Patio fireplace is 'more of an outside living room'

News-DemocratOctober 20, 2013 

The outdoor fireplace was Art Williams' idea.

"He really wanted this," said wife Stacey. "He loves being outside. He loves bonfires. He wanted it to be part of the home."

Art likes everything about a fire.

"I like the energy it gives off," he said, "the sound it makes, the flames."

The 11-foot-tall by 9-foot wide custom gray and tan stone fireplace anchors an alcove of their large backyard patio in Troy. On a crisp fall afternoon, pots of mums added color on either side of it. Four sturdy metal chairs with soft green cushions were arranged around a glass coffee table in front of it.

The fireplace followed a kitchen addition and deck over an outdoor living area that spans the back of the house. Before that, outside the lower-level sliding glass door, there was a 12-by-12-foot concrete patio that didn't get used much.

"We added onto our house in May 2012," said Art, who works for Madison County Highway Department. "The deck came off the addition."

The Williamses debated about how big to make the patio below, expanding their original plan to allow for more seating. The surface is stamped, glazed concrete by A&E Concrete of Belleville.

"It's more of an outside living room," said Stacey, a director with Panera Bread. "My husband managed to get a TV out here very quickly."

The Williamses, who have two daughters, Alexis, 15, and Holly, 13, moved from Granite City to Glen Carbon, then to Troy 13 years ago.

"We fell in love with the community," said Stacey. "It's a great place to raise kids."

They plan to stay.

They have an inground firepit at the back of their deep yard, but wanted something closer that felt like part of the house.

"We got a lot of use of this one," said Art, standing by the firepit as neighbor girls stopped by to see what he was doing. "I built it myself. We use it to burn branches that have fallen."

If the teens want to separate from adults, they can head there to roast marshmallows and sit around the fire.

For the outdoor fireplace, the Williamses researched possibilities and contractors.

"We looked on Pinterest and Houzz to find out how people use the space," said Stacey. "We wanted to make sure we had a box (inset) for wood and a ledge for people to sit, and a ledge up top for candles and flowers."

They worked with Mark Urban of Hearthside Grill and Fireplace in Belleville to come up with a design that fit their budget and space.

"He would fluidly start drawing," said Stacey. "He listened very intently and got us immediately."

The size was partly based on requirements for flue heights, and to provide room for the seating area, about 18 inches from the ground.

"We told him we would like to have a curve on the outside to go with the curve going up to the chimney," she said of the architectural elements. "He was really accommodating."

Stacey chose stone by Stonecraft after seeing it in Hearthside's showroom. The fireplace is made by Heatilator.

Hearthside built the fireplace in four modular pieces, then hauled it to the site -- about 15 to 20 feet from the house -- where it sits atop 8 inches of concrete.

"We would have put a footing in if they didn't have that," said Mark. "There are several thousand pounds of stone there."

The Williamses' custom fireplace cost in the $6,000 to $7,000 range. "There are things we can do that are less expensive than what we did at Art's house," Mark said. "There are premanufactured fireplaces and firepits that start at the $700 range."

The fireplace gave both sides a chance to be creative.

"We love doing projects like that," said Mark, "to custom make it the way the customers want, especially something that adds to their enjoyment."

Hearthside finished in two weeks, just in time for the cooler weather.

"Last Sunday, neighbors came over," said Stacey. "That's the beauty of it. We can share it with friends and family. Any time we light up, they are welcome.

"Tonight is our second night to use it."

Advice:

Know your space, said Art. Know what you want to use the space for. We wanted it to be an area to sit around and relax.

Choose a company that's on the same page as you. We went through quite a few companies to get bids, said Stacey. "You can tell when they listen. (Mark) listened to what we were saying. He wasn't trying to upscale it."

Have a budget. "Their bid was one of the most reasonable," said Art. "They worked with us on what we wanted which was nice."

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