A hearth has been the heart of the home since time began, from the fire pits of medieval huts to the grand, ornate fireplaces of Georgian homes. Once a necessary essential for cooking, keeping warm and surviving, a fireplace has since become something of a luxury extra.
Even when Regency architects were creating huge, ostentatious fireplaces in sumptuous Palladian palaces they were making a design statement. While ordinary people had to make do with rustic brick fireplaces and inglenook designs, these centrepieces acted as status symbols – showing off a homeowner’s wealth, intellect and wanderlust. It’s no different today really – a fireplace can set the tone for a space, whether a monolithic white block, discreet aperture or understated wood burner. They suggest how you might act and live in the space; if it’s a warm and cosy home or a cool and minimally clean home.
A fireplace can make or break a space. A home might start to feeling lacking without a fireplace at its very heart. Even if you don’t need one for the warmth, a home can easily start to feel soulless and lost without one. There’s something in our nature as humans that encourages us to gather around a central focal point. In some homes, this might be the kitchen island or the sofa, but for most homes, a fireplace can add much-needed character and purpose.
A fireplace can create definition in an open plan layout
An open-plan space can easily feel vast and overwhelming. Such a space needs to be clearly zoned so you can start to create some clear definition and pockets of interest. A fireplace can help bring that human element to a big, generous, open plan space. In our Scenario House project, a long, concrete fireplace helps connect the main floor of the home with the new lower ground floor, creating a cosy relaxing zone in what could have been a lost, in-between space, sandwiched between the living room and kitchen. In Victorian homes, the middle room between the front and back of the house can easily become a dumping ground or thoroughfare, but a fireplace can add a cosy counterpoint and reason for stopping in the space.
A fireplace can unite spaces and connect different areas of the home
A fireplace can be used in place of a plain wall or partition between two spaces, giving each space a shared focal point. The two spaces feel connected by a common element, but each retain an element of privacy and intimacy that can sometimes be lost in open-plan spaces. You get the best of both worlds in each space. In our Minimal Living project, a contemporary, built-in wood burner provides a window between the kitchen and living room. Views and light can still pass through the two spaces, but there’s a clear separation between different uses; eating and entertaining, and relaxing and unwinding.
A fireplace can create a focal point in a space lacking in original features
Period homes have an abundance of character at their disposal, from original fireplaces and bay windows to ornate cornicing and exposed wood floors. In a new build, you have to work a little harder to give a space the same character and sense of cosiness. The straight lines and plain walls of a new build lend themselves to a unique architectural intervention; a feature that will become a focal point around which the rest of the space ties together. A fireplace can help add an element of detail for the eye to focus on and a sense of warmth to the clean, pared-back, contemporary surroundings.
A fireplace can add height to a space
Having a strong vertical element in a space can help draw your eye up and emphasise the ceiling height, giving a feeling of generosity and openness. In a lofty, double height space, for example, the long flue of a hanging fireplace might add a strong statement, while cladding the full height of the chimney breast in a contrasting material might add texture and tactility to a plain space.
A fireplace can shift the focus in a room and direct views
A fireplace can also direct views in a space and suggest how a space might be used. This project, titled Focal Shift, used a sculptural plasterwork chimney breast to subtly shift the focus of the room towards a snug area and the bay window of this period property. The opening of the chimney breast twists towards the seating area and away from an area for eating and entertaining, so creating a visual delineation between the spaces and functions.
About the Author: Cate St Hill
Cate St Hill is a home interiors writer, stylist and designer. Her work focuses on simple, everyday interiors that endure beyond trends. Her ethos is all about curating a home with less but better – prioritising simplicity, sustainability and design built to last. Cate is interested in the relationship between wellbeing and interiors, believing that a home should be designed as much around how it feels to be in as the way it looks. Her blog, catesthill.com, has been rated one of the top ten interior blogs in the UK and her work has been featured in Grazia, Elle Decoration, The Telegraph and The Sunday Times.