Fire bowls were a great idea; they were just a little low to the ground and not especially attractive. Well, that has changed.
“Fire bowls debuted about a dozen years ago,” says Bryon Eaton, manager of Yard Art Patio & Fireplace in Colleyville, Texas, “and I was sure people wouldn’t use them. I was very, very wrong.”
He found his customers were enthusiastic about adding a controlled element of fire to their outdoor rooms. “Gazing at a fire is hypnotizing, so they make a great gathering place and provide entertainment,” Eaton says.
With their popularity on the upswing, manufacturers addressed other aspects — their looks and their functionality. Fire bowls were only good for gazing at fires and roasting marshmallows.
Raise the fire bowl and surround it with a table, and you have a great cocktail location. Put a grill on top of the fire and raise it to dining height, and now you’re cooking.
Fire tables are sold in a variety of heights with myriad finishes and tops, and they burn wood, propane or gel fuels. Here is what to know before you buy one:
FUEL SOURCES• Solid fuel: If wood is burned, it is necessary to place the fire table in an open area with no overhanging roof or tree limbs. The smoke from burning pinon wood is a natural mosquito repellent, so it is a good choice, plus it has a lovely aroma.
• Gas: If propane gas is used, the table can be placed on the patio so long as there is one open wall for ventilation. The fire bowls can be filled with lava rocks, ceramic logs or glass pebbles.
• Gel: The gel-burning fire tables can be used in enclosed spaces, but people have been burned recently. Lawsuits followed, and many outdoor stores say they refuse to carry any fire tables for this reason.
The tables are available in a number of heights.• 18 inches: This is called “chat height” or “conversation height.” It is the height of a coffee table and works well with club chairs or sofas. As the chairs tend to be deep, they make dining difficult, but it is optimum comfort for cocktails.
• 28 inches: This is the typical height of a dining table. These fire tables are often rectangular and can seat six easily. The fire bowl in the center, often rectangular as well, acts like a dramatically animated centerpiece. Several manufacturers of dining-height fire tables are making the fire bowl multipurpose by adding cooking griddles on top, or making toppers such as Lazy Susans or bowl covers. Some even make the fire bowl removable and an ice bucket insert can be used instead. These tables have the most functionality.
• 39 to 43 inches: This is the bar- or counter-height table and it necessitates equally tall stools.
Most of the fire tables are aluminum and have bases that are fairly utilitarian, but their tops can be extremely detailed, from patterned finishes that look like rattan to tooled leather. Some have mosaics of tiles, still others have stained-glass effects. Combined with the variety of fillers, such as colorful cubes or pebbles, the possibilities are many.