You might love your fancy modern fireplace, but in this area, that’s just one of a few options when it comes to heating your hearth.
While the modern fireplace brings with it a number of finishing options, tradition hasn’t gone completely up in smoke. Mike Ball, president of Element Construction, says at least half his clients still prefer wood burning fireboxes with ornate mantels.
“Most of our clients aren’t doing as much of the simple tile work,” he says. “More of them are using vintage elements. We’re putting in old surrounds our clients are finding at antique stores, and we have some where we’re exposing old stone, cleaning it up and re-mortaring.”
Other local designers say that even where things are trending modern, old school elements remain. Allison Ewing of Hays + Ewing Design Studio, which focuses on contemporary green projects, says some of the bioethanol fireplaces her firm installs can be treated like artwork, meaning they can be paneled in combustible materials like wood or even just set directly into a slab of drywall. But that doesn’t stop her clients from preferring to surround them with materials that scream “fireplace.”
“Expectations do play a role,” she says. “So some of the traditional materials still come into play in terms of the quote-unquote ‘rightness’ of the solutions. We tend to use stone, metal plate, tile. People still prefer noncombustible materials whether it is required by code or not.”
Kim Kepchar at Wooden Sun says his customers are split down the middle when it comes to buying gas versus wood fireplaces. But Wooden Sun’s gas customers (those who just want to “be able to flip a switch”) are showing more interest in the modern look than ever before.
“For gas fireplaces, we still have the traditional log look, but a lot more people are going glass or stone,” he says. “It’s not a traditional representation of fire.”
The stone-based fireplaces look about how you’d expect, Kepchar says, but the glass settings might be one of two styles: rounded oval pieces or jagged shards of glass.
The actual firebox customers are selecting has a significant effect on the look of the fireplace in the room, designers say, and customers today have more choices than ever, from traditional hearth and mantel setups, to unadorned brick/tile façades that run straight to the ceiling, to the minimalism allowed by bioethanol fireplaces.
Kepchar said he thinks Charlottesville is gradually embracing progressive fireplace trends. Guess you might say it’s more of a slow burn.
Modern fireplaces don’t have to leave mantels out in the cold. Following is a rundown of options for the shelf above your blaze.
Traditional wood mantels
The classic design, with a wooden frame safely placed outside a noncombustible fire-
place veneer, leading to a shoulder-height shelf.
For fireplaces set into stone or brick that extends to the ceiling, designers have the option of going mantel-free or adding a simple bit of wooden shelving.
Element Construction President Mike Ball says in minimal fireplace designs like you’ll find in bedrooms, customers often want a piece of bolection molding (basically a wide piece of trim that juts out from the wall), with or without a mantel at top.
Mantels with an over-mantel piece
The classic design with the added grandeur of more wooden framework built over the mantel piece.
Cast stone mantels
Stone mantels offer a smoother transition from the facing of the firebox to the framework and shelving. Engineered stone cast in a mold is a low-maintenance option.
Natural stone mantels
Granite, marble and C’ville favorite soapstone can also be used for hearths and mantels. “It’s easy to get soapstone here, and you can find remnants,” Ball says. “You aren’t going to get a whole kitchen out of remnants, but you can do a fireplace.”