Where will you hang your Christmas stocking from? Chances are it will not be a mantelpiece. Homeowners have spent the last 30 years chucking out old fireplaces and removing awkward chimney breasts to create contemporary spaces with clean lines and flat walls. Nearly all new-build flats of the last generation won’t even have any kind of fireplace – after all, who’d want a smoky relic of a bygone age when you could have underfloor heating or slimline radiators?
But times are changing. Soaring heating bills, more environmentally-sound and clean fuels, and the return of people wanting more character in their homes, have all contributed to a revival of the traditional fireplace and surround. A feature fireplace can add up to five per cent to a home’s value. And at this time of year, the warm glow and crackle of logs burning in the hearth seems very appealing indeed.
“More people are starting to realise that they can have a real fire, even in the city and smoke-controlled areas. Technology has advanced – many wood-burning stoves are now DEFRA-approved – meaning you can burn wood and other smokeless fuels, even in London terraced property,” explains David Adamson of Direct Stoves and Fireplaces (www.directstoves.com). “Not only that, by burning wood you are heating your home as carbon neutrally as possible, and with a little investment it will actually save you money long term.”
Heating just the room that you are in is certainly more cost-effective than centrally heating an entire house. Using wood as your heat source costs 2.5p per kw/h compared with gas at 4p and electricity at 11p, say HETAS, the solid fuels industry body. And HETAS has seen an unprecedented interest in wood-burning stoves, with more than 200,000 installed last year – up by more than 50 per cent in five years.
It’s something Alexandra Marr from Crieff has noticed. “We have two open fireplaces and having spent the summer filling our woodshed, and every weekend since refilling it, we soon realised that it goes through so much more wood compared to a wood-burner – so we have had two wood-burning stoves put into the fireplaces to save energy and, hopefully, money.”
For those with modest means and a modern home, wood-burners are increasingly the fire of choice. “In the past ten years we’ve seen a move towards stoves that are more contemporary in style. People are viewing stoves as a focal point for their home as much as an efficient way to heat it,” says Tony Ingram, Technical Service Manager of Morsø (www.morso.co.uk). “That’s why cylindrical, curved shapes are becoming more popular, and stoves with the option to be either wall-mounted or raised on a simple pedestal – they’re a real shift away from the more boxy, bulky style of stove that has dominated.”
British brand Charnwood (www.charnwood.com), too, has a created new vitreous enamel fire surrounds for wood-burners for spring 2015, aimed at creating a more contemporary, stylish finish. The vibrant glazed panels that surround their wall-mounted Bay stoves, start from £150 and include the nautical, Whitby design – it’s a new take on Victorian glazed tiles.
For something really radical, look north for inspiration – to Scandinavia, where ceramic tiled stoves, kakkelovn, have had a huge revival in recent years. More than 90 per cent of homes in Finland have one of these hugely efficient, chimney-like stoves that not only look beautiful but they also burn very cleanly (two hours of burning is all that’s needed to release heat slowly over a 24-hour-period). While an open fireplace has 10 per cent efficiency, a ceramic stove has 90 per cent efficiency, says UK specialist the Ceramic Stove Company (www.ceramicstove.com).
But it’s not just the financial incentive that is fueling the fashion for fireplaces – increasingly they are in vogue, and not just in country, period properties. The latest luxury London apartments have designer fireplaces at the heart of their cutting-edge designs. Fire “walls” that create a screen between two areas, as well as a focal point, are both practical and desirable.
Karen Howes, chief executive of interior design company Taylor Howes, created the striking, and opulent contemporary scheme at Distillery Wharf in Fulham Reach, where the fireplace is an integral part of the design. “Fireplaces can be used to make a statement with striking designs and the use of luxurious materials. Long and sleek fireplaces have become increasingly popular with high-end schemes, being more artistic and sophisticated than traditional designs. This new kind of fireplace can be more imaginatively placed within the room to achieve a dramatic effect.”
Howes finds that wealthy, urban clients tend to prefer easy-to-use gas fireplaces, where minimal smoke emissions allow for the use of bronze finishes and glass facades, creating an elegant, modern yet homely fireplace.
Another growing trend in the luxury sector is outdoor fireplaces, a glamorous move on from the fire pit that creates a glamorous outdoor “room”. Howes installed one on the roof-top garden at Distillery Wharf.
Period properties are also seeing a resurgence in traditional hearths, with owners reinstating the original fireplaces that until recently were being ripped out and thrown on skips. The number opening up their fireplaces has risen by 20 per cent over the past three years, according to the National Association of Chimney Sweeps. “The aesthetic value of choosing an antique or reproduction fireplace for your home is immeasurable,” says Owen Pacey of Renaissance London (www.RenaissanceLondon.com), who has sourced and installed period fireplaces for the likes of Kate Winslet, Robbie Williams and Georgia Jagger, and even mega-rich modern developments, such as One Hyde Park. “They have the ability to make a house more alluring to live in, function better as a home and make a property more attractive to future buyers.”
He has seen a trend emerging for two fireplaces in one room, as more owners of Victorian homes knock through to create a large open-plan space. “Often the fireplaces don’t match so we are seeing increasing numbers of clients requesting bespoke reproduction fireplaces in order to get two, identical fireplaces that still look appropriate for the property.” There’s no reason to be snobbish about reproduction fireplaces; they typically cost around a third of the price, and as Pacey notes, a good period reproduction looks a hundred times better than plonking a brand new fireplace into a old property.
Black is the also back. “There’s a definite boom in black fireplaces right now”, says Pacey, who installed one for fashion designer Karen Millen. “It makes a statement and works well in most rooms, adapting well to both contemporary and period design projects.”
This article appeared in the Daily Mail on 12 December.