Hearth and Home: Options for Generating Warmth


In New England, one of the positive associations with home is related to a warm hearth and the gatherings that happen around it. Inside during blustery winter months or outside during the summertime, there’s nothing quite like a fire to draw people together, and for this reason, nearly all of our architectural plans call for at least one fireplace. You’ll often find them warming family rooms and living spaces, at the end of our interior spines drawing visitors through a home, or as features that delight in three-season porches or exterior programming.  

When it comes to the hearth, however, there are many options to choose from, and nearly all can be made to appear as though they were always there. Read on to discover choices old and new to generate warmth in your home. 

The Classic Masonry Fireplace

A hallmark of historic design, true masonry fireplaces are comprised of brick, stone, or a combination of the two, and are typically constructed on-site. The romance of crackling logs and the aroma of burning wood are part of their appeal, and they sometimes include spaces for storing firewood. Properly maintained to avoid deterioration and crumbling, a masonry fireplace can last for decades or more, and can withstand significant heat from a roaring fire. While not inexpensive to construct, the custom masonry chimney can permit multiple flues within the same stack, venting two or more fireplaces with only one chimney rising above the roofline. 

Over time, some masonry fireplaces have been converted to gas for ease of use, energy savings, and air quality improvement. Coupled with logs made from cement and steel, the warmth of a gas fireplace can evoke a similar sentiment to the wood burning fireplace, offering improved energy efficiency without major changes to a home’s architecture or heating systems. 

Clever Options

What happens, however, when a client’s budget doesn’t permit construction of a full masonry fireplace? We often suggest vented gas fireplace units framed and trimmed on the interior to look just like their full masonry brethren. These have long been popular, and we like to specify Town & Country gas units due to their luxurious realistic look and the raves they receive from clients. Wood burning fireboxes are also available and allow for a true wood-burning fire without the cost of constructing an entire masonry chimney. 

When using vented units inside a home, we work to frame out a chimney on the exterior of the house that we finish with thin brick. In this way, cost savings are realized and the timeless character of a home is maintained. Prefabricated wood burning fireboxes are vented with steel flues which travel up and out of the home via the framed chimney box, and gas units are usually vented via small metal boxes on the exterior of the home. When possible, we locate the gas-burning vents on the thin brick and have them camouflaged by decorative painters to blend completely into the brickwork itself.  

Environmentally Conscious Choices

In areas where wood-burning fireplaces are facing increased restrictions and in cities like New York and Beaver Creek where gas fireplaces may be prohibited, electric fireboxes are becoming a popular and budget-friendly choice. While these units offer an illusion of flame, fire is not actually produced and venting is unnecessaryAs a result, significant cost savings can be captured while still offering all the coziness, warmth, and romanticism of a traditional fireplace. Now offered with improved aesthetics including faux herringbone brick interiors, suddenly an electric firebox can be framed and trimmed with a traditional mantel and hearth to feel right at home in a timeless residence.   

If these details have you imagining roaring fires throughout your home, contact us to learn how we might approach the project. In the interim, we invite you to find meaningful inspiration in our portfolio.