Since the beginning of time, fire and a hearth have been at the center of human experience; there is something deep within us that needs and celebrates the dance of flame in our lives. While we no longer depend on fireplaces for heat and cooking for the most part (thank goodness!), many homes continue to incorporate them into their design.
The presence of fireplaces today is not focused on survival, but on the aesthetic, comfort and decorative desires of homeowners, and fireplaces of many kinds continue to be popular home features.
Traditional fireplaces that burn wood remain the most popular (can you really beat the crackle of a wood fire?), but the downsides of fumes, smoke, and mess have led to several innovations that can evoke the sense of a wood fire without actually burning logs.
Increasingly common are gas fireplaces, relying on natural gas as a source of fuel with faux “logs” that appear to be aflame but are not consumed. The advantages are that a fire doesn’t depend on a dry supply of wood, they can be started with the flick of a switch, and are still real flames that give off heat. Oh, and there’s no ash to clean out of the hearth.
A newer product on the market is the electric fireplace which is an affordable, eco-friendly, put-anywhere option. These use LED lighting and built-in heaters to mimic the look and feel of an authentic fire. They also do not require an exhaust outlet or chimney like woodburning or gas fireplaces do.
Adding a blower to your fireplace helps circulate heat and makes a difference when you’re interested in warmth and not only aesthetics.
The fire ribbon, a “minimalist” gas-powered flame, also has become popular in the last few years. Their shorter vertical size allows fire ribbons to be placed in smaller spaces or open areas.
For modern indoor fireplaces, there are almost infinite options for materials ranging from traditional brick and natural stone to ultra-modern with tile, quartz, or granite. Building a new home allows you to pick and choose upfront, but the fireplace and its surroundings in an existing home usually can be renovated to suit your needs.
With the contemporary focus on television viewing, one of the trickiest decisions is where the fireplace and TV should be placed in relation to each other. With the fireplace usually being the architectural center of a given room, finding a convenient and viewable spot for a 50-inch or larger screen can be a real challenge. One solution is a remodel that incorporates a large screen and smaller fire source, such as a fire ribbon, on the same wall.
While fireplaces in the living room are the most common (and usually only) location in modern homes, bedroom fireplaces have become a highly desirable upgrade. Installing a traditional woodburning fireplace in a bedroom is often possible, though a more cost-effective and safer option could be an electric fireplace.
Installing a fireplace outside can add a welcoming vibe to an entertainment area, patio, poolside, or a tucked-away relaxation spot. The mechanics of outdoor fireplaces allow for much simpler, and even larger, designs. Good planning can even create a fireplace not just for ambiance and heat, but also as an outdoor kitchen complete with baking oven. Outdoor fireplace design usually limits materials to brick and natural stone as they can withstand the elements and temperatures more effectively.
As mentioned above, ribbon fireplaces also are increasing in popularity, and their flexibility allows them to be implemented outdoors in a variety of ways, such as along a stone ledge or inside a stone table surrounded by seating.
Removing or converting a pre-existing fireplace
There are times and circumstances when the needs of families and their living spaces evolve beyond the desire or requirement for a fireplace where one already exists. If your fireplace doesn’t work or you don’t use it regularly, that’s a lot of valuable space that could be used to better purpose. Sometimes a family member may develop asthma or other respiratory issues that make having a fireplace an ongoing health concern. Regardless, there are many opportunities when removing or converting a pre-existing fireplace. The space itself can be repurposed with little change, or it (and the venting system) can be totally removed to make more storage space or even add windows.
Fireplaces are a great amenity for almost any home and typically increase the resale value of your investment. Whether you’re building a new home or renovating an old one, you can’t go wrong with a hearth for your home!
Photo: courtesy Tracy Tesmer Design/Remodeling