There's a sense of pride that comes with being a hardy Minnesotan, embracing the winter chill and getting outdoors this time of year. Increasingly, homeowners are taking this trend to a new level by designing their backyard hardscapes for year-round use, focusing on fire features.
When Amy and Kurt Larson moved into their Plymouth home almost three years ago, they knew right away that a landscaping project was in their future, but first they had to address some paint and carpeting projects—and the birth of their second daughter, Claire. Once spring was on its way, they turned their attention to the backyard for its potential entertaining space—and their elder daughter Brooke’s Memorial Day birthday party, which was coming up in eight short weeks.
The Larson home had a deck and small patio, both of which were overgrown and falling apart; they wanted to combine these into a bigger singular space.
“The fireplace was the focal point, and everything else was built around it,” Amy Larson says. “It’s the part of the yard that we look out at all of the time, and also the part we wanted to use all of the time.”
The Larsons went through a thorough vetting process, eventually scaling back their project. “We also needed a new retaining wall,” Amy Larson says. “We wanted to add seating everywhere we could. We wanted pillars for bird feeders and lighting down the road. We wanted a space for eating and another for lounging and enjoying the fire. The folks [at Villa Landscapes and Patio Town] were able to deliver that well in the most economical way,” which still came in between $20,000 and $30,000.
Options at Patio Town range from a simple portable gas fire ring (a Del Rio goes for $299) to a full-size outdoor fireplace with a 4-foot-wide opening for logs and an overall height of 12 feet ($4,000). “Most consistently, people are purchasing and installing [themselves] a 32-inch round fire ring kit with a decorative face to cover the ring,” Patio Town’s general manager Shannon McGregor says.
Since their project was more extensive, the Larsons saved on cost by removing all of the old deck and patio themselves, then opted for a Versa-Lok Retaining Wall Systems fire kit along with patio install through Villa Landscapes and Patio Town. Despite a tight deadline in a cold and rainy spring season, the full installation was complete in fewer than five weeks. (The Larsons had gone to the Minneapolis Home and Landscape Expo in January and signed the papers with Patio Town as soon as the snow stopped in late April.)
“I really like the fact that we have a place that we can now go outside and not feel like we’re getting trampled by the trees of our heavily wooded lot,” Larson says. “It’s a safe area where the kids [now 3½ and 22 months] can play, great for the water tables and kiddie pools and bikes … I feel comfortable being able to host larger events, like birthday parties with our family, and having enough space for everyone.”
One benefit of using a kit like the Larsons did, McGregor says, is everything is preplanned and worked out for proper placement of the bricks. “The guesswork of ‘how does this go together?’ is eliminated,” he says. Custom work is also available; the Larsons added a layer to their kit.
A plethora of fire features exist including fire bowls, fire pits, fireplaces and freestanding heaters. Before purchasing, consider usage and code: “It all depends on what type of fire source you are looking to have,” McGregor says. Plymouth’s city codes include limits to a 3-foot-diameter circle at least 25 feet from any structure, and only clean wood or charcoal may be burned (no trash, leaves or brush).
After spending their budget on the landscaping itself, the Larsons are a bit “lawn poor” and can’t wait to save up again to include outdoor furniture. “I think everyone enjoys spending time at home relaxing with family or friends over an open flame,” McGregor says. “The trend is to have some sort of fire pit or table to have your own sanctuary whenever you want—and, yes, they can be used year-round.” //
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