers and chocolate bars for s’mores.

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