The Wood-Fired Blog

Innovating the Outdoor Fireplace: Part 2

Today I want to add more information to my previous posting on Innovating the Outdoor Fireplace by adding a parallel between the outdoor pizza oven and the outdoor fireplace.

If you were to flash back four years, before Forno Bravo introduced the Primavera series (and later the Andiamo series) ovens, you would see a pizza oven market dynamic similar to today’s outdoor fireplace market. Not only had Forno Bravo not introduced the Primavera ovens, we had also not yet introduced the Casa2G, Giardino and Premio2G modular pizza oven kits that revolutionized the oven industry. Basically the pizza oven market was characterized by moderate quality, very expensive oven kits imported from Europe—that all required custom installation.

This is a true story—we had a neighbor in Healdsburg, CA (where we lived at the time) who spent $20,000 on a custom installation for a 31” “rustic” pizza oven kit from an Italian oven importer. The family was at the leading edge of the trend, and there just weren’t any good choices at the time.

But in order for the industry to move beyond the early adopters, people who were willing to spend $20,000 on what turned out to be just a small pizza oven, we needed offer better and different alternatives. We believed that there was a market for a small, but “true” masonry pizza oven. The design needed to be true to the requirements (really bake 90 second Pizza Napoletana with a wood fire), while meeting some basic rules—could be set up by hand, without requiring any special tools or equipment; required zero building skills, etc. And we were right. We built the prototypes, and I tested the first ovens at my house. And it worked!

We put the Primavera in the Forno Bravo Store and we started getting our first orders within days. It was a great experience. Years later the Primavera oven continues to be a best-seller.

I believe that this dynamic can play itself out again in the outdoor fireplace market. There are many parallels. The design and weight issues are very similar—the product needs to be something that a homeowner with zero building experience can set up without any special equipment, tools, skill or knowledge. Even more importantly, the experience needs to be authentic. Where a small pizza oven needs to actually make great pizza, a small, but authentic, outdoor fireplace needs to look and feel like a real masonry fireplace.

There are other parallels that I could about, such as the philosophical similarities between the “design approach” of the Calore2G and the Casa2G, and the ability of Forno Bravo to create wonderful exterior finishes, such as hand-glazed stucco, in a factory environment—where the cost is significantly lower than the same finish done on a construction site. But you get my point.

This is getting exciting.

Innovating the Outdoor Fireplace

I’ve been thinking about outdoor fireplaces a lot recently. There is something about fire on a cool spring evening with the fog rolling in (we live near the ocean) that is really great. That, and I’ve been using my outdoor pizza oven quite a bit recently, and I’ve been moving the fire and coals from the oven to my outdoor fireplace when it comes time to bake bread. Hey, it’s a win-win. I get homemade bread and a fire that way. :-)

What I have been thinking about the outdoor fireplace is that they can be really difficult, and potentially very expensive to install. Or to be more accurate, high-end fully custom outdoor fireplaces can be expensive. Let me explain.

The Calore2G is a wonderful, high-end modular fireplace kit. It gives the homeowner, landscaper or mason the “structure” they need to build a perfect outdoor fireplace, while still allowing for virtually unlimited customization. The interior of the firebox is lined with real firebrick, while the outside of the fireplace can be finished with stucco, stone, brick, or whatever the builder wants. The Calore2G makes it easy to get the shape and proportions of the fireplace just right—all you have to do is stack the Calore2G components and you are done. There isn’t anything to go wrong. The Calore2G can also save you a lot of time and money, by eliminating the complicated work of building the “core” of the fireplace.

But what about a customer who wants a real outdoor fireplace—but who does not have the space or budget for a fully custom outdoor fireplace. I think there is large, un-served market for a fireplace that is easy to set up and affordable, and is a whole lot nicer than a fire pit, a metal firebox or a chiminea. You know, a real outdoor fireplace. Something that looks like it could have been custom built by a local mason, but doesn’t cost an arm or a leg.

I think the best way to tackle this challenge is to analyze layers. With the Calore2G, Forno Bravo provides the central layer and the inner firebrick layer, while the customer provides the outer decorative layer. Put different, the inner layer can be seen by the customer and faces the actual fire; the inner layer provides the form, the shape and the structure; and the outer layer is the decorative face. Each layer plays a vital role.

In terms of installation (and skill level, difficulty and time investment), the Calore2G central layer is stacked, while the inner and outer layers are installed by hand. It is the “installed by hand” elements that give a fully custom fireplaces some of its character and appeal, but that are responsible for driving up the cost and complexity of the project.

The key to building an affordable outdoor fireplace that looks great, looks real, and can be set up by someone with zero building skills is to compress the three layers of a custom fireplace into a single component. And to do it in such way that disguises the fact that the compression ever took place. The key is to hide the fact that the fireplace was not installed on-site in discrete layers.

There are other issues to address, including weight, packaging, shipping and materials, but those can be resolved.

Stay tuned for some additional thoughts on innovating the outdoor fireplace.