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Home is Where the Hearth Is

A fireplace brings warm hands and warm hearts home for the holidays

By Amy Larson

Whether shared with loved ones gathered ‘round or enjoyed solo with only the company of a good book and a steaming mug of cocoa, there are few things more comforting than a fireplace on a cold winters day. It’s almost magical, the way a conglomerate of brick or stone can bring instant ambience to a room that might otherwise be overlooked. The word “fireplace” alone conjures images of relaxed joy, familial nurturing, and even romance as we picture the contemplative dancing of flames in our mind’s eye.

Steeped in household tradition, the fireplace has long been a focal point of dwellings across the world. Once the utilitarian epicenter for the daily tasks of survival, the contemporary fireplace still retains its ability to draw us to its warmth, even if it no longer serves to sustain us through the winter months.

But it isn’t just the purpose of the modern hearth that’s changed over the last 100 years. Its design, and even its fuel has undergone radical changes over the past century too, making the modern fireplace both a more accessible and, in some cases, a more practical addition to the twenty-first century home.

But it’s not just practicality and accessibility that are drawing homeowners to the hearth. The contemporary design of a fireplace can be breathtaking as well. From two-story stone designs singing to those entering a cavernous living space, to more modest additions to an otherwise under-used corner of a cottage home, the contemporary fireplace only serves to enhance the overall feel of a room and is undeniably the cornerstone of domestic ambience.

The modern hearth can be framed by nearly anything, from marble mosaics to rustic wooden mantels. But it is stone fireplaces that have grown in popularity in recent years. Whether built to spec or retrofitted into an existing space, the flexibility of modern stone can transform an average-looking existing fireplace from its humble roots into focal point of beauty and pride for both homeowners and prospective buyers.

“Stonework is an art form, and most good masons can visualize the finished product,” says Stacey Crabtree of Exterior Concepts, “They can start from scratch, or take an already existing fireplace, frame it out and add stone in; either method can yield stunning results.”

Because of this, more homebuilders are opting for stone as their material of choice, and it’s well known among the real estate sector that the presence of a stone fireplace – or the lack thereof – can either make or break a home’s optimum selling price.

But the addition of a fireplace into a home isn’t just an investment in your property; it’s an investment in your family’s memories too. During the holiday season a fireplace is especially important. Just ask any young child, and they will tell you that Santa runs into some uncomfortable technicalities when having to ease down a less-than-adequate chimney, or worse still, no chimney at all.

Likewise, special moments and family gatherings with the crackling glow of a lighted hearth, grace many a family photo in taken in Idaho between October and April, offering proof positive that fireplaces are getting used. And, should the power go out for an extended time, a home with a hearth can offer more than a photo op, but instead both heat and entertainment when the family gathers and marshmallows, chocolate and graham crackers are passed out.

This season, the best wish anyone can convey for holiday warmth and cheer is that friends and family will experience many a moment ensconced in the warm glow of the family hearth.

“When I retire I’m going to spend my evenings by the fireplace going through those boxes. There are things in there that ought to be burned.” -President Richard M. Nixon