At Home Now: Keeping the Embers of Summer Burning


Here I am looking at the start of my favorite month, which I’ve named September for the second half of September and the first half of October.  Yet I find myself melancholy at the close of this summer.  I guess it’s the uncertainty of what’s ahead.  And that feeling that things may never be quite the same again.  I tend my wounds left by the months of Covid restrictions, the wounds of my failed marriage, and the bittersweet taste of my kids launching into this world of uncertainty.  I sometimes look down the vacuous cavern of my half empty glass and think, if I jumped in there - would I really hit water? 

But those feelings, like everything else these days, are fleeting.  This morning I did jump into that glass - and there it was.  Half full!  And the water was fine.  More than fine.  It was delicious and buoyant and filled with hope.  And looking up into that big half empty cavern above?  I see sunshine.  Bring it on Septober.  I’ve got big plans for you.  And I’m not finished with my outdoor-socially-distanced-appropriately-sized-small-gatherings yet, so your brisk weather doesn’t scare me.  All I need is a good fire pit! 

Fire pits can be bought, built-in to your landscape, or spontaneously created with a Webber-type grill and some insta-burn wood from 7-11.  There are so many features to consider, but let’s break it down into the two big categories first: gas or wood.  I think there tends to be a knee-jerk nod toward the romance of the crackling wood and the burning flamebut one only has to remember sitting downwind of a roaring campfire to know some of the pitfalls. 

When I was in high school, I went to a beach bonfire, and I was so hell bent on sitting near that bohemian lifeguard college-boy that I was crushing on that I took the brunt of that smoke for honestly as long as I could bare it.  I remember blinking my eyes and trying to “act natural” as I willed myself not to cough or wince while the embers burned their way into my sweater.  I stuck it out until the college boy noticed and laughed, and that stung almost as much.  For days and days after, that smokey smell re-ignited in my scalp every time I broke a sweat.  And to me, it just smelled like unrequited love. 

Long way of saying…. don’t rule out the gas fire pit right away.  Gas fires can be high on style and there are plenty that are easy on the pocketbook.  They are so easy to light that you might turn it on just for your morning coffee, and their flame is adjustable to your climate or the time of day. In general, they don’t give off the same amount of heat as a traditional fire can, but their smoke-free flame is predictable and the heat is reliable and environmentally friendly.  But that gas fuel supply does take some planning.  For a permanent fire pit, you’d want to have a gas line installed by your licensed plumber.  But for a portable solution you just need to plan a way to stash that tank.  Some models address this issue and incorporate the gas storage into the design.  Just shop carefully. 

But for some, there is absolutely no replacement for the actual burning log.  It snaps and pops, it smells like camping, and then there are the marshmallows.  Creating a built-in variety can be a pretty rewarding DIY project.  A quick early morning google and a trip to HomeDepot can get you up and running that same night.  (But please safety first, and look into permits too.)  Or that same trip to HomeDepot can supply you with any number of pre-made models.  For me, I’m limited on patio space, so I got one that has a wide border for tipping your feet against, a dome-shaped screen to control the embers, and a top so that when it’s not in use it just operates like a coffee table.  But you figure out the features that work for you. 

If you want your fire pit to be in the middle of your seating, you may want to consider some sort of chimney.  They help to prevent that full throttle face of smoke from my cautionary tale above.  There are those gourd shaped fire pits called chimeras.  They’ve got that groovy vibe and they do control the smoke—but you miss out on some of the enjoyment of the flame.  But there are other chimney solutions out there that are built into domed screens.  They claim to give you the best of both worlds, but your guests will be the ultimate judge. 

So fear not, compatriots with melancholy hearts like mine – Help is on the way. And it comes in the shape of a fire pit. Break out the marshmallows. 


Jen Coles is a professional home designer and mother of four who lives in Manchester. 


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