Pieces of the Puzzle: Fire Features

Looking to heat up your casino? Want something that will fire up your players to spend more time at your property? If so, you’re in luck, because in this installment of our series focusing on one aspect or feature that goes into casino/resort design and construction, we’re looking at fire features. From fire pits, bowls and fireplaces, even fire incorporated into water or mist features, this is your need-to-know—with expert take from two leading architects, followed by the vendors that provide them. So let these guys help before you start playing with fire.

“As a naturally occurring kinetic element, fire has a unique ability to enliven and warm an entire environment,” commented Rob Jurbergs, AIA, principal at Hnedak Bobo Group. “Similar to a water feature, fire features have the magnetic ability draw people into a space, while offering a soothing backdrop for energetic activities. This makes fire features valuable design elements for places of escapism, such as a casino or resort.”

Francis Xavier Dumont, AIA NCARB LEED® GA, vice president, director of design at Leo A Daly, says fire features are important because they can be used to portray the property’s design intent and pull it all together. It can represent a homey, welcoming feel, or be used to give a feeling of excitement and drama, he said.

As an example, look at Hnedak Bobo Group’s Northern Quest Resort and Casino outside Spokane, Wash. There, the hotel lobby is a warm and welcoming “living room.” Its central gathering space offers a stylish lobby bar and lounge seating warmed by a modern, ventless “ribbon” fire box trimmed by a floor-to-ceiling travertine tile wall. And river rock pebbles act as a base for the dancing flames.

Alternatively, at Leo A Daly’s Odawa Casino Resort in Petoskey, Mich., there are two interior fire features, both at the property’s nightclub. At the entrance is a set of three cylindrical fire tubes finished in copper. The tubes have a special feature of twisting the fire inside like a tornado, which creates added drama. Inside the nightclub, each VIP seating area has its own fireplace and video screens to give it more of an upscale feel. The fireplaces have three twisting flames like the fire tubes at the entrance.

Northern Quest Resort and Casino
Northern Quest Resort and Casino
Jurbergs reminds that for some tribal gaming clients, fire features often have a symbolic reference. “Beyond being a physical design element, fire becomes a meaningful centerpiece of cultural design that runs throughout a larger resort design theme,” he said. For example, he references the Prairie Band Casino in Mayetta, Kan., where a massive floor-to-ceiling, stacked stone lobby fireplace is a central tie to the tribe’s cultural history as the “Keepers of the Fire.” There, an 18,000 square foot courtyard continues this design theme by integrating a waterfall feature and lush landscaping with a focal point being the tribal eternal flame.

Drew Mengwasser, ASLA, LEED AP, principal and landscape designer at TBG Partners, explained that at the Little River Casino Resort in Manistee, Mich., his firm worked with Hnedak Bobo Group to integrate symbolic, cultural fire references throughout the indoor and all-season outdoor spaces. A new courtyard there integrates places for reflection by one of three fire pits and a sculptural fountain monument. Outdoor fire pits reference the three Tribes of the Ottawa Indians. Additional outdoor cultural references there include nine arching column formations that enclose the fire pits. These draw inspiration from traditional tribal structures and reference the nine original chiefs of the Ottawa.

So, you want to install a fire feature or maybe revamp your existing one. The first thing to note is that fire features can be done indoors or out. Each has different considerations, and not every vendor provides both options. Another concern you need to have is that not all vendors do commercial projects. Residential fire features are not meant to withstand the wear and tear of constant use.

And Dumont says your fire features do need to be in constant use, with flames visible at all times. “A fire feature can have a negative aesthetic affect on the property if it is sometimes unlit,” he explains, “and unlit fire features look very dead.”
Interior and exterior fire features can be used in a variety of different ways, he added. The most effective technique for exterior fire features is to place the fire feature so that it is not only visible while visitors drive up to the property, but also from the inside, such as through windows of a restaurant or lounge.

Dumont says fire features are similar to water features since they add an aspect of changeability and motion to spaces, when other architectural features are usually more static. And they’re relatively easy to install during a new construction since the piping can be installed before slabs are laid and finishes put on. They are more difficult to add in existing buildings because the gas source and the venting must be retrofitted to existing conditions.

Odawa Casino Resort
Odawa Casino Resort
To make your own stand apart from a fire feature down the road, it’s best to do custom. A feature unique to your property creates a distinctive look and can showcase your commitment to guest comfort and special surprises.

“As the central gathering spaces of a resort, lounges and hotel lobbies offer the optimum and most cost efficient placement of fire features,” Jurbergs noted. “When located in unexpected places, for example in an outdoor porte cochere or courtyard setting, fire features can further enhance the resort experience.”

The fire features seen throughout HBG’s-designed casino resorts are true vented gas fireplaces. “We never design real wood fire elements in guestrooms,” Jurbergs explained. “This is mainly due to fire code/life safety restrictions, but also the constant upkeep of wood burning fireplaces; it would literally require a dedicated ‘fire keeper’ to maintain the fires.” “In more contemporary designs, we use ventless systems,” he adds. “Ventless units are becoming the standard in the hospitality and resort industry.”

Also, the over-21 adult casino setting eliminates many of the child-friendly safety concerns that could come from fire usage. New fire units, however, are designed for safety, allowing designers to utilize fire features in a variety of areas.

Other positives to fire features, according to Jurbergs: They are less prone to maintenance issues than water features. Constructability is generally not an issue with the new one-piece ventless units that are rapidly becoming the industry standard. Plus, many gas fire elements come equipped with remote controls that easily regulate user comfort.

Once you’ve decided what your needs are, it’s time to select your vendor. Jurbergs suggests consulting an architect to provide insight into a vendor’s installation practices and track record with service and maintenance.

“There is so much variety and customization available with fire features,” adds Jurbergs. “It is exciting how this element can add life and movement to a space; its ability to transform the whole character of a design for guest enjoyment is amazing.”

So read on, because the companies on the following pages are sure to bring some heat (in a good way) to your property.

Fire feature at a private villa in Las Vegas
Fire feature at a private villa in Las Vegas
Aqua Design Group

Fire, one of four classic elements in ancient Greek philosophy and science, may be associated with the qualities of energy, assertiveness and passion, but one vendor has qualities just as great. Aqua Design Group’s portfolio of work is nothing short of stunning. Really—just visit their website.

The company started creating stunning products in 1996, and today they offer top-quality green walls, water walls, fountains and fire features. They’ve demonstrated proven skill in designing and constructing innovative custom features for high-end commercial and residential markets worldwide. “Described as objects of sophistication and beauty, our water features are well-known to incorporate dramatic or tranquil effects into the surrounding environment,” Arthur Meyer, marketing director for Aqua Design Group, said.

With headquarters in New York and additional offices in Florida, California, Illinois, Vancouver, Toronto, Moscow and Dubai, their three facilities total more than 90,000 square feet housing state-of-the-art equipment, a research and development sector and teams with more than 50 years of experience. Engineering and fabrication of any type of project, whether simple or complex, is their bread and butter—or more appropriately, fire and water.

Setting high standards for fully custom-designed water features, Aqua Design Group stands for quality engineering, craftsmanship and exploration of what is possible. All of their water features are custom designed, engineered and manufactured to suit the client’s specific needs and goals. Offering on-demand shop drawings and artistic renderings of your project, they also utilize cutting-edge equipment and machinery to implement the most efficient and trouble-free maintenance into every feature they build.

Fire bowl installed at a private residence
Fire bowl installed at a private residence
Meyer says the most important thing to know is that “design can be achieved on many levels, but the quality of engineering and fabrication involved is the most important element when dealing with a fire feature.”

He explains that installation is minimal with Aqua Design Group’s fire features, and they come pre-constructed in pieces, depending on relative size. All their fire features are self contained, making the installation simple and quick.

They offer the ultimate in choices, including indoor or outdoor applications, from initial design to completed fabrication. Options include a wide range from any specification in design, size, material and surrounding environment while allowing the fire feature to be combined with other features such as fountains, waterfalls and reflective pools.

With near endless unique options, they are sure to aid in helping your fire feature stand out and draw crowds. Their technical experience with customized controls allows for effects ranging from fireballs to long fire streams, as well as fire dancing on water, or in conjunction with fire pits, rings and bars. Electronic ignition systems are used, and accessories can include remote control ignition. Lava rocks and fire rated colored glass are available as decorative elements for your custom-designed fire effect.

All of Aqua Design Group’s features are custom built at their New York facility, where they are tested for 24 hours prior to delivery. And all materials are made in the U.S. with the highest grade.

“Over the past few years, we have developed an electronic ignition system far surpassing anything on the market today,” Meyer explained. “We did this by developing a system from the ground up, keeping in mind the effects of wind and rain at all times during the development process.”

Highlights of this new system include the following: a controller programmed to compensate for the effects of wind up to 50 mph; thermal sensing vs. flame sensing, which further enhances performance in the wind; pilot burner design that makes it impossible for water or debris to clog the pilot gas line; waterproof gas valves and controller to stand up to the effects of water; a small size, enabling it to be installed in the tightest locations; and a removable pilot burner, making the igniter/thermal sensor serviceable.

Last, Meyer invites you to view Aqua Design Group’s online portfolio that demonstrates their outstanding design and quality of their best-performing systems.

Aqua Design Group at a Glance
Company headquarters: Brooklyn, N.Y.
Number of employees: 15
Years in business: 15
Types of products offered: Green walls, waterwalls, fountains, fire features
For sales info: info@aquadesigngroup.com
Website: www.AquaDesignGroup.com

Capella Pedegral Resort, Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
Capella Pedegral Resort, Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
Grand Effects

The fire and water features offered by California-based company Grand Effects are, well, quite grand. Hey, Criss Angel even recommends them!

Grand Effects specializes in outdoor fire everything, from fire bowls, fire-water bowls, fire pits, torches, linear fire inserts, rock inserts, the list goes on. And so does their passion for producing the best—and safest—products.

Thinking like a true operator, Kevin Doud, president of Grand Effects, says the No. 1 thing you need to know about fire features is that they should be used to generate profits. It brings the hotel guests in (or rather, out to the patio) and provides large revenue on drink sales around fire pits in bar areas. “I really think that if the architects, owners and operators are smart, they will have some fire features in the bar area,” he commented. “They’ll have the environment that guests will want.” Proof? He says that at a resort they did in the Palm Springs area, within months, the remodel job was paid for with increased bar sales.

The company’s roots started in 2000 doing custom fire features. In fact, Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas was one of their first jobs. Doud explained: “From there, we felt that there was a real need—on the residential and commercial side—for packaged burners. Instead of fire features with a bunch of parts, we came up with a packaging, meaning it’s all there, it’s all fully tested, it’s easy to install, with very few maintenance issues.”
Budweiser plant, Coral Springs, Fla.
Budweiser plant, Coral Springs, Fla.

Most of Grand Effects’ products are automated, meaning they have electronics that turn them off and on. It’s all part of their commitment to safety and ease of use. “They’ll light the flame in a safe sequence of operations and monitor the status of the flame, so if a gust of wind or rain blows it out, it senses that and shuts itself off and will re-ignite in a safe manner,” Doud said.

Doud adds that they also have all the necessary approvals, including UL and CSA. “Most city and county inspectors do require approved products being installed, and we’re one of the few companies where all of our products have approvals,” he said.
In addition to their fire features, Grand Effects also offers decorative features that can be incorporated into their burners. They have a full line of these, from high-end concrete pieces made out of GFRC (concrete reinforced with fiberglass) or handmade copper, made from artists in Mexico. They don’t use any paint on the concrete pieces, easing worries about chipping, peeling and bubbling. “We have these products that incorporate into fire features, so architects, landscape architects and contractors can incorporate them into the whole hearthscape to really accent and give the properties a wow factor,” he said.

One of Grand Effects’ most unique installations was at a resort in Cabo San Lucas, where the property is built on a rock cliff and there is fire coming out of the rocks. The theme is continued throughout the whole property. “In that case, it’s the ‘wow,’ the allure of guests coming in and setting the feel they want their guests to have,” Doud noted.

Another exciting custom install was at the Atlantis The Palm Dubai, where the resort’s infinity edge pool that went out to the ocean had seven-foot diameter bowls that appear to be floating on the water, and as water bubbles out of the bowls, fire is on top of the water.

And as long as the project contractors are talented and knowledgeable about their part in the installation, putting a fire feature into your property is easy. In fact, Doud says it’s as simple as wiring a light fixture. All you need to know is how many BTUs you would require and make sure the gas meters are sized adequately.
Lakoya residential entrance, Naples, Fla.
Lakoya residential entrance, Naples, Fla.

To set your feature apart, Doud says that even if you choose a standard product, it can be made extraordinary with the creativity of landscape architects and designers. “All of our products are on 3-D CAD designs with colors, so designers can pick our products and incorporate them into their plans and use that as a model to show,” he said.

Why you should select them, according to Doud, is because of several key reasons, with the quality of their systems being foremost. “We have a very good reputation in the industry, and our whole product is built on quality,” he said. Other reasons include the product’s ability to withstand harsh weather environments, good technical support and it all being a very safe system. “Then last, but just as important,” Doud says, “our products are beautiful. They’re really beautiful pieces of the hearthscape.”

Grand Effects at a Glance
Company headquarters: Irvine, Calif.
Number of employees: 10
Years in business: 11
Types of products offered: High quality custom fire and water features
For sales info: Kevin Doud at (949) 697-5270 or info@grandeffectsinc.com
Website: www.grandeffectsinc.com

Montigo C-view C520 see-through unit at Tulalip Casino in Washington
Montigo C-view C520 see-through unit at Tulalip Casino in Washington
Montigo Del Ray

If you’re looking for a beautiful fireplace for your commercial venue, Canadian-based Montigo is the place to look. Their portfolio boasts stunning work, indoors and outdoors, with a warm ambiance or an exciting contemporary feel.

Montigo was one of the first to bring to market a linear designed fireplace, and today offers the largest selection of linear fireplaces demanded by designers, architects and homeowners wanting to create a modern and contemporary space, Karen Hammersley, marketing manager for Montigo, shared.

Their fireplaces may be hot, but Montigo offers a surprisingly cool option. Their cool-to-touch manufacturing technology reduces liability issues in commercial applications such as restaurants, hotel lobbies, casinos and spas. Montigo’s Cool-Pak system can be installed in any custom fireplace, located between the interior and exterior glass, keeping the exterior glass cool to the touch.

And offering further options, you have the ability to feature fire in just about any location. “With our proprietary power venting system and team of expert engineers, a Montigo fireplace can be installed anywhere—even 550 feet away from the closest venting location,” Hammersley said.

“Over the past 30 years, many of the inner components of each Montigo fireplace have been engineered and reengineered,” she added, “resulting in the most efficient operation and the nicest looking flame on the market. Montigo continually looks for new features, resulting in revolutionary options such as Cool-Pak.”

All Montigo fireplaces are installed by a dealer in the installation area. Montigo’s own team of engineers and installation specialists work with each dealer to ensure that every fireplace is installed efficiently. And with every fire feature, a specification package is provided to ensure all necessary components—such as venting and power vents—are provided as well as optional accessories.

Montigo C-view C1120 ST see-through stainless steel outdoor unit
Montigo C-view C1120 ST see-through stainless steel outdoor unit
As to why you should pick Montigo, Hammersley said they offer a full lineup, from CSA-certified stock fireplaces and a high-end custom line to help stand out from the rest. Not to mention, “our passion for fireplaces,” she reminded. “We pride ourselves on the personalized customer service offered from our Montigo staff.”

But don’t think their work ends in Canada. Montigo works with architects, designers and dealers throughout North America and around the world to bring their warmth and beauty to any space.

Montigo has already installed their unique fireplaces at Isle of Capri’s Lady Luck Casino in Missouri, Prairie Band Casino in Kansas, River Casino in Pennsylvania, Coeur D’Alene Casino in Idaho, Greektown Casino in Michigan and many places in Las Vegas. They also recently worked with Hnedak Bobo Group on the Northern Quest Resort in Spokane, Wash.

To set your own fire feature apart, Hammersley recommends visiting Montigo’s website to view their photos of past projects for inspiration, as well as to see the range in just what this company can do. As she says, think outside the box, because the options are endless!

Montigo at a Glance
Company headquarters: Langley, BC, Canada, and Ferndale, Wash.
Number of employees: 150
Years in business: 33
Types of products offered: Custom commercial gas fireplaces and residential gas fireplaces
For sales info: Karen Hammersley at karen@montigo.com
Website: www.montigo.com

Linear Burner System outdoor at MidAtlantic Restaurant in Philadelphia. Photo courtesy of CCS Architecture, New York.
Linear Burner System outdoor at MidAtlantic Restaurant in Philadelphia. Photo courtesy of CCS Architecture, New York.
SPARK Modern Fires

SPARK Modern Fires can do exactly what their name says. And the company has a unique story that starts in 2005. Company co-founder Tom Healy, a former custom home builder with two decades of experience, found that commercially available fireplaces most often did not match the distinct décor required by the designs of the homes he was building. By fabricating special parts for each fireplace—a process that was costly and time consuming—he recognized a need in the market. So, in 2003,

Healy worked to develop a product line and a company that made it easier for designers and builders to use a gas fireplace as a design element in custom and unique environments. SPARK Modern Fires was born, and shortly after, introduced its first “Fire Ribbons” that were shipped in early 2006.

Their product was quickly noticed, and soon many high-end venues came to them for installations, including the Ritz Carlton, Mandarin Hotels and “W” Hotels. Hnedak Bobo Group also recently worked with SPARK Modern Fires on the Northern Quest Resort in Spokane, Wash.

Vent-free unit at Firefox Restaurant in Hartford, Conn.
Vent-free unit at Firefox Restaurant in Hartford, Conn.
A testament to its success and quality, in 2007 and 2008, SPARK Modern Fires was nominated to participate in the prestigious Interior Design Award for Best Architectural Product of the Year, winning the award in 2007 for the Fire Ribbon and finishing among the top four in 2008 for The Linear Burner.

OK, but what can they offer you? How about superior design and outstanding performance flawless fires for any highly designed environment. They say, the old gas log is gone, replaced by sleek, simple lines and sophisticated design. The SPARK product line is minimalist, modern and pares fire to its essence.

The most important thing they want you to know is that gas fireplaces must be safe and meet all local codes. They also must be as clean burning as possible to operate in no-burn locales and “green”-oriented communities. The ideal unit is one that allows the casino to design it into any custom décor—inside or out, with or without glass front—and can go with any façade or motif. You also want to find the right feature that will reduce your maintenance time, cost and labor.

Buffalo Thunder Resort in New Mexico
Buffalo Thunder Resort in New Mexico
Their advice in creating your own unique feature: Be creative with the surrounding décor, using the fire to create excitement, a modern look and warmth.
SPARK can provide you many options, including custom indoor or outdoor units, vent-free units, direct vent units, wall-mounted units, two-sided or three-sided units or gas conversion units in different lengths. And all SPARK units can be installed by any qualified contractor and just requires a natural gas or propane supply.

Healy says you should select SPARK because of their safe, modern design that meets all codes, in addition to their reputation for quality, excellent customer service and flexible modern design to match any décor. It’s a custom-fit fire to your environment with a uniquely sophisticated focal point with a clean, fresh and modern feel.
But the other reason to work with SPARK Modern Fires is that they create “fires to inspire.”

SPARK Modern Fires at a Glance
Company headquarters: Bethel, Conn.
Years in business: 8
Types of products offered: Modern, indoor and outdoor gas fireplaces
For sales info: 866-938-3846
Website: www.sparkfires.com

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