It’s just better

Fireplaces as focal point add warmth, coziness, beauty

FORT WAYNE NEWSPAPERS At Nob Brick & Fireplaces, customers can settle in and experience what the different fireplaces are like in the showroom.
PHOTO COURTESY OF WHITNEY UTESCH Local design micro-blogger Whitney Utesch foillows a “less is more” aesthetic when she decorates her mantle each season — except at Christmas, when she allows herself more latitude to celebrate.

A roaring fireplace is one of the great home comforts during these sometimes bleak winter months. The warmth and romantic crackle adds instant ambiance and makes any evening spent at home feel like an event in and of itself.

“Like a waterfall, I think the dancing flames tend to mesmerize and soothe us. On top of that, when you’re chilled to the bone, the warmth of the fire feels SO much better than standing on a register,” said Bob Benhower of Nob Brick & Fireplaces.

Wood or gas?

“Burning wood makes some people feel self-reliant (making their own fuel), you can roast hot dogs and marshmallows on it and it does have a special feel and aroma,” said Benhower. “Unfortunately, after the fire goes out, the aroma often becomes stink, it is much tougher to get started and put out when you’re done with it and you need to be mindful of sparks that can ‘spit’ out of the fire.”

For wood-burning fireplaces, yearly chimney maintenance is required to continue to operate safely. A professional chimney sweep will give the flue a proper cleaning as well as inspect the firebox area for any cracks. To find a reputable chimney sweep in your area, search the database of the National Chimney Sweep Guild online.

According to Benhower, “gas fireplaces make up 95 percent of new home sales, and the few wood-burning fireplaces going in often have gas logs in them from day one.” Gas fireplaces have grown in popularity, he believes, because they’re much easier and quicker to start and extinguish. Also, the chimney doesn’t need to be cleaned, and carting in wood and taking out ashes is a non-factor.

Homeowners use their gas fireplaces more often than wood-burning ones.

“When I bought my house,” local design micro-blogger and prop stylist Whitney Utesch said, “I was disappointed to learn the fireplace was converted from wood-burning to gas. I had romantic ideas of heating my house with the wood on chilly nights while saving a bit of money on heating costs. Ha! I was so wrong about that.

“We LOVE our gas fireplace. It’s so much less mess and hassle. I guarantee we use our fireplace 10 times more because of the convenience of it being gas. And all you need is a strike of a match and turn of a knob.”

For homeowners wishing to update their wood-burning fireplace to gas, Benhower has many options to consider.

“Regular gas logs replacing wood-burning ones is a very nice-looking and easy upgrade. Now they even have efficient gas logs that can be burned with the damper closed, and all of the heat it produces comes into your home without sucking heated air up the chimney. A more advanced, and expensive, fix is an efficient firebox that you insert into your inefficient fireplace that lets no fumes into your home and won’t leave any room for air to get out. Nothing bad can get into your home, and nothing good can get out,” he said.

Design options

From traditional to ultra slick, contemporary fireplaces — and everything in between — Nob Brick & Fireplace has an extensive inventory. The showroom features wood-burning, gas and outdoor fireplaces as well as inserts, stoves, accessories and a dizzying array of options for custom-built surrounds. Options for realistic-looking gas logs start in the hundreds while more advanced options can range into the thousands. Contemporary enclosed fireplaces can be further customized with surrounding rocks and crystals, ensuring a perfect fit with any decor.

Homeowners can make the hearth a decorative feature without ever lighting a log, too.

Paint the inside brick for a background that pops. Think bright white or a bold color that corresponds with your decor. This tactic will ensure anything you place inside really stands out.

A popular option that pays homage to the original purpose — stacked logs, ends out, — gives off a charming and rustic, organic vibe. A twist on this option is to stack the fireplace with vintage books.

For something that requires much less maintenance, candles, in a variety of shapes, colors, sizes or heights look beautiful, lit or unlit. Look for large candelabras for tapers, and then add medium and small votives around it to create dimension. This method with all white candles is a timeless and chic look.

Another option is to place large-scale design accents inside, such as oversized flower arrangements and plants, a pair of substantial colorful vases or a stack of vintage suitcases, which can double as extra storage.

Build shelves inside the fireplace, and extend the decor of the mantle. This option is a great way to display large collections and other chattels.

Or use the shelves and mantle to create your own bar, placing a wine rack below and accessories, tools, decanters and glassware on the mantle.

Mantle matters

And don’t forget about the mantle. Said Utesch, “A fireplace was the No. 1 thing on my new home checklist. It’s an instant focal point of the room, and the mantle is a built-in shelf just waiting to be styled for every season.”

Utesch has determined that her style embraces a “less is more” attitude.

“A plant and some candle sticks or a large bouquet of hydrangeas or eucalyptus is what’s typically featured in my home.

“But Christmas is a different story. I love decorating with fresh garland, white lights, ornament bulbs, candles, glass and bottle brush trees, and of course stockings,” she said.

Utesch advises skipping the typical “TV above a fireplace” look.

“I think a mirror or pretty art is a much better option,” she said. “Sometimes it might be unavoidable, but in my opinion, especially in older homes, you should avoid a TV above the fireplace at all costs. That’s one of the reasons I built shelving on either side of our fireplace for our TV to sit on.”

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