Hong Kong winters may not be long, but they can be chilly. That's reason enough to warm to the coolest design trend in alfresco living: the outdoor fireplace.
A flickering flame has become de rigueur in the hippest yards and patios in colder climates, so it's only natural it would catch on in Hong Kong - especially as some can also be used indoors.
An open fire provides an appealing gathering place when friends drop by, and a romantic setting for couples spending the evening at home.
British landscape architect Adrian Norman never expected anyone would want an outdoor fireplace in Hong Kong, but now his clients are asking for them.
'It seems a natural progression of the outdoor room to have a focal point where one can sit and 'toast' themselves,' says Norman, of Adrian L. Norman Limited. 'So we are now looking at integrating custom-built fireplaces into some of our landscape designs.'
Jason Yung, of Jason Caroline Design, agrees. Taking the trend a step further, the husband and wife design team recently created an outdoor campfire for a client with a 5,000 sq ft front garden next to the beach.
'The whole family can camp there over the weekend,' Yung says. 'Instead of putting in an ordinary fireplace, we designed a 1.5-metre diameter campfire dish in the centre of the lawn. All you need is to light the wooden logs and the result is pure magic.'
Alan Chiu, general manager of Zzue Creation, says the brevity of our winters is the reason for the rising popularity of outdoor fires. 'People want to make the best of it, and having friends around a cosy fireplace creates a very romantic, social atmosphere.'
Zzue Creations sells the Trident range of outdoor fireplaces by Dutch brand Val-Eur, fired by bio-ethanol, an odourless, smokeless fuel that evaporates to steam and carbon dioxide. The burner design is based on the principle of a camera aperture, which can be opened or closed to adjust the flame strength. All parts of the Trident burners are stainless steel, and the design features a cast aluminium chassis for a sleek, contemporary look. A tank houses a ceramic sponge that enables a flooding wall of flame, which is surrounded by a protective tempered, heat-resistant 10mm glass. There are various models in the Trident range, priced from HK$21,000 to HK$81,000. All are suitable for use outdoors, indoors or on a balcony.
Nils Neckel, managing director at Design & Distribution Link, says demand is hot for his new range of EcoSmart fireplaces. The outdoor models are 'a great option for the increasingly popular outdoor areas, be it at your home or that fabulous rooftop restaurant. Having a fireplace enhances harmony, communication and togetherness'.
EcoSmart fireplaces also use ethanol, billed by the manufacturer as an environmentally friendly, renewable energy source. You don't even need a back yard for these beauties - they're safe to burn on a balcony, or indoors.
The brand's first alfresco model, the EcoSmart Tower (HK$29,900), launched last year, is made of black powder-coated steel and toughened glass, and is visually striking with an elevated flame atop a solid plinth.
New models have followed this year. The latest additions include the Cyl (HK$19,900), a cylindrical tea light fireplace fashioned from a weather-resistant stainless steel base, and the Mini T (HK$19,900), baby brother to the Tower, and standing just 622mm high, designed for small outdoor spaces or balconies. It comes on a base in black or white powder-coated steel or brushed stainless steel.
The Lantern (HK$29,900) is a decorative mid-sized fireplace featuring an interesting abstract pattern cut from mild steel with a bronze patina.
'When the Lantern is lit, the pattern is enhanced by the flame, creating a visually dramatic fireplace,' says Neckel.
Safretti brand bio-ethanol fireplaces from Holland come in free-standing and wall-hanging variations, and can be installed 'virtually anywhere', indoors or outdoors, says supplier Winston Lam, director of Kitchen Interiors. The regular retail price is from HK$48,000 to HK$118,000.
Everything Under the Sun offers two high-quality imported outdoor fireplaces. The first is the Plaza from German brand Conmoto (HK$24,000), a flexible fireplace with an open flame that burns bio-ethanol gel or fluid. The intensity of the fire can be adjusted continuously by the supplemental fire box. Placed flat on the floor, suspended from the wall or as a tall version, the Plaza, which won a Red Dot award for design, creates the ambience of a flickering flame without the fuss.
It is suitable for use outdoors, indoors or on a balcony.
For those who prefer a more rustic approach - crackling wood and marshmallows - there's the Extremis Qrater (HK$12,000), designed by Dirk Wynants and manufactured in Belgium. This campfire bowl enhances the atmosphere of any rooftop, beach or penthouse party, says Judd Harcombe of Resource Asia HK.
He says singing a song or telling a story while gazing into the flames has inspired people ever since fire was discovered. To that end, the Extremis Qrater range of optional accessories even extends to a sing-along CD.
So now you, too, can experience the 'very original and heartwarming form of togetherness' that gathering around a campfire brings.