ALTHOUGH THERE WILL always be something cozy and rustic about curling up next to a wood-burning fireplace, many designers are turning to modern alternatives such as gas, electric and ethanol models, all offering the same appeal without the hassle and mess.
Functioning both as a piece of art and furniture, adding to the decor of a room, contemporary fireplaces are often chosen for their aesthetic appeal rather than their ability to produce heat. While fireplaces have traditionally been installed in spaces such as the great room or library, homeowners are now opting for multiple units, placing them in the master bedroom, en-suite bathroom, kitchen and even outdoors on the veranda.
“Depending on the square footage, a house in Toronto may easily have five to 10 fireplaces throughout,” explains David Kim, managing director of the Fireplace Shop.
Because there are so many choices, when it comes to installing custom as well as manufactured fireplaces, homeowners must consider the aesthetic of the room and the purpose the fireplace will serve.
“The fireplace creates a focal point that can define the style of a space,” says Wendy Carmichael, owner of Interior Concepts Design Consultants Inc.
When it comes to gas, there are options to suit every lifestyle and preference.
For those traditionalists with a hefty budget, a gas insert can be installed in a custom masonry (brick) fireplace designed to wood-burning standards. The effect is the realism of a traditional fireplace achieved with the flick of a switch.
To complement the clean lines of modern design, homeowners have a number of choices. The linear fireplace establishes a stunning, urban feel that best suits condos and modern homes. A strand of dancing flames can stretch up to 10 or 15 feet in length across a living room or bedroom wall. These long, narrow units are often built into the wall and positioned at eye level, creating a sleek yet elegant effect.
While traditionally gas flames emerged from logs (meant to replicate a wood-burning fireplace), more contemporary choices include river rocks, tumbled glass and even sand.
“Rocks tend to bridge the modern with the rustic, creating an earthy aesthetic that’s quite appealing,” explains Christine Denault, showroom manager of Toronto’s 360 Living.
For a unique, environmentally friendly option, Denault recommends that her clients consider ethanol fireplaces. Fuelless units require no installation and burn real, clean flames for up to four hours. Planika ethanol units are available at 360 Living and come in portable tabletop designs (ideal for condos and smaller spaces) and more elaborate wall- mounted and free-standing units that redefine the traditional fireplace.
Electric fireplaces were once considered less appealing due to their unrealistic appearance, but this is changing as technology and design improves dramatically. In bedrooms, electric fireplaces are often mounted in themiddle of the wall so that they can be enjoyed from the comfort of bed. And, unlike gas or wood burning fireplaces, electric units can “burn” for aesthetic purposes without creating any heat.
“In the summer and fall, I might still have my air conditioning on, but will be able to enjoy the ambience created by the flames in my fireplace,” explains Sandra McNash manager of Downtown Fireplace. This year, Downtown Fireplace launched a rainbow line of custom fireplaces available in bold reds and yellows and contemporary colours like Tiffany’s aqua blue.
“These colours really pop off the wall — especially in a clean white space,” she says.