The Basics: Kitchen and Bath Fireplaces
New options in gas and electric fireplaces are offering homeowners the freedom to install these cherished fixtures in every room of the house even kitchens and baths.
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The Designer's Eye
"Fireplaces in the kitchen or bath are a great selling point. They really set your home apart from the others," says designer Cheryl McCracken, of Cheryl McCracken Interiors in Foxboro, Mass. "The kitchen is where everyone hangs out already, so why not make it as cozy and comfy as possible by adding a fireplace?"
Cheryl recommends treating fireplaces like any other design element being introduced into the home. "You want the fireplace to complement the cabinetry, furniture and fabrics in the room," she says. Fortunately, today's gas fireplaces come in a wide range of materials, including fieldstone, brick, marble and granite. "The new gas fireplaces on the market look great; they look like real wood-burning fireplaces."
While there's nothing like the crackle and hiss of a real wood fire, Cheryl's clients most often opt for the convenience of gas. "People today are looking for quick and easy, and gas is quick and easy," she says. Gas fireplaces require no wood, need minimal maintenance and turn on and off with the flick of a switch or — better yet — a remote control.
Cooking With Wood
Authentic hearth cooking requires a ton of work: You have to chop wood, lug it into the house, build a fire, wait for it to reach optimal temperature, and only then begin cooking. Thank goodness for the gas range! Yet, some enthusiastic home chefs are choosing to install wood-burning fireplaces in their kitchens for the specific purpose of preparing food. The heat and beauty they provide are a bonus.
The Mercedes-Benz of kitchen fireplaces is the Tulikivi soapstone bake oven, a stately wood-burning model that combines a firebox with a separate cooking oven. "Soapstone is the densest stone in the world and one of the best natural materials for conducting and retaining heat," explains Ron Pihl, the owner of WarmStone Fireplaces & Designs in Livingston, Mont.
A two-hour fire in one of these Finnish masterpieces can provide hours of steady, even heat for baking pizzas, roasting meats and simmering stews. And because they continue to release heat for 24 hours, they make an ideal secondary heat source.
When Joanne Weir, cookbook author and host of PBS's Joanne Weir's Cooking Class, renovated her San Francisco Victorian, she converted her traditional fireplace into a cooking hearth. She raised the firebox 3 feet off the floor, installed a motorized spit for roasting and added a gas starter for convenience.
"This isn't something I would do on a Tuesday night," Joanne says. "I use it mostly when I'm entertaining friends or family. But when people walk into the house and see a leg of lamb roasting on a spit over a wood fire, it just blows them away. They absolutely love it."