Fire pits are bringing the heat to outdoor spaces in Newport Beach.
By Ashley Probst
Locals who like to entertain know that fire pits are essential for patio and garden gatherings. Fire pits enhance the overall atmosphere of any outdoor space by adding a cozy ambiance along with a physical warmth. This creates a setting that is enjoyable year-round, but especially on balmy summer nights.
“Indoor-outdoor living is such a staple here in Southern California, and adding a fire feature allows your outdoor space to feel like a true extension of your living space,” says Aly Morford, co-founder of Pure Salt Interiors, a Newport Beach-based interior design studio. “There is something so cozy about gathering around a fire, and outdoor fire pits allow for the best of both indoor and outdoor worlds.”
There’s also something nostalgic about spending time with loved ones around a fire. “I have such great memories as a little kid with my sisters, roasting marshmallows and snacking outdoors,” says the other co-founder of Pure Salt Interiors, Leigh Lincoln, whose taste in fireside treats has evolved. “Nowadays, a nice glass of wine makes for the perfect fireside ‘snack.’ ”
There are many things to take into consideration when incorporating a fire feature into an outdoor space. The first step is to determine where to place it.
“The ideal location for a fire pit is subjective to your unique yard, but our general design philosophy is to create a defined seating and conversation zone,” Morford says. “Building a fireplace against a sidewall or adding a [fire] ring off your garden will create a design moment that will elevate your yard and offer usable square footage to your home.”
Another local designer, Wendi Young of the eponymous Wendi Young Design studio in Newport Beach, envisions the optimal setting for a heating element. “If the homeowner has a pool, a fire pit area is the perfect place to warm up after taking a refreshing dip,” she says. “… And if there is a view, then by all means, use that to your advantage.”
Young also emphasizes the importance of keeping fire safety in mind when deciding on the placement of a fire pit. She recommends open areas that are at least 20 to 25 feet away from the house or any other structure, without any nearby trees or low-hanging limbs, bushes or other combustible material; wind is also a factor to consider.
The ideal foundation is a paved surface but wood or composite decks and grass can be utilized if precautions are taken, such as implementing a fireproof barrier and following local guidelines.
“Always check your local fire codes or contact your local fire department for guidelines specific to your area,” Young advises. In Newport Beach, some safety standards include only using natural firewood or commercial logs (no tree trimmings, leaves, yard waste, paper, cardboard or garbage) when it comes to wood-burning fire pits, paying constant attention to the fire, having a hose or fire extinguisher available in case of an emergency, and making sure the fire is completely out before leaving it.
Picking a Pit
After finding the ideal location, the next step is to pick a fire pit that fits the desired look. One thing most options will have in common is an inner and outer wall; a cap, which is a flat tabletop-like surface around the pit’s opening; as well as pavers, decorative stones or glass at the outer base.
The inner wall should be constructed out of materials that are fireproof, Young says, while the outer walls should be made with brick, stone, concrete pavers, masonry blocks or heat-resistant outdoor tile or stucco. For the cap, flagstone is a great option, she adds.
Similarly, Lincoln’s team tends to select materials like tumbled stone and textured plaster. “Both offer a natural look and feel, and bring an organic sense of texture to your design, and both come in such a range of colorways and tones and allow you to customize to your unique style,” she says.
Maintaining each homeowner’s individuality is key when it comes to design. “All of our projects are completely customized based on the clients’ personal tastes and aesthetics,” Young says. “We’ve done extensive remodels and new builds with a variety of styles. … We wear many design hats and I really enjoy blending styles.”
Some such styles include traditional with modern touches or a Spanish influence, coastal casual, midcentury seaside, French-inspired, craftsman style or ultramodern.
“Sometimes homeowners want a fireplace in lieu of a fire pit or they want both in different areas,” Young says of past projects, some of which have been in Newport Beach.
Pure Salt Interiors’ latest local project is a family vacation destination in Newport Heights, which is meant to serve three generations while providing a sense of comfort and relaxation paired with classic sophistication.
“We leaned into the natural coastal vibe of the house, and played with neutral textures—mixed wood tones, linen and kilim textiles, stone finishes and decor, aged metals—for a lived-in and curated look that suits the Newport Beach community,” Lincoln says.
Sprucing Up the Space
Once the foundation of the fire pit area is established, then comes the fun part with interior design.
“Depending on the space and style of a fire pit, adding Adirondack chairs or slingback chairs instantly gives a sense of relaxation,” Young says. “… An outdoor sofa is super desirable and ideal for gathering—an L-shaped sectional, which I have, allows you to face your guests comfortably and gives you that indoor-outdoor vibe.”
Morford agrees that in order “to enjoy your fire feature, you gotta have comfy seating.” Her team often incorporates a mix of outdoor sofas, chaises and accent chairs, including pieces from their curated collection at Pure Salt Shoppe.
When it comes to sourcing furniture and decor, Young typically sources from specialty vendors but also suggests Pottery Barn or Crate & Barrel, which she says have nice selections.
Young also recommends using upholstery and pillows to add a splash of color as well as planter pots, side tables and lanterns at various heights for a bit of dimension. “Having a few cozy blankets doesn’t hurt,” she says, noting this is the perfect combination to indulge in a bit of decadent chocolate, which is perfect for making s’mores while enjoying the outdoors.