Whether it’s an authentic period fireplace or an ultra-modern log burner, there’s something magical about the glow of a fire. Add a few design twists and you can elevate your hearth to be more than just a heartwarming presence in your home.
A stunning fireplace is a wonderful thing. A natural focal point of a room – it can make – and sometimes break – the aesthetics of your home. Traditional surrounds and open fires are often coveted by those who yearn for period details and who are looking for a timeless appeal in their houses. After all, there’s something enchanting about the thought of sitting curled up in front of crackling wood and dancing flames. As wonderful as this idyll is, however, there’s a growing trend for modern wood-burners and statement installations, which is fast biting on the heels of the classic option.
Go Modern (020 7731 9540; www.gomodern.co.uk), for instance, a specialist in cutting-edge fires, has seen a rise in people opting for luxury, contemporary bioethanol models.
“The popularity of these fires is down to their eco-friendly features and the fact that there’s a growing number of people living in modern houses that do not have a traditional fireplace,” says director Tina Mahony. “Bioethanol fires can be used anywhere and, depending on the version chosen, they’re also portable with some models suitable for outdoor and indoor use. They are great statement pieces, with some models hanging from the ceiling, others freestanding or wall-mounted. Bioethanol is a green fuel, a bi-product of crops such as sugarcane, and generates no harmful gasses, sparks or soot. The heat output is superb and each fire has a burn time of up to eight hours. They need no electricity or gas to power them, and no flue or chimney, so they’re incredibly flexible.”
At Cambridge-based Cam Gas (01223 214747; www.camgasltd.com), which has been in business for 30 years, director Ruth Davies reveals that while a traditional open fire certainly looks good, there is a rising trend in customers returning to a new generation of gas and electric fires, due their highly improved performance and functionality compared to a few years ago.
“There’s no doubt that you can get a very high efficiency from the latest gas and electric fires,” she states. “Many are up to 89% efficient and can often be controlled remotely, so they prove to be very convenient, economical and eco-conscious. It’s a fast-moving and blossoming area of the industry and companies such as Dimplex manufacture an array of innovative and aesthetically-pleasing fires. The Dimplex Optimist range of electric fires is a case in point. It uses unique state-of-the-art technology to give a realistic flame and smoke effect. The three-dimensional appearance uses ultrasonic technology to create an ultra fine water mist that is illuminated to create the ‘flames’ and the ‘smoke’. It is really very impressive.”
Modern wood-burners, such as the stylish options made by Ludlow Stoves (01584 861628; www.ludlowstoves.co.uk), are also an aspirational addition to a modern home. They are often smaller in size than conventional fireplaces, so can often be adapted to smaller spaces where a conventional fireplace would look out of place. Ludlow Stoves are available in a range of colours to add a pop of colour to a scheme, while the double-sided models are ideal for giving a focus to large, open-plan rooms.
Michael Macfarlane, director of Grange Farm Stoves (01763 209236; www.grangefarmstoves.oc.uk), has also seen a shift in people’s tastes: “There’s certainly a move towards people opting for wood-burning stoves over an open fire. They are so much more economical to run. With an open fire, around 85% of the heat is lost up the chimney but with a sealed, freestanding stove – you have the benefit of most of the heat going into the room. They are also very safe – an important consideration for families with children – and are eminently controllable.
“The multi-fuel and wood-burning stoves from Charnwood are among our bestsellers. The British brand offers a range of models – such as the contemporary, streamlined Tor collection and the more classic Country Range. We also supply contemporary statement stoves from Morso, a Danish company, which are extremely environmentally friendly and definitely give the wow-factor.”
TRADITIONAL KEEPS ON BURNING
Despite this increased appetite for the modern, the idea of an elegant surround, complete with hearth and mantelpiece still has an eternal appeal as long as it is in the right context.
Chesney’s (020 7627 1410; www.chesneys.co.uk), one of the UK’s leading fireplace manufacturers, has seen a 25% rise in sales of decorative and period-style fireplaces over the past 12 months, and is calling it the ‘Downton effect’. The company is attributing the spike, in part, to period dramas like Downton Abbey and Mr Selfridge, which it believes has influenced the public on home interiors.
“We have found that our customers are moving away from minimalist, contemporary interiors, in favour of decorative detailing in the home,” comments director Paul Chesney. “Recently we’ve seen a rise in homeowners wanting to reinstate architectural decoration into a wide range of properties. From restoring period homes, which have had these elements removed, to those living in new build properties wishing to add character to their scheme, this shows a definite shift away from more austere decorating styles.”
London-based specialist in antique fireplaces, Renaissance London (020 7251 8844; www.renaissancelondon.com), believes that by making the most of a period fireplace, you can add instant glamour and intrigue to a room.
“Installing features, such as an original fireplace for the period of the property you live in, can add drama and glamour to the heart of any room and the space becomes instantly more alluring.,” says founder Owen Pacey. “With a good eye and savvy choices, mixing origins and periods can work brilliantly when decorating a fireplace mantle, while accessorising with a striking chandelier or a marble statue can add character and depth.”
Use the fireplace itself as the starting point of your room’s design. Many antique fireplaces have tiled panels or hearths, which can be used as inspiration for a room’s palette. By picking out a colour used within the tiles, you can effectively and subtly draw all the elements of a room together with the fireplace as the centre point.
Ruth Gooderham, director of St Neots Fireplace and Stove Centre (01480 470656; www.stneotsfireplaceandstovecentre.co.uk), agrees that many of us like to see a proper fireplace surround in a room and suggests that a good compromise is to combine this with a high-efficiency stove.
“A fireplace gives a focal point to a room. It’s an important factor. But you don’t have to stick to having an open fire – use the space instead for a wood-burner or gas fire. That way you get the best of both worlds. They are environmentally friendly and very energy conscious yet you can still have that sense of grandeur by opting for a typical surround.”
STYLE YOUR SURROUND
You can keep a room looking modern by updating the way you style your mantelpiece. If you are lucky to have a classic surround, beware it is not used to accumulate clutter or display a mismatched collection of nick-knacks. Instead edit your display wisely and carefully consider the objects you choose so they give a dramatic impact. You don’t have to bust your budget to keep things looking fresh, either. Supermarkets, such as Sainsbury’s (www.sainsburys.co,uk) are often fantastic places for picking up affordable and co-ordinated pieces (see images above).
Kate Rowland, Sainsbury’s home living buying manager, gives her opinion:
‘The fireplace is the focal point and an eye-catching element to any room, so the way it is dressed can have a dramatic impact. Use it as an opportunity to make a style statement; adorn the mantel with the things you love, adding character and bringing a personal touch. The fireplace is an easy place to make small changes to keep a room from feeling stagnant and a spot where a minimalist or maximalist style works. Decorate with a selection of different-sized candles, vases and objects or for a more dramatic effect, place a single clock or mirror above the fireplace. Symmetry can look perfect for some interiors whereas breaking the symmetry for other decorative themes can create visual interest.”
The choice of paint colours and wall-coverings can also give an added dimension. Consider wallpapering a chimney-breast with a contrasting paper to the rest of the room for added effect, for instance, or painting it in a traditional shade that is in keeping with the date of the fireplace – a subtle nod to your building’s heritage. Harlequin wall coverings (0845 123 6815; www.harlequin.uk.com), Little Greene paints and wallpapers (0845 880 5855; www.littlegreene.com) and Farrow and Ball (01223 367771; www.farrow-ball.co.uk) are all inspiring brands that have a wide range of classic and contemporary designs.
“Painting your fireplace surround makes a budget-friendly transformation. It is a quick and easy way to create a dramatic focal point to any room,” says Sarah Cole, marketing director at Farrow and Ball. “A traditional style is to apply one colour to the walls and a different colour on the fireplace. Or why not opt for the same colour on the mantel and the walls for a seamless backdrop in the room. By choosing not to paint the mantel a contrasting colour, artwork or a special decorative accessory is easily showcased, becoming the focal point of the room.”
Give a new take on the customary mantelpiece accessories by choosing pieces with a quirky element. Seek out the pine cone bookends at home-ware emporium Adventino (0845 120 3224; www.adventino.com.uk), the bold Freebird clocks at Des Res Design (01386 257654; www.desresdesign.co.uk) or the beautifully-crafted Baobab Candles which come in a range of unusual but exquisite designs (www.baobabcollection.com).
Offering a range of elegant mirrors, wall art and accessories such as stag heads and angel wings, The French Bedroom Company (01444 415 430; www.frenchbedroomcompany.co.uk) is a wonderful source to find unusual pieces to uplift your fireplace no matter what room it is in.
“The fireplace has always been a traditional focal point in a room,” says Georgia Metcalfe, owner. “In ages gone by, specifically the Arts & Crafts era, fireplaces were the largest most dominating spectacle in a room, with the surround reaching as far as the ceiling. They are wonderful in winter with either a blazing fire or filled with candles, and in summer they look beautiful adorned with dried or fresh flowers. And of course, the mantelpiece makes the perfect place for displaying the most treasured of ornaments or the most prestigious of party invites.”
A HOMELY HEARTH
Just as important as the mantle is the area around the front of the fireplace. Rugs, such as the luxurious offerings from The Rug Company (020 7243 7342; www.therugcompany.com), which are more like art for the floor, add texture and a sensuous touch.
The Rug Company’s creative director Suzanne Sharp gives her tips: “Patterned rugs can be an effective way of creating a strong impact in a little room or a corridor or study. It’s a good way of introducing personality. When attempting patterns, scale is very important,” she says. “A small room should get a rug pattern with small repeats because it makes the room look bigger. A larger room can take a bigger repeat.”
Mix and match cosy seating, occasional tables and contrasting textiles for a multi-layered, modern fireside tableau. If your room is large enough to allow, arrange sofas around the fireplace – rather than the obligatory TV – for a classic, country-house feel. Period fireplaces can also be bought up to date with modern statement lighting and by choosing, cool, contemporary furniture, such as that found at Italian-brand Natuzzi (01322 771 442; www.natuzzi.co.uk).
Irene Zia, Nutuzzi’s retail sales and marketing director, gives the final word: ‘The fireplace can be a fantastic focal point in many different locations – from living rooms and hallways to bedrooms. When dressed correctly and surrounded by stunning, carefully selected furniture, it can add a whole new ambience and dimension to the home. A classic surround combined with contemporary pieces can provide a beautiful juxtaposition of modern and traditional style.”