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Scott Cohen's Outdoor Fireplaces and Fire Pits

Add Sizzle to Your Backyard with Fire and Water

by Elizabeth Lexau

Scott Cohen

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When Garden Designer Scott Cohen wants to work real magic into his water features, he plays with fire. Best of all, he finds extraordinary ways to combine the two. That’s because Cohen understands the captivating power of these two elements. Used alone, fire and water each have their own attractions, but bring them together and the appeal is nearly irresistible. 

“Fire and water have always been a winning combination,” says Cohen, owner of The Green Scene, an award winning California based outdoor design and construction firm. “Like Yin and Yang they’re opposing forces that complement each other beautifully. The reflective qualities of water enhance the mystical qualities of fire. They offer a certain mesmerizing effect that I can only describe as primal.”

Picture flames dancing across the reflective stillness of a pool, an inviting walkway that leads you across water to a beckoning fireplace beyond, or a wall of water that glistens as it descends and then disappears behind a fiery trough. These are just a few of the possibilities that can result when you combine these two most basic gifts of nature.

Cohen Fireplace

While water has been an indispensable component in the landscape for a number of years, fire features have only recently become a backyard must-have. “The addition of the fire element is one of the hottest trends we’re seeing in outdoor design,” says Cohen. “Fire takes you away from wherever you are. It relaxes and soothes. When you’re gazing into a fire, you simply can’t be in a hurry.”

On a practical level, fire does much more. Because it provides warmth and light, the addition of fire in the landscape extends the use of the yard into the night and into the cooler seasons of the year. Fire features allow homeowners to get much more use out of the outdoor spaces they love.

In recent years, fire features have been evolving in exciting new ways. "It used to be that people only did simple fire pits," says Cohen. "These were small features that mimicked a pile of rocks with a little flame in the middle. Now the trend not only includes much larger firepits but also formal outdoor fireplaces crafted from fine materials like stone, cast limestone and travertine."

Fire and Water Fountain
Fire and Water Fountain
from Plow and Hearth

A custom full size fireplace can cost significantly more than a fire pit, but homeowners find that the extra cost gives them a substantial addition to their outdoor living space. "When it comes to creating an outdoor living room, there is simply no better element than a fireplace." says Cohen. "It serves as an anchor that creates and defines the space." Fire is a stunning decorative element on its own. "It's no longer simply something to gather around," says Cohen, "but also something that can provide visual candy in the yard."

To create this visual candy, The Green Scene uses majestic bowls and troughs of fire to add striking highlights throughout the yard. The effect is both elegant and primitive at the same time. For the romantic at heart, it goes without saying that nothing heats up a relationship like a little fire. Whether it's an intimate fireside chat for two or a late night dip in the pool by firelight, that rosy glow makes everyone feel like getting closer.

Ironically, Cohen points out that fire features often spark trouble between men and women during the planning stages of garden design. "When women think about fire in the landscape, they often think 'fireplace' and see themselves sitting in the cozy flickering light with a nice glass of wine, holding hands with their loved one or reading a good book. Men on the other hand think 'fire pit' and see themselves gathered around with their buddies drinking beer or scotch while the kids roast marshmallows."

While Cohen frequently gets caught in the middle of that debate, he and the Green Scene team have a full bag of tricks for building fires that satisfy both needs. With careful design, homeowners can enjoy a fire feature that kindles romance one night and ignites spirited camaraderie the next.For all the magic that fire provides on its own, its magnetic appeal is dramatically enhanced when it’s coupled with water. Cohen uses the two to create fascinating, almost surreal effects. In one landscape, huge bowls of fire on each side of the spa send flickering reflections dancing across the surface. Mazaheri
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In another, an eight-foot long fire trough behind the pool provides a magnificent focal point that greets guests as they walk through the front door of the home. In another, fire is placed at a strategic level with the rim of the spa so that flames appear to be rising directly out of the water. Many of these special effects are very affordable, according to Cohen. "With just a little extra money you can create a terrific night show in your landscape." He has several practical tips for getting the most from these features:
  • Fire is a great way to enjoy the view. If you have a lot with a view, locate fire features at the edge of the property in a place where people will have a chance to enjoy the fire while taking in the surroundings.
  • Consider the view from indoors too. Place features where they can be easily seen from your interior living and entertainment space so people can enjoy the show indoors and out.
  • If you’re going to have fire, do it right. Install a generous number of gas rings to create the effect you want. That way, you’ll be able to adjust the flame from mild to wild to suit the mood of the evening.
  • Locate your fire where warmth will be most welcome. Placing fire near the spa, for example, provides a way for people to continue to enjoy the area in comfort in or out of the water.
  • Plan for safety. Always locate fire features away from traffic areas and take prevailing winds into consideration. Above all use common sense when operating fire features to keep your evenings safe and beautiful.
About Scott Cohen and The Green Scene
Scott Cohen is President and Supervising Designer for The Green Scene, a premier outdoor design and construction firm based in the Los Angeles area. His work is featured on Home & Garden Television and in numerous national magazines and books. A Masters of Design Award Winner, Cohen is known for his spectacular gardens that combine the best of outdoor living with inspired artistic touches. Cohen’s designs are available for purchase from Fetch-A-Sketch.com, a new ecommerce website that sells ready to use perspective drawings.

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