Light My Fire

When the wind is howling and temperatures are dropping, few things are as comforting as a roaring fire. And for good reason: Orangey-yellow flames engulfing a crackling log fill the house with coziness. But even when the fireplace isn’t roaring, it’s usually one of the biggest design elements in a room. For those ready to bring the heat, it is possible to freshen up an existing hearth’s look, or design and install a new one before the holiday entertaining season arrives.

Lisa Loesch and Terri Harkins of Rockville Centre’s HarLoe Interiors gave an old red brick fireplace an updated look by covering the surround with a mosaic of one-inch square, neutral-colored onyx tiles that instantly rendered it more contemporary. They also created a new marble hearth by mortaring a thick slab of stone over red brick. The existing mantel and panel molding above the firebox were painted dove white for a crisp look that still keeps the design traditional. Filling the space above the mantel they opted for a brass sunburst mirror. “I like to use a free-form or round mirror above a fireplace,” said Loesch. “It breaks up the straight lines of the mantel and fireplace surround.”

Some projects focus more on adding, which is what East Hampton designer Jan Lee did at a home in Roslyn Harbor. He was faced with a white wall of painted brick and a black metal firebox. “There was no mantel and the fireplace was small and awkward, like an afterthought,” said Lee. He replaced the brick with rough fieldstone and a sleek wrap-around limestone mantel that appears to float. “The homeowners wanted a living room that wasn’t fussy or formal,” he said. Even though the wood-burning fireplace was converted to gas, a storage area for logs was built into the wall to keep a natural vibe and a niche was built to house stereo equipment next to a TV.

A fireplace usually dominates its wall, but when designed to be oversized it can become the star of the room. Interior designer Elizabeth Holmes had to contend with strict co-op regulations when asked to update a plain black metal design. “I like a fireplace to be the focal point of a room,” she said. “It should be a great place for friends and family to gather.” She wasn’t allowed to replace the mantel, but instead she matched the room’s current look with a surround of stone stacked up to the ceiling, painted it white and put a contemporary painting by a local artist above the existing mantel. With just a few simple changes, the Baldwin Harbor-based Holmes created a very different look that draws the eye up, making the room feel taller.

All fireplaces have fire, but increasingly they’re also paired with a TV. Designer Christina Byers of Port Washington was challenged by a rather ornate, faux-stone molded mantel and surround that was sorely in need of an update, as well as settling a common he said/she said dilemma. “The husband wanted a large, flat TV above the fireplace. The wife, however, did not.” Byers had the old surround removed and replaced it with stacked stone and had a mantel created from reclaimed lumber. Paneling above the mantel frames the TV and gives the room a warm, traditional look.

On a cold winter’s night, what could be more inviting than warming in front of a crackling fire? No fireplace? There are now many options for adding one, some of which are pretty easy.

The Burning Question: Wood or Gas?
While a wood-burning fireplace might seem the coziest and most romantic choice, it’s often easier to install a gas-burning unit during a remodel. Kevin Tagariello, owner of Village Fireplace in Huntington Station, wants the homeowner fully onboard with the decision of what type to install. “The first question I ask the homeowner,” he said, “is ‘what do you really want?’” There are several things to consider—size, aesthetics, heat output, maintenance and ease of use. Though burning wood offers the cracking sound and smell that gas can’t match, not everyone wants to haul logs on a snowy night or spend time sweeping up ashes and soot. For those who like to be hands-free, going gas-powered is a better choice.

There are other advantages too. A gas-burning unit takes up less room because it has a shallower firebox. And venting is less complicated than a wood-burning fireplace because it doesn’t need a chimney fully vented above the house. “A plumber will come in first, run a gas line and hook up the appliance,” Tagariello said. “Then we come in and install the gas log unit, add a decorative ember bed and program the remote.”

Gas fireplaces now produce more realistic flames than in the past, thanks to the many different accessories on the market. Also, not only do the logs come in different sizes, but they can look burnt, charred, split or whole and they can be arranged to direct the flames for a more authentic appeal.

A gas fireplace is not the only alternative to a wood-burning unit. The new electric and gel-fuel styles make it possible to have a fireplace in just about any room of the house. Electric units offer the most selection, like Enterprise’s entertainment center fireplace, Napoleon’s sleek linear wall-mounted unit and Boston Loft Furnishing’s old school fireplace with a wood mantel and metal grate.

“There are choices in the fire bed media, like glass and stone for an ultra-modern look,” Tagariello said. Fireplace glass comes in all sizes and colors, and ceramic river rocks can also be used for a “fire pit” look. The only downside is the less-than-realistic appearance of the flames, but for sheer variety of styles, ranging from traditional to very chic, and the ability to move it to any room of the house, electric can be a good choice.

Gel fuel is another option that offers a wide selection of styles, and most are vent-free, allowing placement anywhere in the home. A fireplace in the bathroom or kitchen? Not a problem. Chateau’s Ventless 41-inch fi replace has a traditional mantel and surround and gives off 9000 BTUs per hour, enough to heat a 300-square-foot space. The gel fuel log unit even pops and crackles like a wood-burning fireplace; three cans of gel fuel can burn up to three hours. Boston Loft Furnishings’ wall-mounted gel fuel fi replace has glass on two sides and is easily mobile.

annette rose-shapiro

annette rose-shapiro

Annette Rose-Shapiro writes about decor, interior design, art and architecture. She is currently working on a short documentary about the creative process.