"Everybody wants a fire pit now," says California-based landscape architect Patricia Benner, who says that 80 percent project briefs this year have included one, up from 50 percent or so before the pandemic. Interest in outdoor living had been surging for some time, she adds, but the past year turbocharged the shift. "People want to meet friends and family more safely, or work in outdoor spaces at home."

Three key questions to consider when planning a fire pit are fuel, location, and style. Wood-burning pits burn hotter and are more evocative, Benner continues, but gas is cleaner; note that some places, such as Los Angeles, expressly require fire pits to be gas-fueled. If you opt for wood, pick it thoughtfully, adds Leroy Hite of Norcross, Georgia-based Cutting Edge Firewood. Oak is a staple, but consider cherry for its subtle, sweet aroma-or hickory, which is longer and burns hotter, with a pungent, nostalgic smell.

Note the surroundings when considering a location. Keep any fire pit around 20 feet from any structure or tree to reduce the risk of fires from sparks, and remember to avoid overhead pergolas. Architect Adam Meshberg has particular expertise in outdoor living spaces and offers a simple rule of thumb for style. Square or rectangular designs are best for outlooks and viewpoints, while a round, campfire-like style encourages a huddle. "You can happily sit along one side of a linear design, looking out," he says, "But a round shape is more conversational."

Traditionalists might still build a pit from rocks or bricks, but there's a wide range of readymade, plug-and-play options, too. We've picked out the best, whether you're looking for a high-design addition to an outdoor living room or a cozy, 'smores-toasting spot.

Smokeless — Breeo:

Hite champions these modern-looking styles, which are 100 percent U.S.-made by a Lancaster, Pa-based company. Their secret weapon is a patented airflow system that recycles and reburns smoke before it can escape, minimizing any eye-watering off-gassing, no matter how close you sit. Pick between the X Series, with its naturally weatherbeaten Corten steel exterior, or the powder-coated steel Luxeve, which will retain its as-new sheen; both are big enough to handle large logs, but heavier than other models. Don't plan to tote them around the yard. www.breo.co, X Series from $579, Luxeve from $1,649.

Fire Bowl — Novogratz Asher:

The best entry-level, all-round option is a typically playful design from reality TV staples Cortney and Robert Novogratz, available in bright colors such as aqua and white. Made from charcoal ceramic, the 22-inch model is portable and weather-resistant, and comes with multiple accessories, including a mesh dome to prevent spitting and a griddle for impromptu flame grilling. The removable internal bowl makes it easy to clean, too. www.shopthenovogratz.com, $339.

Fire Ball — The Fire Pit Co.:

"Fire balls," says Adam Meshberg, are ideal conversation starters; he uses round, campfire-like styles whenever a client hopes the feature won't simply be decorative but will be somewhere to gather and connect. The lovechild of a Jack o'Lantern and a fire pit, British metalworker Andy Gage's 35" fire balls are hand-drawn and freehand plasma cut from a ¼-inch steel ball. A range of standard designs is available, but it's best to commission a bespoke scene such as a portrait of your house, for an additional $300 or so. www.thefirepitcompany.co.uk, around $3,000.

Chiminea — Foundry Select Arneson:

Chimineas, says Leroy Hite, "look like a fire pit had a baby with a fireplace." A chiminea is a front-loading unit with a chimney-like smoke vent; the design draws fresh air from the front and over the wood, siphoning smoke and soot up and away from those sitting around it, so the fire burns both hotter and cleaner. Since it's largely enclosed, such designs are a safer option for smaller outdoor spaces. Hite loves the artfully distressed Arneson steel design from Foundry Select. www.wayfair.com, $519.99

Fire Table — Paloform Bento:

This Canadian company's sleek, cast concrete designs are a favorite of Adam Meshberg. "I like their clean lines and the functionality, where you can use it as a coffee table when it's not burning," he says. Among bestselling models is the square Bento, a gas-powered pit with either match-lit or electronic ignition. Customize the style, picking among different-colored concrete casings and toppings such as lava pebbles or crushed glass. Opt for the larger 42-inch model if you can, adds Meshberg. "The more burners you have, the more flame there is, and the more the fire will dance." www.paloform.com, from $4,700, plus $650 for a cover.

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