Our Lowcountry chimneys evoke fond memories of families gathering after dinner to play games or watch movies together.
Fireplaces not only provide a warm focal point for the family, but often set the style for the room. The mantle and surround exude a cozy, rustic charm, amp up the interior.
Fireplaces have steadily evolved. Once huge, yawning recesses large enough in which to hide a horse in the 1600s and early 1700s, they became smaller and more efficient in English homes. Half a century later, Benjamin Franklin designed a metal-lined fireplace—the Franklin Stove or Pennsylvania Fireplace—which used an inverted siphon to draw out the fumes in an effort to produce more heat and less smoke. Mantels weren’t introduced until the 1800s, and since then the aesthetics have changed dramatically.
High Style, Hot Style
Today, fireplaces are wood-burning, gas, electric or ethanol, and vary in style from the traditional, tall and classically elegant Rumford version developed in the late 1790s, to a contemporary see-through design that makes a statement. Fireplaces are common in living rooms and bedrooms, but in many neighborhoods, it is just as common to find them outdoors, complete with a kitchen, pizza oven and view of the marsh.
A decision to add a fireplace to a home is not simple (or cheap). The first decision to be madeis whether or not a masonry fireplace is warranted, or if a pre-fabricated, factory-built one is the right option. When masons, architects and designers tackle this project, they are crafting a cornerstone of the home, integrating an architectural feature—or “megastructure” as our friend Ryan Skrak calls it—not just installing the less expensive “metal box” that may be more efficient, but certainly not as long lasting.
“A lot of people put in a metal box, but they don’t last because the Lowcountry has such a high density of salt air,” says Skrak, Masonry Master and Fireplace Expert, who has been building fireplaces all over the Lowcountry and Coastal Empire, including St. Simons Island, Savannah, Bluffton, Spring Island, Charleston and Kiawah Island. “A lot of people are told that it’s stainless steel, but that’s stainless, not rust-proof. It’s going to rust and then fall apart.”
Masonry fireplaces will more than likely experience several owners over their 100-year lifespan. Whereas choosing a “metal box” shortens this period by 40 years. Whether homeowners decide to design their own fireplace with an expert or pick a prefab to match their home, find a purpose and personality that play well together.
Create a Focal Point
Since a fireplace can’t be moved like a couch or credenza, it is appropriate to use it to create the layout and design of the rest of the room. Consider centering it in the middle of the wall to find balance and create a mood. Is it meant to be a cozy place to spend time with the family or entertain during parties? Should it blend in or stand out?
Once these decisions are made, the design option is the next step. For instance, beige bricks paired with white bookshelves or plush pastel chairs and couches can create a coastal country cottage. Add a few matching wood shelves and a bench to give it a chic, contemporary look.
Share with a See-Through
Whether classic or contemporary, see-through fireplaces can be of real value, as they provide a two-for-one bonus. Dress up two rooms with a unique and stylish architectural structure, instead of just one. Consider designing them differently and rein in each room according to personal preference. Or, let the fireplace flow through both rooms cohesively.
Stay for a Slice
Instead of roasting marshmallows over the fire, consider a fireplace meant for a more enticing meal—an Italian one! Rising in popularity, real wood-burning pizza ovens have become show-stoppers. It is becoming more common to see pizza ovens outside the home as an extension to an outdoor kitchen.
Take it Outside
In coastal Carolina, parties center around oyster roasts, Lowcountry boils and backyard barbeques. Thus, an outdoor escape isn’t complete without a fire ring or pit or patio with an outdoor fireplace.
“Fire pits and fireplaces are a great extension of your home. It promotes the beautiful idea of what we call ‘outdoor living,’” Senior Landscape Architect Michael Cox and Marketing Coordinator Amanda Sipala at Sunshine Hardscape, Landscape & Nursery explain. “Adding a fire pit or a fireplace to your yard also adds functionality and a focal point to your landscape.”