Home & Garden

Hip hearths: This isn't the same old flame

Since we were cave dwellers, the hearth has been the heart of the home. Through time, fireplaces naturally became the focal point in the family room, dressed up with elaborate moldings and ornamental mantels.

But designers are seeing fireplaces return to basics, where the fire itself is the star of the show. Behold the modern fireplace.

“More people are gravitating toward minimal surrounds,” says Jonathan Kelly, manager of Fireplace & Bar-B-Q Center in Overland Park, Kan. “Fireplace interiors are becoming more streamlined, too.”

Until recently, gas-insert manufacturers tried to replicate real logs. But now tumbled glass or river stone inserts are becoming more popular.

“People don’t want to look at big, massive logs,” Kelly says. “What’s soothing and relaxing are the flames.”

Design consultant Kim Ebner of Kansas City, Mo., went for a more streamlined fireplace when she remodeled her Dutch Colonial home a few years ago. She replaced the patterned green-tile and wooden mantel with three large pieces of unadorned limestone that reach to the top of the 8-foot ceiling. No mantel.

“I wanted the fireplace to look sculptural and simple,” says Ebner, an artist.

Instead of wood logs, the fireplace uses gas. The insert is made of cement spheres.

“I love the organic look of the ball shape with the linear surrounds,” she says.

Because she loved the warmth and ambience that a fireplace provides, she added a ventless gas fireplace between the kitchen and dining room. It is a see-through glass firebox simply surrounded in drywall. She had the black box painted silver for a more updated look. The look is pared down but elegant, like a classic black-and-white photograph framed in a white wooden frame instead of an ornamental gilded one.

Ventless fireplaces have a few downsides, Kelly said. It means hiring a plumber to install a gas line.

The fireplaces also can produce an odor that some customers worry about.

But because of ventless and newer fireplace options, such as biofuel burning, interior designer Sara Noble of Olathe, Kan., is seeing fireplaces in more areas of the home. One of her clients, Wendy Lucas of Overland Park, installed one in her family’s new home that is visible in the master bedroom and bathroom. It is a modern, unadorned look with a rock gas insert.

The focal point in Lucas’ living room is a concrete fireplace by Liquid Stone Designs of Lenexa, Kan., with a dramatic floating hearth – great for sitting around.

“I love its patina, its color and its smoothness,” Lucas said. “It’s modern yet organic.”

Noble said more of her clients are going for a modern look, and therefore, more sleek fireplaces. In her home, her husband, Todd Noble, tiled over the ivory porcelain square tiles of the fireplace and removed the dentil molding. The couple incorporated horizontal gray glass, slate and marble tiles in a style that’s reminiscent of the style of HGTV designer Candice Olson, who likes to mix in a bit of bling.

“Just this little bit of material made a big difference,” Noble said. “I get more compliments on the fireplace than anything else.”