Tips And Hints For Fireplaces

Tips and hints for fireplaces: most Americans no longer need a hearth to keep warm. Learn what decorators suggest to still keep your fireplace a focal point and highlight of your room.

Don't Want a Fire?

During the fuel shortages of the late seventies, we happily used the old fireplace in our new home to take the chill off winter days. Sometimes, including a famous Christmas when a power failure doomed us and our sixteen guests to a chilly, dark, and hungry day, it served well as a place for heating coffee water and making delicious soups. In those days we also had a wood-burning furnace, and the energy and time to cut and split logs from our own extensive land.

No matter where your fireplace stands, chances are you don't use it as readily as you did during the energy shortage or in another era of your life. Yet the furniture continues to be arranged with the fireplace as focal point, and you and your guests sit there staring into the great dark hole that once held blazing logs. There are two solutions to this sorry state. One, is that you begin to utilize and enjoy your fireplace more. Homes with fireplaces can count on the extra feature as a bonus when prospective buyers come round, so there is still a certain appeal to a cheerfully burning spot on the grate. And nothing is as warm and welcoming as a contnained conflagration. Flames seem to encourage conversation and gentle musings just by their almost magical presence.

However, if you know you can't be tempted to more frequent use of your fireplace, consider some creative alternatives suggested by decorators and others.

1""Fill the firebox with a huge dried arrangement or arrangements of silk or flowers. You don't even need a vase. Just poke the stems into the grate, add enough huge blooms such as hygrangeas, interesting protea, boughs of dried bayberry or broom, heather or dried leaves. One friend changes her display according to the seasons, using fresh boughs of dogwood, forsythia and crab apple inserted into a wide and inconspicuous container in the firebox in spring, and dried summer flowers in summer, branches of beautiful autumn leaves, pumpkins and gourds and dried hydrangeas in the fall, and fresh evergreens with a gilded look during the winter holidays. Pull open the screen and work with the space generously, realizing it will be seen from slightly above, rather than at eye-level.

2""Fill the dark hole with vivid fresh green plants all year-round. If your fireplace gets enough light from nearby, beautiful, lush plants can easily fill the space, and be complemented by occasional insertions of fresh blooms in low, fat containers set among the greenery. One friend disguises the mesh fireplace curtain at either side of the opening with white picket fence sections to set off her charming fireplace garden. If natural light is not sufficient, grow shade loving plants like ferns to mask your gaping fireplace opening.

3""If yours is a decorative old fireplace, do some research and find out what might add to its appeal even when the fire is out. Try antique stores and local museum-houses to see how older fireplaces were made more attractive. Fabulous brass andirons, hand-painted faux fireplace screens of wood, attractive brass tools, and even hanging pots and their hardware, can make the empty spaces of an unused fireplace seem warmer and homier.

4""Candle stands make a good substitute for fire in a fireplace. You expect to see flames there, anyway, and can do so easily with big bold candles. Candle stands that hold pillar candles at varying heights make an attractive alternative, and can easily be moved out of the way when you really need a blaze to warm yourself or set an atmosphere.

5""Large, open brass fans make attractive fireplace screens, as does a handcrafted needlepoint standing screen which can also be easily moved for the occasional fire. If you can make the screen yourself, all the better.

6""More whimsical is the addition of a display of wooden cut outs in the shapes the homeowner desires, such as figures working in a cutout garden, or just flowers, birds and trees filling a large cutout piece than can stand ceremoniously to fill the entire opening.

7""Some designers have been known to adapt permanently closed fireplaces into functional furniture. One made a children's toy box out of the old firebox, with bookshelves provided by the mantlepiece. Another made a closed-up fireplace into an entertainment center, since people tended to always focus their attention to the spot naturally. In these cases, it's important to note, if the fireplace is to be permanently closed, remember to have the chimney sealed first.

8""If the fireplace has a raised hearth, cushion it generously to make for extra seating, and keep any arrangement or disguise well back from the seating area. Some designers have recommended bricking over the entire fireplace opening, removing the mantle, and hanging a virtual picture gallery on the new bricked or tiled wall space that you now have available.

9""Our own raised hearth fireplace holds bouquets of dried grasses and branches from the farm we live on, and on either side are antique farm and cooking implements we still use, such as a modest cider press, a huge copper paella pan, and a large fanciful kettle. The cooking/food focus works because our fireplace is in the kitchen anyhow, and salt and pepper shakers parade across its mantle. Incidentally, downlights installed into the ceiling above the fireplace can help shed light on the items you wish to focus on, in our case, the collection on the mantle, and the wall arrangement of dried branches and fruit above it.

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