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Backyard Stone Fire Pit 

click to enlarge Erik and Jennifer Karpinski with their children, Dylan, 8; Morgan, 6; and Kassidy, 3 months - MATTHEW THORSEN
  • matthew thorsen
  • Erik and Jennifer Karpinski with their children, Dylan, 8; Morgan, 6; and Kassidy, 3 months

On a crisp Vermont evening, there's nothing like toasting marshmallows over an open fire. Two years ago, however, things got a bit too crispy for the Karpinski family when they lost their vacation home — a condominium at Sugarbush Resort — to a fire that may have been caused by a neighbor's wood-burning fireplace.

Still, the Karpinskis kindled a passion for gathering around a fire as a family, which sparked an idea when they built a new home in South Burlington last year. "We always wanted some sort of fire element," says dad Erik, "and we'd never had a fire pit before."

Enter Wagner Hodgson Landscape Architecture. The firm collaborated with S2 Architecture and Church Hill Landscapes to create an outdoor entertaining space for the Karpinskis. It has a partial view of the Adirondacks, and at the center stands an elevated wood-burning fire pit.

It was challenging to find one long stone slab to serve as a backdrop, so landscape architect Keith Wagner pieced together two chunks of dense schist that he got from a quarry in southern Vermont. He devised a clever way to hold them together and keep the pit looking pretty — a zipper of metal bolts running up the back. A flat piece of cold-rolled steel is affixed to the stone, with five metal fingers jutting out to hold the wood.

"When people come over, they joke that it's a floating fireplace," says Erik of the 16-inch gap between the bottom of the stone slab and the ground. "We use the fire pit most in the fall: It's entertaining; it's time with the kids."

Adds mom Jennifer, "It's a space to gather with no technology — we just sit."

The Karpinski kids are especially pleased with the end product. Three-month-old Kassidy stays snug in her pajamas on gray couches set around the space, while Dylan, 8, loves the warmth at nighttime. Meanwhile, 6-year-old Morgan doesn't miss a beat when asked her favorite aspect of the fire pit. "Sometimes," she says, "we have s'mores."

Pit-Building Tips

(From Keith Wagner of Wagner Hodgson Landscape Architecture)

  • Some stones can be damaged by the heat of a fire. Consult someone who knows what works for a fire pit.
  • If the fire pit is in the ground, be sure to have a drain and ventilating slats for the fire to burn properly.
  • Consider the predominant wind direction when planning the site of the fire pit.
  • Don't make the pit too large, which might cause you to overfill it with wood and create a fire that is dangerously big.
  • Locate wood fire pits at least 18 to 20 feet away from a house. (For a gas fire pit, the distance isn't a concern, as there's no smoke or sparks.)

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