Fireplaces have been around as long as there have been homes, but where we once relied on them for heat and to cook, today they are a focal point that connects us to the past while showing increasing personality.
“Their enduring popularity can be attributed to a combination of esthetic, cultural and practical factors,” says Brandon Lawrence, an architect with S.J. Lawrence Architect Incorporated. “As technology continues to evolve, so do fireplace designs and functionalities, ensuring their relevance in contemporary homes.”
Not to mention the warmth (literally and figuratively), cosiness and calmness they evoke.
“As a central element to any living space, the fireplace acts as a focal point and provides an opportunity to showcase the style of the home,” says Lawrence. “Even in homes that follow modern designs, a fireplace — even one that leans away from traditional design — creates a sense of nostalgia, blending modern and traditional design elements.”
It’s also a great selling feature, notes Sandrina Nguyen, a designer with Park View Homes. “The fireplace is a great canvas to add a feature wall where you can have stone, brick, tile or even shiplap on it so it really adds a nice finishing touch to the space.”
Gas vs. wood?
Advancements in the industry have helped increase the popularity of gas over wood-burning fireplaces.
“Nine out of 10 projects that we’ve done have specified a gas fireplace,” says designer Nathan Kyle of Nathan Kyle Studio. “They allow for more flexibility in where you may want to place a mantel or a TV,” since they don’t create as much heat as a wood-burning fireplace.
Plus, notes green builder John Corvinelli of Corvinelli Homes, it’s much harder to build a green home — such as an Energy Star-rated one — with a wood-burning fireplace, not only because of emissions but because of issues with airtightness and air quality. “I rarely ever see it,” adds Stephen Magneron of energy adviser Homesol Building Solutions.
Energy efficiency aside, many homeowners prefer a gas fireplace for their ease of use. They turn on with the flip of a switch, they’re cleaner, you have easy control over the flame intensity and temperature and, for safety, the flame is enclosed behind glass and there is no handling of combustible materials like wood, notes builder and renovator Roy Nandram of RND Construction.
While a fireplace is not a necessity, “it’s a luxury that most people would love to have, like having a powder room on your main floor,” says Kyle. “It’s one of those creature comforts that most people take for granted, perhaps. I don’t have a fireplace in my house today, but do I want one? For sure.”
15 fabulous fireplaces found in Ottawa-area homes recently
Project: Custom home by Nathan Kyle Studio
About this fireplace: For homeowners who downsized and like to entertain, the family room is also the living room and the general family space everyone congregates around, Kyle says. This main focal wall needed to meet the need for a fireplace and media wall without the TV being a centre of focus, while also providing extra seating that would complement the gas fireplace. And it needed to offer a sense of scale in a space with an almost 18-foot-high ceiling.
A floating granite hearth stretches the length of the wall, acting as an anchor (and providing that extra seating). Above it, the concrete-look fireplace surround (it’s actually a limewash paint finish) stretches to the ceiling for balance, and that is juxtaposed with the free-form shelving and the wood panelling behind the TV to add natural warmth and minimize the presence of the TV. Indirect LED lighting “provides an intimate glow at nighttime to otherwise what could be a dark corner.”
Project: Award-winning green home by Corvinelli Homes
About this fireplace: The stone surrounding the gas fireplace was designed to follow the “reverse slope head” of the windows, says Corvinelli. “This fireplace and surrounding elements define the room. It is a focal point of the space.” The mantel is a beam from an old local barn, part of an effort to reuse, recycle and refurbish as much as possible.
The home won the green custom home of the year at last fall’s Housing Design Awards. “The design of this wall adds a unique character and allows plenty of natural light into the home while showcasing the greenspace from all angles,” the company said in its submission.
Project: Custom home by Project1 Studio
About this fireplace: In open-concept spaces, a fireplace “defines areas without walls … it’s another focal point and it helps draw your eye to different elements in the area,” says Wendy Brown, who is senior interior designer at Project1. That’s certainly the case with this contemporary gas fireplace, which bridges the dining room and living room of this custom home.
The asymmetrical floating hearth does triple duty, tying the design together, providing extra seating when needed and offering handy storage for the kids’ toys to keep the space tidy. It also allows the TV to be centred in the living room area without having to be too high on the wall. A nice touch: When not in use, the TV can be switched to picture frame mode.
Project: The Weston model by HN Homes, Simmonds Architecture & Vogt Design
About this fireplace: The floor plans Simmonds created for HN are known for asymmetrical fireplaces that are sometimes dramatic and sometimes — like this example — subtle while still having some pop. It shows you can produce a focal point with impact without having to use bold finishes or a large upgrade budget.
In this example, the linear presentation creates a more contemporary look and allows more space above for the TV to be positioned at a reasonable height, says Leonhard Vogt of Vogt Design, who styled the home. He used a porcelain herringbone mosaic tile for the surround and a quartz slab mantel.
“The mosaic herringbone tile looks like marble without the maintenance and cost behind it.”
The model can be toured at Riverside South.
Project: The Morewood model by Park View Homes
About this fireplace: “We purposely wanted the fireplace to look more traditional as the home has a lot of natural elements in it,” says Nguyen. The stone surround, the oak shelves and the block wood mantel add a rustic charm that creates a focal wall without overpowering it.
“The fireplace wall definitely defines the room,” she says. “We wanted to create a space where you can get cosy and enjoy being in the space itself.”
Project: Renovation by Amsted Design-Build
About this fireplace: This is a “see-through” gas fireplace, which means the unit is visible from both sides with glass that looks through into each room, says Deirdre Crick, Amsted’s selections supervisor. “These types of fireplaces look much more custom than a standard, one-sided fireplace unit.”
These clients wanted to keep the design clean, so the mantel has a slim profile and the lines are simple. The surround is drywall that’s painted teal for a bit of pop while still allowing the firebox to remain the centrepiece.
“The biggest need of these clients was to open up the space; they have large windows and doors to the outside as well as into the rest of the living space,” says Crick. “The idea behind doing this see-through unit was to keep the openness of the home and add an accent of warmth and comfort.”
Project: The Kensington model, Tamarack Homes & Sonya Kinkade Design
About this fireplace: Moody and elegant, the great room in this home was long and included the living, dining and kitchen areas within the same space, says Kinkade. “I wanted the living room to feel grounded, so I added a dark slat panelling to the fireplace wall and installed a custom quartz mantel.”
To showcase the wall, she opted for two freestanding cabinets with soft curves rather than adding built-ins flanking the fireplace. “It created a presence as soon as you entered the room.”
The model can be seen at Findlay Creek in South Ottawa.
Project: Award-winning custom home by S.J. Lawrence Architect, Theberge Homes & Irpinia Kitchens
About this fireplace: This is a fireplace that manages to be a focal point without taking away from the dominant element of the window wall. It’s also been designed to complement the kitchen beside it, with the fireplace surround and the hood vent to the far right of the image finished in the same style and charcoal colour.
“The dark elements contrast the warm colour palette, emphasizing the fireplace as the central feature of the living room,” says Lawrence.
Project: Award-winning custom home by RND Construction & Hobin Architecture
About this fireplace: This freestanding gas fireplace is positioned centrally in the open-concept main living area and is the focal point visible from the living room, dining area, kitchen and even the foyer upon entering the home, says RND’s Nandram.
“Crafted as a four-sided glass masterpiece, it features a wood slat base with a black metal cap and chimney. This fireplace commands attention by drawing eyes and conversations towards its elegant design and comforting glow.”
Project: Award-winning custom home by Nowacki Homes & Everyday Studio
About this fireplace: The design of this home sought to “reinterpret traditional building materials and architectural language through minimal detailing and interior spaces that directly link to the landscape,” Nowacki notes in its award entry. That’s true of the see-through fireplace as well, which pairs a traditional brick with a contemporary execution to create a feature that feels both timeless and timely.
The project won its custom home category at last fall’s Housing Design Awards.
Project: Award-winning condo by The Lake Partnership
About this fireplace: This penthouse condo is all about luxury and that extends to the linear fireplace, which is wrapped in onyx with a distinctive cantilevered quartz hearth to create “a warm and inviting ambiance (that) is the focal point of the refined living room,” the company says in its award entry submission. Above the fireplace, the walnut feature millwork conceals an integrated media centre.
The apartment won its condo category in last fall’s Housing Design Awards.
Project: Award-winning custom home by Hobin Architecture & Terra Nova Building Corp.
About this fireplace: “This home shuns design fads in favour of a minimalist expression that puts the emphasis on light and views,” Hobin and Terra Nova say in their award entry submission. That approach extends to the monolithic fireplace, which is both minimalistic and hefty. The low-profile and elongated firebox grounds the fireplace while the concrete surround provides dimension and connects to the wood-clad ceiling.
The project won its custom home category at last fall’s Housing Design Awards.
About this fireplace: This fireplace complements an updated mid-century modern look that emphasizes “clean lines, organic forms, a less-is-more approach, and highly functional living spaces,” the team says in their award entry submission.
Vertical stacked tiles around the fireplace create a unique focal point that show an easy way to personalize a builder home, and using a green tile shows this home is right on trend. The model, which can be found at eQ’s Provence development in Orléans, won its production home category at the fall Housing Design Awards.
Project: Award-winning custom home by Simmonds Architecture
About this fireplace: A Quebec lake house that embraces the landscape around it adopts a light and natural palette and materials for a warm modern design esthetic, the company says in its award entry submission. And that includes the see-through, stone-wrapped fireplace, which both anchors the living room and provides a feeling of airiness.
The home won the anywhere in the world category at last fall’s Housing Design Awards.
Project: The Jefferson model by Minto Communities
About this fireplace: Showing understated personality, the fun geometric tile in this two-storey single model is a subtle way to add some oomph. Envisioned for a young family, the home features touches of coral and lilac on a foundation of grey.
“It’s the influencer house. It’s got some hip vibes, clean lines,” designer Tracey Woodman of Kiss Design, who styled the home with partner Donna Correy, said soon after the model opened. The home can be seen at Minto’s Avalon development in Orléans.