FIREPLACES TAKE ON A WHOLE NEW FORM
Written by Leslie Gregory Haukoos
With cool autumn weather come thoughts of curling up in front of a cozy fireplace. But in the 21st century that means something different than it has in the past. Modern home fireplaces are nothing like the traditional ones of yore, burning wood and spitting sparks. Today cozy means sleek, contemporary and environmentally friendly.
We’re seeing flames rising out of crystals and licking stainless steel sculptures—flames that engulf ceramic fireballs or other geometric shapes like pyramids, cubes and free-form objects. Today there are gas fireplaces operated by remote control, so you can adjust the heat intensity without getting off the sofa, and others that are actually heating units, with the fire behind a fixed glass front blowing heat into the room through a vent.
Fireplace styles, materials and technology have changed dramatically in the last couple of years. But the fireplace of the future which, incidentally, has already arrived, still fits with any style of interior, from traditional to ultra-contemporary. Probably the most prominent change is the move away from wood-burning fireplaces.
As for design, it’s all about linear-style, says Armen Aslanian, manager of Woodland Hills Fireside BBQ & Appliances. The long, horizontal fireplace is a European design. Rather than the basic square opening, these are long, slender rectangles with fixed glass fronts.
The linear design is also popular because people want to mount their flat-screen TVs over the fireplace, which is having a major effect on the design revolution, says Bob Vartanian, owner of Thousand Oaks Fireside and Design, which has stores in Encino, Pasadena and Glendale-Burbank.
Part of the reason behind these dramatic changes is the modern aesthetic—the look is changing. Another factor is concern for the environment and EPA restrictions on burning wood. Some parts of the country have already banned wood-burning fireplaces and, according to Vartanian, it’s just a matter of time until the rest of the states follow suit.
“Already in Nevada you can’t burn wood,” he says. “It will happen here soon.”
But not to worry. Contemporary fireplace design is so exciting and artful, chances are we won’t even miss our dusty fireplaces of old. It won’t be hard to adjust to a hearth that is free of ash or one that doesn’t require cleaning after a few evenings enjoying a toasty fire.
Instead of wood, newer fireplaces have several different interior materials. Fire crystals come in more than 40 colors—aqua, purple, scarlet—and they create a lovely, reflective light. Other options include stainless steel and ceramic shapes. Ceramic river rocks are another popular choice.
Gas logs, which now come in realistic and varied designs, are still available for those who want the look of a traditional fireplace.
For the fireplace itself, there are several different ways to go, says Vartanian. An electric fireplace gives the illusion of flame and really pumps out the heat—it’s actually a heating unit. If there’s no gas line available, an electric insert which fits inside the existing fireplace may be the way to go.
There’s also the gas insert, a self-contained unit that fits inside the fireplace. Vartanian says this option is more efficient for heating, as all the warmth goes into the room rather than escaping up a chimney.
The more adventurous can turn their fireplace into a virtual light show, Aslanian says. There are media kit units so a homeowner can orchestrate changing lights inside the fire box.
“It’s nothing at all like the fireplaces from just a year or two ago,” he says. “These are totally different than what a traditional fireplace looks like.”
To keep up with the times, many homeowners are remodeling their fireplaces. A face-lift can cost from $2,000 to $3,000, says Aslanian. Replacing the whole fireplace, inside and out, may be closer to $10,000. Vartanian recalls one client who spent more than $50,000 for a seamless open fireplace.
And those options are just for the fireplace itself. Choosing a hearth, mantel and fireplace facade can be just as exciting with the wide array of new materials and choices available. Precast concrete, granite, stone and tile come in all sorts of colors and textures. And if that isn’t enough to send a buyer reeling, choosing fireplace doors will do it, with choices ranging from old world style to ultra-contemporary lines.
Though the ultimate goal is the same as it has been forever—to create a warm, inviting room—there’s a whole new world in fireplace design just in time for winter’s chill. Because after all, Baby, it’s cold outside.