There are two main aspects to fireplace design. These include decorative design considerations
and functional design considerations. This applies to gas, wood burning and other types of built
in fireplaces. The decorative considerations relate to a fireplace's appearance and this includes
the appearance of the visible portion of the functional elements of the fireplace. Functional
considerations relate to the elements of a fireplace’s manufacture or construction that produce,
contain and convey: the fire; its products of combustion; heat; and, the associated requirements and clearances to combustibles. The functional aspects of the fireplace can place design restrictions on the decorative aspects of the fireplace, and vice versa. This potential design conflict necessitates a mental determination on the part of the homeowner as to which aspect of fireplace design is most important to them – form or function ?
This does not have to be an all or nothing decision, use your determination on what is most important to make compromises to either or both the decorative and functional aspects of the fireplace. Fortunately, there is a lot of choice in fireplace products and materials that facilitate resolutions to many of these design issues. However, if there is a monetary budget for a proposed fireplace project, and there usually is, it is more likely that the cost of one of these aspects of fireplace design restricts the design considerations of the other. So, it is important to make a mental allocation of the importance (to you) of these two aspects of fireplace design, to guide your purchase decisions.
Decisions concerning fireplace design aesthetics should generally be guided by the room decor
and personal preferences, but there are other practical matters that should also be considered.
It is desirable for the fireplace to appear to belong in the home and more particularly in the
room in which it is installed. Its overall size should not dominate the room or present an
obstacle to room flow under normal circumstances. The fireplace’s elements (e.g. hearth,
surround, fireplace opening, mantel) should be in a proportional relationship with each other.
Fireplace styling should reflect some obvious connection with the room styling (e.g. materials,
moldings, color) and to a lesser degree with the room furnishings, since these are changed
from time to time. This approach also helps with home re-sale as the fireplace aesthetics will
not depend on your furnishings to anchor it in the room.
To a certain extent, the fireplace aesthetics are in the eyes of the beholder. What is appealing to one person, is not necessarily appealing to another. One needs to define ones own aesthetic preferences to advance this aspect of the proposed fireplace's design. This can be done by visiting local dealer showrooms, looking through books, magazines or searching the Internet. That is the primary purpose of this web site - click "About" on the menu bar above for more details. Usually, deciding on a particular fireplace design involves a process. This process typically includes: a review of various fireplace designs and products; discussion about those choices; sometimes further research; often design revisions; and, a decision on the "right" design for your home
The functional considerations of a fireplace design concern the working parts of a fireplace that affect the overall aesthetics. The following few examples are meant to illustrate how the construction and operation of different fireplaces can affect the decorative aspects of a fireplace design.
For instance, a fireplace with a high BTU output and a large louver positioned above the fireplaceopening for discharging heated air into the room, can direct so much heat up the face of thefireplace that combustible facing materials and/or a mantel shelf may have to be placed far abovethe louver (for fire safety reasons, as detailed in the manufacturer’s installation instructions). Thiswould adversely affect the appearance of many fireplace designs, such as ones with a wood mantel.On the other hand, if the decorative aspects of the fireplace were more important than thefunctional aspects, one could select a different type of fireplace that would be more suitable (e.g. adirect vent heat circulating gas fireplace with a low to medium BTU input). Most of these fireplaceswood accommodate the use of a standard wood mantel with common proportions, or numerousother designs that are not restricted to the use of non-combustible materials.
In another example, most gas fireplaces do not require a hearth, whereas all wood burningfireplaces do require a hearth that projects substantially in front of the fireplace (typically 20”) and this can obviously affect fireplace design.
In a further example, some prefabricated fireplaces have a “clean-face” design that eliminates the
louvers that are prevalent with many prefabricated fireplaces, providing a more aesthetically pleasing
appearance. Fireplace surround materials can be installed right up to the edge of the opening similar to
a conventional masonry fireplace which results in a "cleaner" appearance, hence the name clean-face.
However, many clean-face fireplaces are less effective heaters than their louvered counterparts.
So, as indicated by these few examples, a fireplace’s construction and function can affect various
decorative aspects of fireplace design. It is important to understand that many of these functional
details vary from one type (or model) of fireplace to another. Unfortunately, many of these functional
details cannot be fully appreciated through reading books or from internet searches. Consequently,
in your research into the functional aspects of fireplaces and whether your fireplace should be: gas,
wood burning or another type; prefabricated or masonry; clean-face or heat circulating; and so on
. . . it is advisable to do that portion of your searching at a local dealer showroom.
Fireplaces have long been an important household feature, and they remain so today. A fireplace is usually the focal point of a room and a social hub for family and friends to gather. In addition, fireplaces are high on the list of features homebuyers desire – so homes with fireplaces are generally more valuable and marketable. Of course, a fireplace is also a source of heat and provides comfort to their surroundings. Furthermore, fireplaces have status. For example, it is common to see important dignitaries photographed in front of a fireplace, a frequent occurrence at the White House. You certainly don’t see photo ops taken in front of sleek new kitchen appliances or a big screen TV ... it’s in front of the fireplace. Similarly, a fireplace makes a fitting backdrop for important
family photos – birthdays, graduations, and the like. Most of us have fireplace
imagery in our minds from growing up with a fireplace in the family home and/or
from movies or literature. Thoughts of having the "home of our dreams" include a
fireplace. In many respects, a house does not seem complete without a fireplace.
Indeed, fireplaces are important. Conequently, fireplace designs have importance.
The following pages highlight selected fireplace designs to provide ideas for your
fireplace project along with other designs that can be downloaded immediately.