Get Your Yard Cozy for the Cool Season with These Ideas for Backyard Firepits

Fire up your backyard for outdoor living with these stylish ideas for firepits


Spending an evening by a crackling fire under a starry sky is one of the pleasures of summer in the West, especially when warm days dissolve into chilly nights. But you don’t have to travel hundreds of miles to a favorite camping spot to huddle around a flickering fire―you can bring a firepit into your own backyard.

There are lots of choices, from built-in firepits edged with stone and fueled by gas, to simple and portable copper or steel types just big enough for a couple of logs. Before we dive into our favorite ideas for your backyard fire pit, make sure you’re up to date on fire safety regulations and how to keep it burning with clean fuels.

Firepit Safety

Having an open flame in your backyard calls for safety and courtesy: Situate the firepit away from flammables such as dry grasses and where smoke won’t bother neighbors. Observe fire ordinances and don’t use your firepit on no-burn days or when it’s smoggy or windy. Use a spark screen, especially under dry conditions. Never leave a fire unattended and keep a fire extinguisher or a garden hose with a sprayer nearby.

Compressed logs (such as Java-Log; see below) or wood logs with a low resin content (such as oak) are the safest choice―don’t burn scrap lumber or trash. In a portable firepit, burn only one or two logs at a time (place them in the bottom, not on top of a raised grate, unless the manufacturer states differently). Built-in firepits generally can hold more logs, but don’t overfill.

Use Clean Fuels

One common complaint about firepits in suburbia is the air pollution caused by the smoke that burning wood sends aloft. Gas firepits are cleaner-burning. But where gas isn’t practical, there’s a new alternative: compressed logs made from recycled coffee grounds (mostly leftovers from manufacturing instant coffee), molasses, and a bit of wax. Called Java-Logs, they produce 88 percent less carbon monoxide and 50 percent less soot than wood. Compared to sawdust logs, they burn cleaner, emit a taller, more natural flame throughout their burn cycle (up to three hours), and have a mildly sweet scent instead of a chemical smell. If you don’t want to order them online, Java-Logs are available at most California Whole Foods Markets.

1 /27 Photo by Michele Lee Willson; written by Kathleen N. Brenzel and Johanna Silver

Gather around a firepit wall

Overlapping panels of ipe wood and colored concrete flank the firepit in this backyard in Los Altos Hills, California. Stone veneer forms a chimneylike background for the flames, creating a classic focal point for this true outdoor living room.

Plant living torches. Golden flower plumes of Miscanthus sinensis shimmer and sway over grassy leaves.

Add shadow casters. Small well lights positioned close to the dark walls create contrasting pools of warm light.

Light open flames. A firepit fueled by natural gas is the patio’s irresistible centerpiece.

Design: Kate Stickley and Natasha Libina, Arterra Landscape Architects, San Francisco (arterrallp.com)

2 /27 Photo by E. Spencer Toy; written by Kathleen N. Brenzel and Johanna Silver

Metal art

The angular Geometric Firepit looks good even without a fire. Available in carbon steel with a rust patina (pictured) or slate-colored Cor-ten steel, it’s hefty (130 lbs.) but compact (about 14 in. high, 31 in. square). From $1,823; dwr.com

3 /27 Photo by Cocoon Fires; written by Kathleen N. Brenzel and Johanna Silver

No wood needed

Fueled by bioethanol instead of wood, this carbon steel fireplace is smoke-free and needs no flue. It’s also lightweight (just 25 lbs.)—easy to move indoors or out. Terra Black model, $2,250; www.cocoonfireplaces.com
4 /27 Photo by E. Spencer Toy; written by Kathleen N. Brenzel and Johanna Silver


Grab the rope and take this chemical-free birch stump anywhere, even to a firepit at the beach. Light the wick in the kiln-dried Light n’ Go Bonfire Log for a slow burn—up to 2½ hours. From $9.29; ecoforestfirewood.com

5 /27 Photo by Holly Lepere; written by Kathleen N. Brenzel

Backyard campfire

A built-in firepit is the hub of gatherings in this garden. Sandstone cobbles edge the 5-foot-diameter lava rock–topped pit, which blazes with gas-fed flames. A sandstone wall, scattered with cushions for comfort, serves as seating. Thyme and other herbs grow around the firepit and between the seat wall’s stones.

6 /27 Photo by Thomas J. Story; written by Kathleen N. Brenzel

Contemporary outdoor haven

This patio of bluestone pavers, crushed rock, and low groundcovers, edged with a sinuous concrete seat wall, adds a touch of cozy with a contained fire burning in a custom firepit of Cor-ten steel.

7 /27 Photo by Chris Leschinsky; written by Kathleen N. Brenzel

Modern art

‘Elfin’ thyme turns this patio into a giant checkerboard. Growing in 4-inch-wide strips dividing poured-in-place concrete squares, it’s irrigated by a subsurface drip system and needs only the occasional light pruning. Sea thrift keeps the grid from looking too controlled. Puncutating the grid is a blue "gravel" firepit made of recycled glass.

8 /27 Photo by Jennifer Cheung

Tiled firepit

The chairs' square shapes and large scale contrast with the garden's fine foliage. So do the tile-covered firepit and its oversize lava rocks, which serve as log equivalents.

9 /27 Photo by Thomas J. Story

Earthy outdoor lounge

The rammed-earth "couch" around the firepit appears to grow out of its setting.

10 /27 Photo by Rob D. Brodman

Curvy firepit

This firepit's wavy shape pays homage to the adjacent burbling fountain, and adds a touch of the unexpected to this stylish side yard.

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Sunken firepit

A sunken concrete firepit acts as a focal point on this deck that more than doubles the living space with ample sunbathing, conversation, and entertaining areas.

12 /27 Photo by John Granen; written by Kathleen N. Brenzel

Geometric play

Rugged and natural-looking, this sunken firepit is hard edged and geometric on the patio side but gently curving on the beach part, where natural granite boulders pack its sides. Feathery grasses blend with the shoreline habitat beyond. A boulder-seat is just right for extra guests.

13 /27 Photo by Thomas J. Story

Touch of warmth

This simple firepit adds a spark of warmth to a lush yard in the rainy Northwest.

14 /27 Photo by Thomas J. Story

Stylish concrete firepit

Even the simplest open fire is likely to draw people outdoors. This gas-fed fire pit was fashioned from a concrete planter and lightweight stones that ­conceal the hardware and break up the flames for a natural look.

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Firepit circle sitting area

For before-dinner drinks or after-dinner s’mores, this outdoor space offers two connected—but distinct—sitting areas. This lower one is centered on a firepit built of paving stones. Indoor-outdoor cushions soften the built-in curved benches, made of decking that was heat-molded on-site into the right shape.

16 /27 Photo by Thomas J. Story

Homegrown campfire

A gas-fueled flagstone firepit warms homeowners in their Northern California backyard.

17 /27 Photo by Thomas J. Story

Convertible firepit

A raised concrete trough filled with recycled glass keeps the dining deck warm on cool nights. When not in use, the gas firepit can be covered with a slab of ipe wood, which converts it into a coffee table.

18 /27 Photo by Thomas J. Story

Sunset's own firepit

One of the crowning glories of our former Menlo Park, CA campus was our outdoor kitchen--and this concrete firepit was its jewel. Lined with crushed glass and warmed by a gas flame, the firepit encouraged year-round gatherings. "It's a fun, cozy place to try new s'mores recipes," said test kitchen staffer Stephanie Spencer at its inception.

19 /27 Photo by Thomas J. Story

Coastal campfire

You don’t have to face the ocean to create a coastal vibe. This backyard is proof: Even though the deck doesn’t share the bay and dune views that the front of the house has, the firepit in the corner, reminiscent of beach campfires, echoes the seaside boardwalk ambience, as does the billowy landscaping that evokes grass-covered sand dunes.

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Party focal point

In this small yard, the homeowners use the upper terrace mostly for dining and hanging out; three steps down, a built-in bench invites guests to lounge around the firepit. With it, "People can’t get enough of our backyard. All our guests want to go out there."

21 /27 Photo by Thomas J. Story

Alfresco entertaining

This small outdoor space doubles as an open-air living room and an alfresco dining room, thanks to furniture made of poured concrete and TimberTech decking, portable pieces from L.A.'s Plain Air (plainair.com). A built-in firepit created a natural gathering place.

22 /27 Photo by David Fenton; written by Julie Chai

Found firepit

A 28-inch-diameter metal wok, turned into a wood-burning fire bowl, sits on a steel base made by one of the homeowners.

23 /27 Photo by Jennifer Cheung; written by Sharon Cohoon

Built-in warmth

A ready-to-roar gas firepit housed in a concrete “wok” from Potted (pottedstore.com) heats this yard’s main seating area. The cushy pillows are covered in cloth from F & S Fabrics (fandsfabrics.com).
24 /27 Photo by Thomas J. Story

Space to unwind

A small lawn between a house and garage serves as a transitional area, a "decompression chamber" that's the ideal spot to relax after work. A firepit in warm brown tones adds coziness to the space.

25 /27 Photo by Thomas J. Story

Backyard beach

More: How to build a beach in your yard

Create a beach scene in your backyard! Driftwood, geraniums, and grasses dot the "dunes" around a sunken firepit. This miniature beach can be put together over a weekend for less than $200.

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Outdoor hearth

An outdoor fireplace, flanked by a hammock, chaise lounges, and a comfy loveseat provide the ideal spot for intimate conversation over drinks.

27 /27 Photo by Thomas J. Story

Alfresco fireplace

This friendly-looking fireplace sits on a gravel patio, accompanied by a traditional arrangement of furniture. The structure was built from concrete blocks and covered with manmade, though convincing, river-rock veneer.