Gather round. The humble fireplace is changing. New designs and new manufacturing techniques and technologies mean there is more choice than ever before. Sarah Hanson rounds up some of the current trends and picks out some better hearths
A fireplace is often the thing you notice first when you enter a room. Little wonder that the word “focus” is from the Latin for “hearth”. Even today, when most of us have central heating to keep us warm, the need for a fireplace lives on.
“People are not looking for heat [from a fireplace], they are looking for the visual effect,” says architect Henry Harrison, founder of the Platonic Fireplace Company. “The fireplace remains the legitimate focal point of the living area, and there is nothing else that modern life has produced that supersedes it. Even modern day architects such as Norman Foster will go to the trouble of putting in a fireplace, and I don’t think that will ever go away.”
New technologies and designs mean more people can satisfy the atavistic urge for a flame-burning fire. You don’t need a chimney—or even a flue necessarily. Good news for those in modern blocks. And anyone thinking about installing a fireplace, be it contemporary or period, has a wide choice.
If you’re restoring an older property, reproduction fireplaces might be a viable option. Paul Chesney, founder of Chesney’s, a specialist in antique and reproduction fireplaces, says he has seen a huge increase in the number of commissioned replicas, partly because of developments in manufacturing processes. Copies of antiques are better than they used to be—not just in the way they’re crafted, but also in the way they ‘re patinated and aged. He adds, “The other benefit is that you can commission something not only in the right style, but also the right size.”
For others, contemporary designs might be the more obvious choice. These can combine style with high-tech luxury. Harrison started designing modern fireplaces in the 1980s, when he was commissioned to build a fireplace, but couldn’t find a modern basket anywhere. His designs include bronze crucibles, giant shells and geometric baskets. His “hole in the wall” concept primarily uses gas burners that can be operated by remote control. “Today, most people want the convenience of gas,” says Harrison. “We all have busy lives and don’t want to have to lay a fire at the end of a hard day’s work. Gas still gives you the flame effect of a real fire.”
The design emphasis is shifting to the materials through which the flames will burn. Fake coals and logs have seen their day. In their place you can now find everything from geometric shapes to fire pebbles, Stonehenge-inspired standing stones and “beachcombings”.
“Well-designed objects make the fire look good even when it is not lit,” says Harrison. His gas models require a functioning flue, but if you don’t already have one, you can install a fan-assisted system that can come out of a wall or roof. “I am finding that more and more people are prepared to pay to achieve the effect they desire, not least because it adds so much to their property in the long-term,” says Harrison.
If you have neither the space nor the budget to install a flue (prices start at £6,000 for a fan-assisted system and fire), there is always the electronic alternative. The trouble is it just doesn’t look as good or as inviting as a gas fire—yet. Harrison is currently working on producing a more visually acceptable electric fire, partly by using LED (Light Emitting Diodes). But if you won’t settle for anything less than a naked flame, CVO fireplaces might have the answer. They’ve developed fires that burn gas and yet produce emissions far below the legal limits for carbon monoxide, dispensing with the need for a flue or catalytic converter. “[It] is 100 per cent efficient because you’re not losing heat up the chimney,” says CVO co-founder Christian Van Outersterp.
So what are the latest trends? Van Outersterp says there’s a definite move towards decoration and prettiness. “For years, there was stark minimalism and harsh, masculine designs. We’re now seeing more pretty, feminine styles and more glamour. We are using a lot of feminine materials—intricate scrollwork, pearls and diamantes—as well as softer, rounded shapes like the fire bowl. People want to feel comfortable in their homes.”
Ferrous Auger, of architectural salvage specialist Lassco, offers advice on installing a fireplace