Fireplace design ideas

Modern firelplace via Handcrafted Homes

A cozy fireplace with flickering flames is a welcome sight on a chilly day. For centuries, the hearth has been a symbol of welcoming and a centerpiece of the home. The inviting warmth draws family and friends together. Your mantel, too, is a place to showcase prized possessions. Read on for the hottest ideas in fireplace design and tips on everything from building materials to accessories. No detail is too small on the quest to create the best hearth for your home.

Questions to consider

Whether starting from scratch or updating an existing fireplace, keep both function and aesthetics in mind. First, identify usage in the space. Will the fireplace be the focal point of a great room with a large mantel and surround or sleek and unobtrusive flush against a wall? Fireplaces in bedrooms and baths create a serene retreat.  

Gas, wood or electric?

Judy Mozen, president of Handcrafted Homes, Inc.,, describes the differences between gas and wood. “A wood-burning fireplace is great! There is nothing like the crackling of the fire and the well-seasoned oak smell. However, be sure you are committed to acquiring and storing the wood, along with cleaning the fireplace and the flue. It would be considered an important purchase that sets the atmosphere in a large great room, but not nearly as wise in a bedroom or bath. In those locations, I would recommend a gas fireplace with its ease of maintenance and instant flame. When it is time to retire at night, the fire is off in a second.”

Rick Goldstein, architect and co-owner of MOSAIC Group [Architects & Remodelers],, confirms this distinction. “There are two camps in the fireplace area. Those that are traditionalists need to burn wood and demand a roaring fire that produces heat. The other camp hates the mess and wants a convenient fireplace that can be turned on with a push of a button.”



Two-Way Fireplaces

A two-way fireplace is an elegant room divider, offering 360 degrees of ambience. A two-way adds dimensionality and openness, allowing different living spaces to be staged around the same hearth. Rooms with different functions, such as a living and dining room or bedroom and bath, will benefit from a shared fireplace. Dale Contant, of Atlanta Design & Build, says many two-way fireplaces come pre-made. Contant suggests placing them in a large open room like a basement or a family room, especially if you have built an addition.

Vented or vent-free?

Experts are divided on the risks and benefits of vent-free fireplaces. According to Mozen, “After my education to become a Green Certified professional with NARI (the National Association of the Remodeling Industry), I have come to the conclusion that there is never a time for a homeowner to use a vent-free fireplace. Essentially, they are breathing whatever is not vented to the outside.”

Dale Contant, founder of Atlanta Design & Build,, agrees. “Be cautious about a vent-free fireplace. Customers have complained that they smell gas when using a vent-free fireplace.”

Mary Battle, of Battle Renovations,, recommends choosing vent-free for electric fireplaces because they eliminate the cost and inconvenience of removing exhaust from the home’s interior. Andrew Stilwell, of The Fireplace Company,, says “non-vented fireplaces offer customers new design options when renovating, like small, loft-style fireplaces or add-ons with pre-made mantles and hearths.”


Mantels and motifs

The decor surrounding a fireplace is just as important as the fire inside. According to Contant, wood is the most popular mantel material, outfitted with crowns, corbels and columns for a traditional look. Reclaimed wood beams make striking mantels. Stone is a fun throwback material, says Contant, and man-made stones are looking more realistic than ever. They are also lighter and easier to work with than natural stones. For an Old World look, choose limestone or sandstone. Contant has noticed that the Atlanta market is more traditional, with hearths 10 to 12 inches off the floor. For a more modern look, he recommends chic faces, clean lines and no hearth or mantel. Stilwell uses marble, stacked stone, granite and slate for his customers’ mantels and hearths.

Wright Marshall, of Revival Construction, Inc.,, likes to outfit masonry fireplaces with timber mantels. These typically are salvaged or hand-hewn oak or pine. Molly Portis, of Portis Building & Interiors, Inc.,, says “people are going for simpler mantles even when we tie them into a surrounding bookcase. We also usually remove the big hearth and take it down to the floor to give more space.”  To make a dramatic statement, continue the motif of the mantel or hearth up to the ceiling.


Hot, hot, hot trends

Innovative building materials

Portis is seeing “many interior fireplaces with split-face stone or stone-on-mesh backing, found at many big tile companies. Since it is very thin, 
you can apply it over old brick. It takes up a lot less space and is less messy than full stone.” Portis also recommends painting the inside of a fireplace with black fire-proof paint to cover old brick.

Mozen recommends both brushed and polished stainless steel for contemporary fireplaces and notes, “we have been using cleaner looks lately, especially sheetrock expressions with only a small amount of non-combustible material near the fireplace box.”

Tabletop fireplaces

Floor-to-ceiling fireplaces with standard chimneys are not the only implementations for interiors. Tabletop fireplaces are a new and innovative choice. Experts are cautious about tabletop fireplaces for the same reasons as vent-free models. Mozen recommends an indoor/outdoor space, such as a screened porch or patio room, to control venting.

Integration with entertainment centers

Flat-screen TVs mounted on or near a fireplace are an increasingly popular option. In a family room, the TV brings added attention to fireplace details and creates a centralized focal point in the space. Cynthia Pararo, of Pineapple House Interior Design,, hid a TV behind paneled cabinetry to keep a refined, romantic feel in a master bedroom. Built-in cabinetry and shelving around a fireplace allow the full wall to be used for entertaining.

The sky is the limit when choosing materials and accessories for indoor fireplaces. No matter what statement you wish to make, a fireplace can be an expression of your style.


8 Ways To Accent Your Fireplace

Fire glass

1. Fire glass is an alternative to gas logs that creates a shimmery, colorful glow under flames.
2. Tile and stone with mesh backing makes installation a breeze when applied to a new or existing fireplace.
3. Bronze plaques with creative sayings are a great conversation starter.
4. Decorative birch logs keep fireplaces looking good even when logs are not burning.  
5. Nature-inspired accessories such as acorns, branches, pinecones and sand add visual interest year-round.
6. Stylish log racks are an elegant storage solution, keeping extra logs close at hand.
7. Beautifully crafted fireplace tools provide extra sophistication.
8. Fireplace doors and screens are works of art unto themselves. Multiple looks are possible, including rustic mountain cabin, traditional, mission-style and modern-and-minimal. Decorative handles and mesh curtains complete the look.

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