For eons, the elements have captivated people as symbols of inspiration.
In biblical times, fire and water represented purification. In feng shui, water is viewed as a symbol of prosperity, while fire holds the keys to vitality. In the Scandinavian design concept of hygge, these elements are imperative to creating comfort.
It’s little wonder, then, that fire and water features have become popular design motifs for adorning a home — especially when it comes to creating grand entryways and gathering areas. They can also mask the sound of traffic, block the view of a neighbour or refocus attention in a landscape. Installing your own features takes careful prep work, however, to ensure these adornments are as safe as they are striking.
“These features are an incredible way to enhance your property, but they also require forethought and it’s best to work with someone who knows how to integrate these into a space,” says Stephen McLeish, registered landscape architect and president and CEO of Acacia Landscape and Pools. “It can seem like a great idea to have a fire bowl on a patio, but, if you’re not careful, it can also kill the space — all you can do, now, is sit around the bowl.”
Scale is an important consideration, says McLeish, to ensure the space doesn’t become one-dimensional. Practical measures, such as how people will access pipes or pumps for servicing, should also be factored in.
“The more elaborate you get, the more issues you may have,” says McLeish. “Sometimes, keeping it simple saves you a tonne of maintenance, because fire and water by their very natures complicate things.”
The design of any elemental feature should hold safety at the helm — both for intended guests, like people walking by with flowing clothing, and unexpected visitors: wildlife, birds or neighbourhood youngsters. That means positioning ignition switches out of accidental reach, using safeguards for flames and fencing off even small bodies of water.
Lighting is crucial for connecting these features to their surroundings, and masonry or plantings can hide cords while keeping things accessible. Fire and water can even be brought in at the micro level, from tiny tabletop fire bowls to prefab hanging fountains. Even circulating water vessels with plants can change the atmosphere immediately, says McLeish.
“You can create your own coastal ecosystem right at home. You can engineer the reflection of the forest, the calming babbling of a brook, a place for light to glint and reflect at night,” he says. “It doesn’t have to be a million-dollar project to make a big difference to your life.”