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  • Writer's pictureMichael T. Berger, MBA

Details Matter #3: Fireplaces...

From time to time, we want to take a moment to reflect on the natural beauty of the everyday things that make up our surroundings...As you may remember, our first two Details Matter centered on Glass Door Knobs and Wallpaper which were both a smash with our readers. Who doesn't love to curl up with a hot tea and a wonderful book next to a blazing FIREPLACE?!

Historically, they were used for heating a dwelling, cooking, and heating water for laundry and domestic uses. A fire is contained in a firebox or fire pit; a chimney or other flue allows exhaust gas to escape. A fireplace may have the following: a foundation, a hearth, a firebox, a mantel, a chimney crane (used in kitchen and laundry fireplaces), a grate, a lintel, a lintel bar, an overmantel, a damper, a smoke chamber, a throat, a flue, and a chimney filter or afterburner.

17th Century Country Property With Ancient Woodlands in Sussex, England

On the exterior, there is often a corbelled brick crown, in which the projecting courses of brick act as a drip course to keep rainwater from running down the exterior walls. A cap, hood, or shroud serves to keep rainwater out of the exterior of the chimney; rain in the chimney is a much greater problem in chimneys lined with impervious flue tiles or metal liners than with the traditional masonry chimney, which soaks up all but the most violent rain. Some chimneys have a spark arrestor incorporated into the crown or cap.

Ancient fire pits were sometimes built in the ground, within caves, or in the center of a hut or dwelling. Evidence of prehistoric, man-made fires exists on all five inhabited continents. The disadvantage of early indoor fire pits was that they produced toxic and/or irritating smoke inside the dwelling.

Fire pits developed into raised hearths in buildings, but venting smoke depended on open windows or holes in roofs. The medieval great hall typically had a centrally located hearth, where an open fire burned with the smoke rising to the vent in the roof. Louvers were developed during the Middle Ages to allow the roof vents to be covered so rain and snow would not enter.

Also during the Middle Ages, smoke canopies were invented to prevent smoke from spreading through a room and vent it out through a wall or roof. These could be placed against stone walls, instead of taking up the middle of the room, and this allowed smaller rooms to be heated.

Chimneys were invented in northern Europe in the 11th or 12th century and largely fixed the problem of smoke, more reliably venting it outside. They made it possible to give the fireplace a draft, and also made it possible to put fireplaces in multiple rooms in buildings conveniently. They did not come into general use immediately, however, as they were expensive to build and maintain.

16th Century French Cooking Fireplace With Chimney

Over time, the purpose of fireplaces has changed from one of necessity to one of visual interest. Early ones were more fire pits than modern fireplaces. They were used for warmth on cold days and nights, as well as for cooking. They also served as a gathering place within the home. These fire pits were usually centered within a room, allowing more people to gather around it.

Many flaws were found in early fireplace designs. Along with the Industrial Revolution, came large-scale housing developments, necessitating the standardization of fireplaces. The most renowned fireplace designers of this time were the Adam Brothers: John Adam, Robert Adam, and James Adam. They perfected a style of fireplace design that was used for generations. It was smaller, more brightly lit, with an emphasis on the quality of the materials used in their construction, instead of their size.

By the 1800s, most new fireplaces were made up of two parts, the surround, and the insert. The surround consisted of the mantelpiece and side supports, usually in wood, marble, or granite. The insert was where the fire burned and was constructed of cast iron often backed with decorative tiles. As well as providing heat, the fireplaces of the Victorian era were thought to add a cozy ambiance to homes.

Mid-Century Modern Fireplace

In the early 19th century, following a period hallmarked by ornate and fanciful designs, fireplace and mantel design returned to a simplicity of style more commonly found in the late 18th century, during Colonial times. In addition, in order to accommodate the Bungalow and Arts and Crafts home movements, an upsurge in banquette-flanked hearths complete with copper hoods and glazed tiles took hold. But before these dominant styles dominated, the back-to-nature movement inspired by Teddy Roosevelt spawned fireplaces built with river rock or stone.

While the overall shape of the modern fireplace has not changed much over time, the dimensions, uses and design options for today’s fireplaces are more diverse and creative than ever imagined. In the end, though, a couple of things remain constant. The unmistakable ability of a fireplace to provide warmth, comfort, and relaxation to those of us who love to sit in front of a crackling, enchanting fire and relax.

Contemporary Modern Fireplace

We at love all things vintage. It should be obvious that we love what we do and there is not really any aspect of UrbanLiving that we don't embrace. If you have an idea for a Details Matter post or want to get in touch with us. Simply call us at 210.744.8265.

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