Whether fueled by earthy oak, crackling birch or gas, fireplaces can take us to destinations heady with cozy, peaceful or romantic ambiances. Some talented local designers offer their takes on how to achieve the perfect fireplace design and décor for this time of year and beyond.
Heinrich+Schultz opened in 2004 courtesy of Randy Heinrich and Liz Schultz, who offer more than 25 years each of design industry experience. Since 1974, Romens Interior Design and Home Furnishings has been owned and operated by Ginny Romens and Lynn Goodwin. Christine Hoene began with Design Innovations in 2006, working with founder Betty Duff, who retired in 2013.
While designers tend to clients’ individual styles, there are some commonalities in aesthetic. “You see a lot of contemporary and a lot of transitional,” Heinrich says, contemporary reading clean lines and transitional falling between contemporary and traditional.
Bridget Connell, designer with Romens, says trends are pointing to the juxtaposition of materials, using cleaner lines paired with a rustic mantel or balancing reclaimed materials with stone, for example.
Romens suggests space planning the rest of the room prior to installing a fireplace, ensuring that furniture accommodates fireplace viewing. She also recommends pulling in other design elements from the rest of the house to provide a seamless, intentional welcome to the added feature. For example, replicating metal or wood finishes in other parts of the home creates cohesion.
For new construction, Hoene says larger-scale stone is being utilized. “The smaller mini glass or stone varieties that you’ve seen a lot of are not as common,” she says. “In the larger scale, we are seeing lots of white still—some marble, some porcelain ranging in sizes from a 4 inch x 12 inch subway to 12 inch x 36 inch or even larger if the space will allow for a large application.”
In terms of materials, Hoene recommends real stone, porcelain or glass tile. “The ledger stone look is still very Minnesotan if you are trying to achieve a true cozy feel,” she says.
Homeowners must also consider fireplaces’ heat sources. Schultz warns against using glowing, faux embers. “They’re going to regret it,” she says of homeowners enamored by the sparkle and shimmer, which can evoke a more hotel vibe and less homey feel. “The whole idea of a fireplace is providing warmth and cozy [ambiance], and those don’t provide any of those,” she explains.
With the debate between gas versus wood burning, Schultz says people still prefer gas-burning units. “They want it for the easy maintenance,” Heinrich says. Romens echoes the assessment. “The gas options have been getting better and better,” Hoene says. “They have a real look, warm feel, work quickly and efficiently. But who can say they don’t love a real fire? However, I always encourage clients to make the decision based on what will work best for their everyday life.”
Homeowners should also think outside the hearth. Hoene notes there are other ways to bring a fireplace into play. “There are some great smaller portable gas fireplaces and even tabletop fireplaces—these can go almost anywhere,” she says.
- Designer Tip: Use complimentary accents! Northwoods meets feminine. Light and fresh meets warm and cozy.
Whether building new or redoing an existing fireplace, Heinrich says there’s an important element to address. “Scale is always very important,” he says. “A lot of times they weren’t big enough,” Connell says of existing fireplaces. “Make them a statement.”
Hoene also says to be mindful of scale. “This is so important,” she says. “How many rows of the stone or tile can you fit? How will this really look when applied to the bottom half, top half, sides, whole wall?” Clearly, homeowners should ask themselves to visualize the end product from every angle before committing.
Redoing a fireplace needn’t take a bite out of a budget. Hoene says economical updates include painting over existing brick, a move some homeowners and designers blanch at. “I do encourage clients to paint brick. Take a look online at concept photos, and don’t be afraid,” Hoene says. “It’s always looks better than the outdated, original version.”Hoene also suggests adding shiplap or reclaimed wood to space above the mantel. Maybe a spruce up just requires painting or staining an existing mantel. “Or if going for a real contemporary look, forgo the mantel,” she says.
- Designer Tip: Shop your house for heirloom artwork
Create a View
The fireplace might be set in stone, per se, but the mantel is a work in progress, showing off the seasons, anchoring a room or being cheeky or sophisticated per its homeowner’s design sensibilities.
The mantel may be many things, but it’s not the kitchen sink. “So many people want to put everything out,” Schultz says. “Edit, edit, edit.” Though tempting to claim every inch of mantel real estate as home for another tchotchke, Heinrich says, “Keep it simple.”
Use one or two color stories and commit, Schultz says, and utilizing a mirror’s reflective quality creates “mood” or even a wreath can make a powerful design notion. Balance, she says, is key.
“High contrast from the stone/tile/paint is important when it comes it to the mantel,” Hoene says. “If the fireplace is light, go dark. If the fireplace is darker, go light. And when it comes to decor, less is more. Challenge yourself to put fewer items on the mantel.”
- Designer Tip: Don’t be afraid to add color, even during the winter months! Your home should be a reflection of your personality.