Seasonably pliable - what to do with your fireplace during the milder months
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Just because the warmer weather is on its way, doesn’t mean the fireplace gets a summer break, writes Andrew Bullock
In the autumn, we blow the cobwebs from our fireplaces and light the first kindling twigs of the chilly season. By midwinter fires fit for chestnut roasting are roaring in hearths everywhere. At Christmastime, we drape our mantelpieces with stockings and turn fireplaces into shrines – a gateway to our homes for Santa.
In April, scarves are hung away ‘til October, but fireplaces stay intact. Their use, however, becomes somewhat redundant. Spring banishes the need for cosy nights cuddled in front of crackling logs.
But the fireplace itself shouldn’t be waved off as a seasonal feature, exiled into dormancy until the leaves begin to turn again outside. “The fireplace should be the focal point of the room; it’s meant to make a statement,” observes Jason Jackson, showroom manager of Chiswell Fireplaces, St Albans. “With a traditional fireplace, for instance, there would be plenty of carvings or mouldings on it to show the skills of the master craftsman. This type of fireplace becomes a piece of furniture when not being used. And so, it is visually stunning the whole year through.”
Indeed, with time-honoured homes, the intricacies of the surround and mantelpiece are striking enough, with or without the majesty of a blazing fire. That being said, making the area within the hearth pop over the summer will simply heighten its usage.
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“In Victorian times, decorative fire screens were placed in front of the hearth’s opening when not in use,” continues Jason. “Many were elaborate wrought iron work, stained glass and even tapestries.” But in today’s ever-innovative world of interior design trends, the possibilities go far beyond this. Designers don’t encourage hiding away the fallow fireplace during the spring and summer - instead, embellishing them is the way forward.
“The most common way to dress up your hearth for summer use is to fill the inner chamber with decorative items such as beach pebbles, church-style candles, crystals, vases with (or without) flowers, fairy lights or stacking logs,” advises Jason.
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With the latter idea, this is an ideal opportunity to use a more aesthetic or baroque species of wood - the kinds that aren’t appropriate to actually burn. While cherry, chestnut and maple aren’t in any way unattractive, save those for practical use in the winter. When springtime hits, place saltwater driftwood in the fire chamber, or invest in logs that have been sprayed decoratively with silvers, golds or whites. An even bolder suggestion - pick a brighter colour, such as a blue or rosy shade, and stack natural-coloured logs in the hearth with these more auspicious trunks dotted amid them.
“Stacked logs have always been my ‘go to’ solution for dressing an empty fireplace,” says Kerry Laird, interior designer at Fishpools in Waltham Cross. “Fill the entire centre of the fireplace with random size logs. If you don’t have the physical depth for natural logs you can always use log slices or even a digitally printed wall-covering to create the illusion or to match a certain hue of the accent colour to the room.”
A scattering of pebbles certainly brings the beachfront effect of the summer into the living room, but Kerry stretches this stony effect slightly further: “A nice tile or stone will give a fresh look to an unused fireplace. Use a marble backing or porcelain if you don’t have the budget.”
Kerry also champions the placement of candles in a dormant hearth: “I love to group different height church candles in a fireplace to give warmth to a room. You can also mirror the back of the hearth to give depth and create an illusion of multiple candles.”
Candles are naturally synonymous with fireplaces. Replacing wood with wax is less about a heat source and more about stand-alone ambiance.
While pillar wax candles are illustrious, the trend in wood-effect candles will bring your summer fireplace full-circle and keep the timber theme going. Amelia Candles in Letchworth have a range of wood style candles that not only look the part but burn with a earthy scent mingling fruit (orange), blossoms (rose) and nutty (sweet almond) flavours with sandalwood and cinnamon bark.
Similarly, Potters Crouch Candles, Gorhambury, offer pine and zebrawood (found in Central America, Central Africa and Brazil) three-tiered tea light holders, which provide height.
If it’s the fragrance of a wood fire you’re missing in the summertime, go for the ‘Fireside’ range at Potters Crouch - a warm woody blend of ash, birch and walnut wood. David Brown from the showroom says: “fine fragrance is never out of season. You can keep the fireplace alive with the wonderful evocative aroma of our ‘Fireside’ candle even when the weather is hot outside.”
While winter mantelpieces are adorned with garlands of fir, conifer and spruce, Zoe Lafbery of Flower Box, St Albans, suggests a seasonal overhaul when it comes to summertime fireplace decor: “Take a vase - a lovely, large vase, either clear glass or porcelain - and fill it with colourful flowers and fresh leaves that represent the warmer season.”
While Flower Box sell by the stem, their expert advice on what goes with what is right on the mark. “Bouquets that combine mauves and pinks and creams and light yellows just say ‘summer’; while tulips and daffodils are of course the epitome of spring,” Zoe suggests. “Collating roses with cymbidium orchids and hypericums is always a striking look, while anemones, freesias. tulips and veronicas also compliment each other. Long-stemmed luscious buds or plusher foliage will of course fill out a space such as a hearth.”
If hot, take a countrified approach with dried flowers - particularly salvias, lavender and violets. These will naturally last all season, without the need for replenishment or fresh water, and add a rustic texture to the fireplace.
“An empty hearth can also be brightened with the added colour of low-maintenance greenery in different height pots,” offers Kerry of Fishpools, as an added décor suggestion.
As well as the traditional style, Jason from Chiswell Fireplaces reminds us that modern style fireplaces are now becoming architecturally stunning: “Many incorporate TVs and long cantilever hearths. These are being used as seating areas to bring them more into day-to-day modern living.”
Jason also offers wise words when it comes to utilising the warm season to think ahead to the winter: “summer is the best time to start thinking about replacing your fire/fireplace. Many manufacturers will bring to market their new products in late summer so they’re ready for display in showrooms before the cold weather starts to kick in. These sorts of fireplaces are not available off the shelf and made to order; so forward planning is advisable in the run up to Christmas.”
The moral here – embrace this feature of your home all year round. Have fun with the possibilities that come with using a fireplace for something other than warmth over the summer. Save fire for the barbeques and bonfires outside and use your hearth as a space in which interior trends will flourish.