Enjoy a Fireside Chat

Story & Photos By Carolin Santangelo

Franklin D. Roosevelt immortalized the fireside chat during the 1930s, understanding the importance of setting a scene where the nation could imagine him sitting in their living rooms, speaking to each directly.

On the blustery days we experience during winter months, you may be grateful to have a fireplace. A roaring fire entices one to sit inside awhile and enjoy a fireside chat, or to curl up with a good book. If you want to incorporate a fireplace into your new home, or remodel an existing room with fireplace, there are important items to take into consideration.

Scale of a fireplace, in relation to the room it will be featured in, is critical. A fireplace can command your attention and may become the focal point of a room. If the fireplace is to be used in a room with a competing view of the outdoors, a lot of thought needs to be given to its position. The presence of a fireplace may reorient seating areas within a room. Seating areas should permit equal viewing of both the outdoors as well as to the interior and fireplace. This can occasionally be difficult to do and can compromise comfortable seating arrangements.

Where a house plan has been developed to fully encompass the buildable footprint on the site, it may be necessary to bring the fireplace inside the room, as the additional distance that it would otherwise protrude will not be acceptable to the city or subdivision which enforces building setback lines. If inside the room, one must keep in mind the space that it will consume, as the fireplace becomes an unavoidable large mass. Prefab firebox installation usually requires a depth of a minimum of 2’4” into the room to its front face.

If your ideas extend to having built-in cabinetry on either side of your fireplace for books, collectibles or an entertainment center, the space that will be consumed will likely be a minimum 2’ depth all across one end of the room. A hearth, if desired, will also encroach into the room. In a large room, this can be a beautiful focal point. In a small room, unless handled very carefully, this look can come across as overwhelming. To conserve space, a hearth of the same finish material as the fireplace face can be inset flush with the floor, for an extension of the required non-combustible surface.

Another complication to fireplace location is the position of a large television, if it also will have a presence in the room. The television will compete for attention and becomes another diversion, whether from the fireplace as focal point, or the view as focal point. Mounting mechanisms of TVs will extend out from the wall. If planned for, flat screen, wall mounted televisions can be recessed into spaces above the fireplace. While a very good use of space, it may not be the look for everyone, as it still presents a large black, blank screen when not in use.

Your choice of finishes can determine the style of the room and may range from stacked, split or round rock, brick, granite or tile. Contemporary fireplace styles often incorporate a flat finish for the face, sometimes even without a mantel. Popular are ceramic tile, marble or granite to provide this clean look.

Double-sided and peninsula fireboxes are available from Heatilator and other manufacturers, which can be utilized between living and dining areas, for instance, or between master bedroom and bath. Manufacturers now offer exciting decorator feature fireplaces, as well as electric fireplaces and direct vent fireplaces; others feature remote controls.

Even in the largest of homes on the island, homeowners sometimes make decisions in favor of the view instead of incorporation of a fireplace in the living space.

While it may be an attractive element in your home’s style, if your home is small and your primary interest is to conserve space, then maybe a fireplace is the feature to live without.

Consider how often you may actually use it and decide if it fits into your life style. If its use in the plan will compromise your view of the beautiful outdoors, it may best be left out of the scope. You can always invite friends to visit around your chiminea or fire pit.

Seaside Home Design, LLC endeavors to educate Islander readers regarding a full spectrum of home design and construction issues; products and materials and construction techniques; particularly those specific to seaward construction, and also profiles interesting custom-home design projects.

Carolin Santangelo is a home designer and owner of Seaside Home Design, LLC. Contact SeasideHome@windstream.net, or 409-632-0381.

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