What's Hot About Your Fireplace?
Photo Credit: Edward Addeo
A study, in the oldest section of this early Colonial home, is furnished with inviting seating around the fireplace.
The appeal of gathering around a softly flickering flame taps into our primitive needs for warmth and security. Smoldering coals, stacks of wood and kindling, and ancient andirons are the markers of memories and our notions of cheerful, cozy gathering spots. But the fireplace is no relic of times gone by. Whether traditional log-burning versions or modern gas showstoppers, fireplaces are still hot.
If you're designing a wood-burning fireplace, consider carving out a space for the firewood. This fireplace stands out as the star of the room — its materials and colors contrast with the wood-paneled ceiling and walls behind for a contemporary, rustic aesthetic. Design by Uptic Studios; photography by Shaun Cammack
Hearth Design That Rocks
This backlit onyx fireplace showcases the rich colors of the stone. The fireplace serves as a bridge between the master bedroom and bathroom. Design by Pepe Calderin; photography by Barry Grossman
The sleek concrete fireplace creates structural interest in this youthful living room. Graphic art decals, a sleek sofa and the horizontal shape of the fireplace add to the modern vibe. Design by Ilija Karlusic
Something of a luxury since they're no longer an efficient heat source, fireplaces now warm us in other ways, says architect Robert Tuthill. "The element of fire is a universal attraction that gives people an emotional warmth. Fireplaces add life to a room and are a source of kinetic energy."
It's that kinetic energy that draws us close. And in our living rooms, where we hope to escape the hectic rush, our fireplaces encourage us to slow down, to relax, to connect with our essential selves. And so fireplaces have endured. Some are the fireplaces of traditional living rooms, with elegant carved surrounds, blackened fireboxes and rugged tools. Others are modern metal versions that bring versatility to the chimney, double-sided versions that open into two rooms at once, and beautiful linear gas versions that beckon with sleek surrounds, adjustable flames and easy upkeep.
Electric: High-Tech Meets Old School
A vintage Malm fireplace adds a dose of modern style to this living room. You can still find new versions of this electric hearth in bright colors online. Design by Jennifer Culp
Low-Maintenance Pellet Stoves
A pellet stove can be a freestanding unit or a fireplace insert, and it burns compressed wood for heat and a constant flame. Wood pellets burn cleaner than wood, and wood-pellet stoves are easy to maintain. You don't need a chimney and flue with a wood-pellet stove. All you need is access to an electrical outlet. Design and photography by Olivia San Mateo
Whether you want a wood-burning masonry fireplace or one of the many modern versions on the market today, you'll want to weigh your options. Traditionalists may crave going through the motions of splitting logs and hauling them indoors. And then there's the satisfaction of watching the flames transform them while listening to the hisses and pops as generations before us did. But for many homeowners, the appeal of simply turning a knob or flipping a switch is too good to pass up. Using natural gas or propane, gas inserts can take the hassle out of lighting a fire. Wall thermostats can adjust the size of the flame, and vented versions ensure that any nasty byproducts are routed outside. There are even vent-free gas versions that are said to burn so efficiently there's no need to expel fumes.
And for those who want to dabble on a temporary or noncommittal basis, there are portable fireplaces that use gel fuel or electricity. This can be especially attractive to someone who doesn't want to invest in the expense of building a permanent fireplace. But one can't help but think they seem insubstantial when compared to the beauty of a real fireplace, a hearth and an anchor in a room.
No matter your choice, a fireplace will attract attention and define your surroundings. "Depending on the character of the room, the fireplace is often either the primary focus of the room or the secondary focus," says architect Bob Wetmore of Cornerstone Architects. "Today we often design the fireplace in tandem with the television, and they work together as the primary focus of the room and the furniture arrangement."
Focal Point: Fireplace or TV? 03:29
What's the proper way to ventilate?
Recessed niches have become increasingly popular for flat-panel TV installations, because they frame and ventilate the unit. To create such a niche, cut into the drywall, then re-frame it with 2x4 boards to create a 6x8-inch recessed area. A TV can be mounted flush with the wall, retaining ample space for ventilation. This method works especially well above fireplaces because it shields the TV from the heat of an active fire. Another option is to install your TV on a slide-out system, which allows easy access to the back of the panel for cleaning, dusting or reconfiguring of components.
Where should seating be in reference to the TV?
For optimal viewing, it's important to place seats at the proper distance from the TV. Sitting too close or too far from the screen can cause eye strain. To prevent this, homeowners with 42-inch screens should establish seating 5 1/2 feet away. Screens measuring 50 inches will require a distance of 6 feet. Extra-large TVs, such as 60-inch models, necessitate an average of 7 1/2 feet between seating and the TV screen.
How high should the TV be displayed?
One of the most popular questions clients pose to interior designers is how high to mount their flat-panel TVs. In general, the answer is 60-68 inches above the ground; however, this number will vary depending on the height of the homeowner. If you have to lift or strain your neck at all, it's too high.
Can the TV's height affect a room's aesthetic?
Beyond functional concerns, the height of a flat-panel TV can affect the overall aesthetics of your room. If the TV is placed too low, the mantel will appear cluttered and the fireplace will seem off-balance. To avoid this problem, allow 7 inches of clearance between the top of the mantel and the bottom of the flat-panel TV. This will allow enough room beneath the TV for ventilation, and the negative space will provide a clean, uncluttered canvas for decorative objects.
Can TV wires be hidden?
Due to unsightly wires and electrical outlets, many homeowners are apprehensive about placing flat-panel TVs above their mantels. While most new-construction homes are wired for flat-panel TVs, older residences often require electrical work to deal with this aesthetic concern. For a seamless look, consider having an electrician integrate switches, and infrared or remote systems near the TV.
What about auxiliary outlets?
Before mounting a flat-panel TV above a mantel, consider the access to auxiliary outlets. While the auxiliary outlets of many TVs are placed along the front of the unit, others are recessed along the sides or back. If these outlets are located along the sides or the back of the unit, and a recessed look is desired, it is important to ensure easy access to auxiliary outlets during installation.
Will heat damage the TV?
A safe temperature range of 32 to 100 degrees is standard for most flat-panel TVs. In fact, most instruction manuals will publish this range based on manufacturer guidelines. Homeowners concerned that heat from their fire will affect their pricey flat-panel can assess the degree of heat prior to purchase by taping a thermometer where the flat-panel will hang. If this space does not exceed 100 degrees, the flat-panel should be safe once installed.
So remember, choose wisely. Real luxury comes from real materials, and there’s a lot to be said for the beautiful gas alternatives. Regardless, safety trumps aesthetics. Always adhere to local building codes and the manufacturer's specifications. At a bare minimum, ensure that everything is in good working order before you light that first log, flip the first switch or ignite that gel. Then get cozy. It's a timeless tradition.