Simple, Concrete-and-Steel Fire Pit in Oakland
By Joanne Furio / Published by Dwell
Recommended by

A simple case of cause and effect occurred when Jack Hillmer cantilevered a dramatic wood-framed house into the Oakland Hills, making the view of the grounds from above just as important as the one on terra firma. That’s what the Berkeley landscape architect Stefan Thuilot discovered when he was brought in to design the grounds of an early-1980s house, rebuilt in the late 1990s after it was destroyed by the Oakland Hills fire in 1991. The garden, however, was not destroyed. There never was one. Iconic as the property was, and rare—Hillmer designed fewer than ten homes in a geometric style noted for its expressive woodwork—it was never landscaped. 

Made of polished integral concrete with a Cor-Ten steel base, a fire pit “becomes very much a unique element that sets itself apart in form and color,” says landscape architect Stefan Thuilot, who designed it.

Unwanted, but necessary, two giant piers that support the house extend down into the 70-by-70-foot space. Thuilot incorporated them into the garden design by reimagining them as tree trunks. He mapped a zigzagging white-gravel path around the piers, which ultimately ends at the final destination: a circular fire pit for conversation.

“In daytime it is a simple gathering area for a group of seven to eight,” Thuilot explains. “At night it’s a poetic environment where the flames create a glowing view of the steel base.”

Conveying a woodland theme, the pit is surrounded by a mass of grasses and the occasional fern. “We basically pay respect to the architecture, but in a playful way,” Thuilot says. “Those piers don’t seem so heavy anymore.”

A zigzagging white-gravel path ultimately ends at the final destination: a circular fire pit for conversation.

Landscape Architect: Stefan Thuilot

Joanne Furio


Now based in the San Francsico Bay Area, Joanne Furio is a veteran print journalist who segued into design over a decade ago. In addition to writing for Dwell, she contributes to San Francisco and the Believer.

Everybody loves feedback. Be the first to add a comment.
The author will be notified whenever new comments are added.
Dwell Life © 2016Download our iOS App

We’re inviting you to join us to create a place where we can inspire and share with each other every day, collaborate on collections, projects and stories, ask questions, discuss and debate ideas.

Log in