Famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright felt that the hearth is the psychological center of the home.
”For Wright, the fireplace represented not just the psychological center, but also the spiritual center and a family gathering spot,” says Peter Nicholas, founder and principal of the Nicholas Design Collaborative.
Unfortunately, that’s not necessarily the case today.
“Fireplaces these days are no longer the ‘psychological center of the home,’ but instead are in the existential battle for our souls with the ever expanding television screen,” Nicholas says.
But plenty of designers and homeowners are still putting up the good fight, creating beautiful and modern hearths and fireplaces that invite you to grab a cup of cocoa, your Merino wool blanket, and curl up with your loved ones.
“My clients are definitely leaning toward more contemporary design over tradition fireplace designs,” says Beth Wangman of i4 Design in Chicago. “Linear fireplaces, large-scale tiles, reclaimed lumber, natural stone, and simplified mantels are high on the priority lists for many of my clients.”
Long and linear is in
Nicholas tries “almost at all costs” to avoid the popular TV-over-fireplace placement in the homes he designs or remodels.
An emerging fireplace design trend supports his vision: Fireplaces have become much more linear, unafraid to take up the whole wall, from floor to ceiling.
“Fireplaces should radiate warmth and solidity while working with the function and seating arrangement of a space,” like in this Skokie home, Nicholas says.
The mantel is out
While some semblance of a traditional mantel remains, it’s not the standard frame it once was. Mantels are increasingly disappearing, instead blending into the wall through matching color, or thinning to support very little decoration.
The dual-view fireplace
Think of a campfire: It’s equally enjoyable from any seat circling it. Why waste a perfectly good fire by blocking it from view on one side?
Fireplaces can divide rooms while still allowing the sense of an open concept. This Julia Buckingham design separates the dining room from the living room, while this design by Fraerman Associates Architecture, Inc., separates a seasonal lounge from an outdoor patio, allowing people in two separate spaces to gather around the fire.
A fireplace with a purpose
Designer Matt Nardella of Moss Design loves fireplaces and he especially loves when they serve their intended purpose. So he designs them to actually heat a room.
“As much as I like the hygge ambiance of a fireplace, I think the best ones are those that can adequately heat a space,” he says. “Unfortunately, most of the metal box, insert-type fireplaces just send all of the heat up through the chimney, wasting wood fuel on what could be sensible heat. A great fireplace should be an active part of the home’s heating system and provide that cuddly coziness for warming our chestnuts.”
This Erie Street loft home he designed embraces the linear design, and uses the fireplace as practically as possible.
“I like to look at how designers of past civilizations incorporated fire into their buildings,” he says. “How can we apply their practical use of fireplaces and modernize their aesthetics with new technologies and overall comfort?”
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Michelle Huffman is a Chicago-area writer and editor. Over the past decades, she has written about homes, real estate and personal finance for Yahoo, CBS News and The Chicago Tribune. Michelle lives in Evanston with her husband, daughter and dog.
Is there a cause or nonprofit you’re passionate about?
“Yes, actually. Becoming a parent made my heart all soft and squishy and I want to make sure all babies and moms have their most basic needs met. So I work with Share Our Spare, an organization dedicated to getting baby and child items like diapers, bottles and clothes in the hands of parents who need them.”