Fire tables are red hot, creating a cozy ambiance with the flip of a switch

08/22/2014 7:00 AM

08/23/2014 7:57 PM

The coffee table just got pimped. Insert flames at the center and you have not just a spot to rest your mug but also to keep the contents warm. Heck, you can roast a marshmallow or cook a full dinner.

Fire pits are a natural addition to many backyard landscapes, but the fire table makes it easier than ever to enjoy the ambiance of firelight with the flip of a switch. With explosive interest in outdoor living in recent years, manufacturers are heating up the marketplace with out-of-the-box goods, as in, open the box, turn it on and — voila! — fire. No need to build a masonry pit (or even a fire).

Big box stores carry cast stone and aluminum versions; specialty manufacturers’ versions include ultramodern styling and unique accessories. Shape, style, height and materials make for near endless options, but one thing is for certain: Fire tables may be portable, but they’re not going anywhere for a long time. Here are the details on your hot new purchase.

Let’s have a chat

Most fire tables sold locally are “chat height,” which is approximately 24 inches tall, for sitting comfortably around and staying awhile as the evening cools. Set up a few Adirondack chairs and you have casual luxury.

Terra Flame Home makes a coffee table version, at just 16 inches tall, available locally through Amini’s Galleria. It’s a sophisticated beauty made of white concrete top, stainless steel base and ipe wood accents.

There are also dining-height options, at 29 inches tall, with enough table room for a full place setting, and bar height, at 42 inches tall, for leaning an elbow on at a party.

How about a wine barrel to go with that glass of wine? Vin de Flame repurposes wine barrels as fire tables. A full-size barrel conveniently hides a propane tank inside its belly and can be topped with wood stave or granite.

You must accessorize

Although fire is an intoxicating element by itself, you can increase its awe factor with accessories. Oriflamme fire tables, available through Nebraska Furniture Mart in Kansas City, Kan., and Seasonal Concepts in Overland Park, feature nine burner designs that give shape to flames, such as a flower or a martini glass. On days too hot for a fire, you can switch out the inserts for a beverage bucket. Just add ice and drinks.

Custom manufacturer the Outdoor Plus has made fire tables with water fountains and debuted two stainless steel, conversation-starting centerpieces at this year’s Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Expo: a burning bush and marsh reeds.

But you can really put that fire to use and make a hibachi-style meal with a cook mount from Firetainment. Designed to be compatible with your kitchen’s cookware, this accessory lets you prepare stir fry on a wok, pizza on a griddle or fondue in a pot. The company also supplies a recipe book and two Himalayan salt blocks with each purchase.

Vickie Jones at Family Leisure Kansas City sold one of the tables this spring. “It’s a one-of-a-kind person who wants to do all that,” she says. “But even if you didn’t cook on it, it’s still a beautiful fire pit.”

Fuel for thought

Never before in human history has fire been so simple to start. Most fire tables light at the touch of a button, and the Outdoor Plus even offers wireless remote control.

Propane is the most common fuel source, hidden in the base of the table, making for easy exchanges when fuel runs out, usually after 15 to 20 hours. For a more permanent, lengthier run, you could consider hooking your table right up to a gas line from your house. Many tables come with a natural gas conversion kit.

Biofuel is another option. The Illuma by Duraflame is a tabletop fire accessory that uses bio-ethanol, made from fermented agricultural biomass. It’s as clean and easy as gas and propane, coming in single-use cans that burn for 2 to 3 hours.

Terra Flame Home uses gel fuel, particularly the brand name SunJel, a formula using denatured alcohol and other additives that emulate wood-burning flames in color, height and sound, without the smell.

Won’t burn down

Some of the earliest fire tables on the market, nearing a decade ago, burned real wood. But the switch to other forms of fuel enhanced aesthetics because it allowed more decorative burn material. Glass beads are popular because of their color range, from subdued black and clear to bold red and blue, plus they don’t melt or degrade. Jones says Family Leisure will start stocking glass soon because of the high demand.

Lava rock and spheres are other options. Of course, you can still get good ol’ traditional log lookalikes.

Safety and maintenance

Fire tables have to follow the same rules as their cousins, barbecue grills, especially that they be used on a noncombustible surface.

Most fire tables are equipped to make adjustments in the height of the flame, and a safety valve will shut off the gas if the flame goes out. “Most have ceramic safety glass enclosures in order to protect people,” adds Marge Padgitt of HearthMasters.

Because the tables are exposed to the outdoors, you must make sure the valves are clean and free of debris before lighting. Padgitt also recommends your fire table be checked out by a professional once a year to ensure it’s running properly. The service costs $249.

Most of the burner components are stainless steel or powder-coated so they won’t rust outdoors. Countertop material care varies widely depending on whether you have concrete, slate, granite, travertine or copper. Most will require you to clean up spills immediately and seal the top a least once a year.

Purchase a cover for added care over the winter.

It’ll set you back a pretty penny

You can rub two sticks together and start a fire for free, but, somehow, that doesn’t hold a candle to the luxury of sitting around a fire table. Jones says the price range for the tables at Family Leisure is $1,899 to $2,500. “They’re more high-end than when I started eight years ago,” she says. “Then they were in the $700 to $1,000 range.”

Lower-end tables through Costco and other such retailers can still accommodate that price level, but granite tops and accessories will cost extra. Firetainment’s best seller, a 48-inch round, granite-top table, sells for $2,999.

But if you have money to burn, scorch it on something that will gather your friends and family together.

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