Keep­ing the home fires burn­ing

Ottawa Citizen - - HOMES & CONDOS - PATRICK LANGSTON

Geo­ther­mal sys­tems, heat pumps, pas­sive so­lar de­signs: they’re all great weapons against win­ter’s chill, but when it comes to visual charm they pale next to a fire­place.

And judg­ing from the num­ber and va­ri­ety of fire­places grac­ing the homes in the re­cent Hous­ing De­sign Awards or­ga­nized by the Greater Ot­tawa Home Builders’ As­so­ci­a­tion, we love our charm­ing hearths more than ever.

“We do plenty of fire­places as part of our home de­sign,” says Friede­mann Wein­hardt, of Ot­tawa’s De­sign First In­te­ri­ors.

A fire­place with a mas­sive sur­round of dark mar­ble was part of a ren­o­va­tion project that Wein­hardt en­tered in the awards; the project didn’t win here, but its fab­u­lous bath­room did at the On­tario Home Builders’ As­so­ci­a­tion awards.

The fire­place “is in a large room with a large view (of the Ot­tawa River), so all the el­e­ments needed to be pro­por­tional,” he says.

He of­ten treats fire­places like this as a wall unit, pro­vid­ing a visual an­chor for the room.

Wein­hardt says other con­tem­po­rary fire­places of­ten em­pha­size the lin­ear rather than height.

That gives home­own­ers the op­por­tu­nity for pop­u­lar de­sign op­tions such as plac­ing a flat screen tele­vi­sion above a man­tel.

Alan Lester, of Car­leton Place-based Karhu Fine Cab­i­netry & Mill­work, who’s not a fan of the tele­vi­sion trend, says fire­place sur­round and man­tel de­sign has be­come sim­pler and more con­tem­po­rary over the past few years.

Sur­rounds, for ex­am­ple, are more likely to echo the slab cab­i­netry doors that have re­placed panel doors in kitchens.

On the other hand, the engi­neer­ing of those sim­ple de­signs can be com­plex as clients re­quest, for ex­am­ple, built-ins around fire­places to house au­dio-visual equip­ment.

One of the big­gest changes Lester has seen in the past few years is the shift away from nat­u­ral wood to coloured lac­quer fin­ishes, es­pe­cially whites and off-whites.

Sprayed-on low-sheen fin­ishes give a clean look that com­ple­ments both con­tem­po­rary and clas­sic de­signs.

When home­own­ers opt for nat­u­ral wood, he says they’re as likely to ask for wal­nut or white oak as for the cherry that’s been all the rage over the past decade.

Lester cau­tions that com­bustible ma­te­ri­als around a fire­place must con­form to build­ing codes for clear­ances from the heat source. If in doubt, call a fire­place ex­pert to check con­struc­tion.

As to cost, he says a sim­ple cus­tom-made man­tel and sur­round starts un­der $2,000 but “the sky’s the limit de­pend­ing on cab­i­netry.”

Chuck Mills opted for the less-is-more credo when he de­signed a clas­sic end-wall fire­place as part of a ma­jor ren­o­va­tion of an Ot­tawa home built in the early part of the 1900s.

The joint project by his firm, Chuck Mills Res­i­den­tial De­sign & De­vel­op­ment, and Cross­ford Con­struc­tion won in the $350,000 to $499,999 ren­o­va­tion cat­e­gory at the re­cent de­sign awards.

The de­sign fea­tures a black slate sur­round for the fire­place and cherry cab­i­netry with glass-fronted, Shak­er­doors built by Louis L’Ar­ti­san in Bour­get, Ont. Re­peated square and rec­tan­gu­lar pat­terns and a bal­ance be­tween hor­i­zon­tal and ver­ti­cal lines cre­ate a rest­ful, re­as­sur­ing air.

“I tried to keep ev­ery­thing un­der­stated be­cause it’s a rel­a­tively small room, sort of the clas­sic front par­lour, and be­cause of the age of the house,” says Mills.

“The own­ers wanted a place to dis­play their items from trav­el­ling and there was a lack of room in the orig­i­nal house, so I com­bined those two el­e­ments when I de­signed the fire­place.”

He says that there’s a fire­place in more than 90 per cent of what he builds and there’s no gen­eral rule to de­sign­ing them.

In fact, he was on-site mea­sur­ing up a new home he’s build­ing when con­tacted for this story.

Un­like his award-win­ning ren­o­va­tion, that home will in­clude a mas­sive stone fire­place stretch­ing over 30 feet high in the great room.

De­sign, in other words, de­pends on con­text.

Buy­ers of pro­duc­tion homes also like their cosy flames.

Bruce Ni­col, vice-pres­i­dent at Tar­tan Homes, says gas fire­places in tract hous­ing have be­come stan­dard over the past decade thanks in part to fall­ing costs and be­cause they can now be vented out­side like a dryer, no longer re­quir­ing an ex­pen­sive, ver­ti­cal chim­ney.

That vent­ing also al­lows them to be placed al­most any­where in a home, from kitchens to bed­rooms.

At Cardel Homes, a fire­place has be­come a de rigueur fo­cal point as the com­pany re­places the tra­di­tional liv­ing room with an open-con­cept fam­ily room or great room/ kitchen.

Many buy­ers up­grade the fire­place, spend­ing on av­er­age about $2,000, says Cardel’s area sales man­ager, Harley Wallin.

About half the buy­ers of Cardel’s In­ver­ness II in Black­stone, for ex­am­ple, have opted for a floor-to-ceil­ing ce­ramic tile sur­round that matches some of the home’s floor­ing as well as crys­tal rocks in lieu of im­i­ta­tion logs inside the fire­box.

“It’s not at the level of kitchens and en­suites yet, but it is an area where peo­ple will spend money,” says Wallin.

Fire­place sur­round and man­tel de­sign has be­come sim­pler and more con­tem­po­rary over the past few years, like this de­sign in an award-win­ning project by Ur­ban Keios.

Al­most like a framed paint­ing, the el­e­vated dou­ble-sided fire­place by An­dré Godin De­sign pro­vides a fo­cal point in this din­ing room while hint­ing at the room be­yond.

At Cardel Homes, a fire­place has be­come a de rigueur fo­cal point as the com­pany re­places the tra­di­tional liv­ing room with an open-con­cept fam­ily room or great room/kitchen. Shown is the great room of its In­ver­ness II model in Black­stone.

CHRIS MIKULA/OT­TAWA CI­TI­ZEN

Gas fire­places in tract hous­ing have be­come stan­dard over the past decade, thanks in part to fall­ing costs and be­cause they can be vented out­side like a dryer, no longer re­quir­ing an ex­pen­sive, ver­ti­cal chim­ney. They can now be placed al­most any­where...

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