The New Fireplace

In the throes of winter, there’s hardly a more soothing place than in front of a fireplace to relax, warm your toes, sip Merlot or just watch the flickering flames. At this time of year, fireplaces are indeed hot.

Wood-burning fires with logs are becoming passé. In their stead are traditional-looking gas fireplaces with fake logs silently burning behind glass doors set into custom wall units while Curb Your Enthusiasm airs on the flat-screen television mounted above.

Don Brunner, owner of Westbury Stove and Fireplace, said the newest trend in gas fireplaces is a long, linear firebox with ribbons of flame that dance on beds of glass colored stones—clear, blue or bronze—to complement the décor.

“A more modern look is becoming more popular with gas fireplaces these days,” Brunner said. And there’s no need for a mantel. Raised off the floor, the new fireboxes can be set anywhere on a regular wall with a simple stainless steel, copper or bronze colored picture frame, or, depending on the room, with a slate, marble or granite surround.

Part of the appeal of gas hearths, Brunner said, is that they not only look good, but are also convenient and provide an extra, more efficient source of heat. And they come with thermostats as well as remotes.

While some people “still enjoy the aesthetic, the crackle, the ambience of a wood-burning fireplace, for the majority, gas lends itself more to their lifestyle,” Brunner said.

imageWith no ashes and no need to change the logs, gas fireplaces can be turned on for ten minutes while sipping a morning coffee or for two hours in the evening.

For condo or townhouse residents, where gas fires can’t be vented or inset into traditional fireplaces, electric fireplaces provide a stylish solution.

New technologies have inspired round, floating and sculptural fireplace designs (some incorporating waterfalls) that could be called “fire art.” Wall-mounted electric fireplaces plug in any place you can hang a painting, have adjustable flames and can be set to add heat to a room.

Fireplace facelifts are becoming increasingly common. Caroline Wilkes, marketing director of the Long Island chapter of the Interior Design Society and owner of Merrick-based Caroline Wilkes Interiors, said that “myriad variations” on the traditional 1950s, 1960s and 1970s fireplaces are being worked into many room designs.

“The fireplace no longer has to be on an external wall,” Wilkes said, or on the floor. They can be mounted at eye level.

Flat-screen televisions positioned above the hearth put even greater emphasis on the fireplace as the focal point of dens and media rooms. In more formal living rooms, the television slides via remote control behind a painting when not in use, Wilkes said.
Newfangled media consoles combine electric fireplaces with vintage or contemporary-style entertainment centers, including storage space for Blu-ray players and DVRs in one piece of furniture.

Interior designers recommend multifunctional and attractive custom cabinetry around gas fireplaces to make them the focal point of a room.

At a new waterfront home in Merrick, Wilkes shifted the fireplace to a corner to free up wall space. She created a wraparound design, expanding the floor-to-ceiling stonework and high-gloss walnut mantel. The adjacent wall was then used for a large, custom-built media cabinet in a subtle driftwood finish designed to complement—but not compete with—the stone fireplace.

Steven Zadrozny, owner with his wife Kathy of Islandia-based Z Carpentry & Custom Millwork, recently replaced an existing wood-burning fireplace at a home in Centerport with a gas insert, which “slid easily into the existing opening,” Kathy Zadrozny said. The original brick surround was replaced with a thin-stacked stone. With custom maple bookcases on either side and the television above, the new fireplace became the room’s focal point and added a “wow factor.”