Home Is Where the Hearth Is

Home Is Where the Hearth Is

When our prehistoric ancestors discovered fire, you can bet that the first thing out of their mouths was “that’s cool, how can we control it”?!? And so, the fireplace (albeit primitive) was born. When you stop and think about it, bringing a force as dangerous as fire into one’s home seems like a pretty nutty idea, but today, one of the most seductive features in any home remains the fireplace. The sheer beauty of the flames, the comfort they provide, and the liveliness they bring to a room all speak to us in ways that are both primal and romantic.

Nothing is lovelier than a truly attractive fireplace, but unfortunately not all of them were created equal. Because of this sad fact, we have frequently found ourselves redesigning misfits so that they better suit the architecture, scale and spirit of the house. Here is a handful of fireplaces we have enhanced, or in most cases, completely re-imagined.

master bedroom fireplace

Photo: Steven Nilsson

In this master bedroom, we replaced a downright ugly “country French” fireplace with one that feels both simple and elegant. First, we found an 18th century French panel and used it as the over-mantle while seamlessly creating the rest of the surround and mantle in new wood. With simple limestone installed around the fireplace opening, the feeling is clean and spare, but with a link to history. Invitations, cards and personal mementos are combined with fresh flowers from the garden. Finally, we selected an early 19th century English portrait that fits perfectly in the charming central panel.

Photo: Art Gray

Photo: Art Gray

Sometimes we luck out and find a fireplace that is original to the space and only needs the proper accessories to make it shine. This 19th century, white marble mantel may not be showy, but it is quite appealing and allows other pieces in the room to shine. Here we designed a sleek, modern glass fire screen on a polished nickel stand. To draw more light into the room and accentuate the high ceiling, we created a towering over-mantle mirror. Framed in silver-gilt iron, the mirror is outfitted with a lightly antiqued glass on which we etched a swirling pattern of bubbles. Combining 19th century proportions with a minimal, modern style, the look respects history while being firmly in the 21st century.

1920’s Italian-revival villa fireplace

Photo: Art Gray

In this 1920’s Italian-revival villa in California, we were sadly faced with a room whose original fireplace had been torn out. Improperly advised, previous owners had replaced it with an anemic Louis XV repro in pink marble. Repeat, pink marble! Since it was suited neither to the architectural style of the house nor to the scale of the room, we gleefully replaced it with one of greater strength and presence. In designing this impressive fireplace, we specified heavy limestone blocks with hand chiseled details. At its center is a monumental 18th century tole urn with its original faux porphyry finish>–just the right feeling for a fireplace in a villa.

art deco building fireplace

Photo: Erhard Pfieffer

In this art deco building on Central Park, we found an apartment with a beautiful antique fireplace in the Adams style. As lovely as the mantle was, it regrettably did not fit the space either in size or style. After carefully removing and selling it to a fireplace dealer, we replaced it with this stone version of our own design. With its clean, Art Deco lines, it perfectly suits the architectural style of this 1920’s building.

The key to the success of any room is to evaluate the interior architecture before making any adjustments. A fireplace that is well proportioned, well placed and beautiful will forever enhance the room it graces, just as it will enhance the lives of those who surround it.

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