Randy and Sally Royse have it figured out. Their patio--centered around a fireplace made of eastern Oklahoma moss rock--is a carefully planned extension of their living room. It's their chosen destination for everyday relaxation and entertaining. "I love being outside, and this is an outdoor room in every sense of the word," Randy says. "It's just like being indoors, but the sky is your ceiling."
The South is favored with delightful autumn weather that's conducive to outdoor living, and Oklahoma City, where the Royses reside, is no exception. Their fireplace adds to that livability with warmth and comfort, even on the season's chilliest days. "We use it every chance we get--in the dead of winter and even during summer cool spells," Sally says.
When Randy and Sally remodeled their backyard, they engaged interior designer Fanny Bolen and landscape designer John Fluitt in the process. "The idea was to add 1,500 square feet to the house, with no roof on it," Randy says. From the front entrance, you can gaze through the living room's French doors out to the patio. The fireplace terminates the view, and the effect is of one long room.
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"The hearth anchors the patio and becomes the focal point of the living room as well," John says. The view from the patio back into the house is equally inviting. The patio's ample size offers room for dining close to the fire on cool evenings and space to admire it from afar. Candles strung across the mantel enhance the personal warmth of this open-air room. The space feels cozy and intimate, but it's large enough to accommodate guests. The wide stone hearth provides gracious extra seating.
John's suggestions for fireplace design balance aesthetics and function. First, do a realistic assessment of your area. "It's easy to get a fireplace too large for your space. Keep the profile low, but make sure the smokestack is tall enough to draw," he advises. This is where professional help is invaluable. Proportions must be correct to have the chimney draw properly and prevent excess smoke.
Choose a building material that is compatible with your home. "Repeat already existing stone or brick to tie the fireplace and architecture together," John recommends. Allow plenty of space for easy movement and seating, and align the fireplace to be viewed from indoors as well.
An outdoor fireplace turns a patio into a sociable gathering place and extends the area's use through the seasons. A crisp autumn evening becomes a magical time when you're warming your toes by the fire and relaxing with family and friends.
"Enjoy Fall's First Fire" is from the November 2003 issue of Southern Living.