As the hearth of a home, a fireplace draws people in with its cozy crackle and warmth. What’s often overlooked, however, is how it also draws the eye. Frequently centered on a wall and intended to be the object around which a room is oriented, it’s a ready-made focal point that offers you an opportunity to put your personality and style on view, via family photos, treasured objects or seasonal blooms.
That’s why Michelle Miller, an interior designer in Baltimore, likes to keep permanent accents simple — the better to showcase rotating displays. She recommends building a look around items such as a refined mirror, a great piece of art or a sculptural log holder.
“Find one great piece as opposed to 20 great pieces,” she says. Then, when you add decorations, she says to keep them asymmetrically displayed, because the fireplace is already the symmetrical focus of the room.
Lauren Shields, a prop stylist and crafter based in New York, likes to use the mantel to tell a story.
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“It’s an opportunity to inspire curiosity and conversation for guests, but it also functions as a personal tribute to your own sentimental history and narrative,” she says.
Shields likes to display vintage jewelry, naturally found objects, a collection of small vases and travel photos.
Though decorators often take a dreamy view of the hearth, fireplaces are primarily functional, which is why we also asked Miles Elliot, the product manager for wood-burning products at Plow & Hearth in Madison, Va., what every serious fire builder needs in his or her tool kit. Here is a compilation of ideas and items that help blend form and function around a fireplace.
▪ Miller recommends a simple rectangular mirror over a mantel “for a refined statement.” Meanwhile, Shields likes an antiqued finish on her mirrors because she says it establishes a sense of history.
Get the best of both with the Reyner Antiqued Gold Wall Mirror, sold for $462 by Lamps Plus (www.lampsplus.com). Terrain’s Flower Finial Mirror provides a nice backdrop for a mantel of seasonal flora, but with its intricately carved pine frame, it can also make a statement on its own ($268, www.shopterrain.com).
▪ One way to add an element of visually stimulating asymmetry, Miller says, is to install one sconce above a mantel, such as the Circa 1920 Spanish Torch Sconce, with artwork to the side ($195, www.restorationhardware.com).
▪ The fireplace is a central gathering place for family and guests, after all, so if you want to splurge, go for the Glen Screen, made of fine mesh and gold-leaf-covered metal ($810, www.blisshomeanddesign.com). “I think you should make investments in things you really love,” Miller says.
▪ If you make fires often, Elliot recommends a fireplace screen with doors, such as Pottery Barn’s Classic Fireplace Single Screen ($199, www.potterybarn.com). “You don’t want to have to move that screen every time you light the fire, throw wood on it or use your bellows,” he says.
▪ “I love the simplicity of letting the fireplace be the only focal point,” Miller says. An unobtrusive, clear glass log holder, such as Wisteria’s Modern Firewood Holder, helps keep the fire the center of attention ($179, www.wisteria.com).
▪ For a more rustic look, there’s the Ozarks Caddy, made of reclaimed yarn boxes from textile mills. In the summer months, it can be rolled on its casters and used for storage elsewhere in the house ($99, www.wisteria.com).
▪ Miller has used a log holder similar to Terrain’s Iron Cabin Log Holder in design projects before and notes that it’s a sculpture unto itself as well as a functional place to store firewood ($248-$348, www.shopterrain.com).
▪ Hold everything you need for an active fireplace with the Enclume Hammered Steel Log Rack With Tools ($329, www.frontgate.com). Great for small spaces, it holds kindling, logs, a broom, a poker and a shovel in a little more than one square foot.
▪ Elliot says that people are often intimidated by the idea of cutting their own firewood. The Swedish-made Stikkan Cast Iron Wall-Mounted Kindling Splitter ($200, www.plowhearth.com) will produce smaller pieces for kindling, no hatchet needed. “It allows anyone with any level of strength to split pieces of wood,” he says.
▪ Elliot also recommends ash buckets with a double bottom, so that if the ashes are still warm when you scoop them up, they won’t make the metal hot and burn you or the floor. His pick is the Double-Bottom Galvanized Steel Ash Bucket With Handle ($40, www.plowhearth.com).
▪ “It’s nice to have a wood carrier, particularly if your wood pile is in your back yard,” Elliot says. Carry your logs and store them, too, with Rejuvenation’s Canvas & Leather Log Carrier by Steele Canvas, available in red, gray and green, and the steel Log Carrier Bag Rack by Enclume ($125 and $139, www.rejuvenation.com).
▪ Don’t bother looking for a fireplace tool set with tongs, Elliot says, because anyone serious about fires will want something sturdier that can actually hold and move logs around. Cutting Edge Metals’ Heavy Duty Fireplace Tongs come in two lengths, 30 inches or 45 inches, and two colors, black or unfinished, to keep hands well away from the heat ($59-$84, www.cuttingedgemetals.com).
▪ Practical and pretty, iron Fireplace Andirons with a brushed silver finish from West Elm keep logs from rolling out of the hearth ($79, www.westelm.com). “You want to find a nice balance between what’s practical and what’s going to be good-looking, too,” Elliot says.