That chill in the air means it's time to start a fire in the fireplace. Whether you are gathering around to share the warmth or simply enjoy the ambience, bring a warm glow to any room with a fireplace—a hot trend in design.
With today's fireplace styles and modern technology, it is relatively easy to add a fireplace to any room.
While many people want their family rooms to be the "warming center," others are adding secondary fireplaces in more unusual spots. "Many times when people are renovating a kitchen or bathroom they are putting in a fireplace," said Pat O'Donnell, president of Hearth & Home, a fireplace retailer in Mt. Prospect.
In a kitchen, the fireplace might be a small unit that sits in the corner of a breakfast area or a mid-sized unit built into a wall near the island. The placement and style would vary based on the layout and location of the eating area.
In a bathroom, a fireplace might have two sides and be placed between the bathroom and the master bedroom. Another option is to have a fireplace built into a wall inside the master bathroom, as a focal point near a whirlpool tub.
In a more traditional family room location, some people are moving beyond the typical brick surround and wooden mantel to designs that are more artistic and daring. The fireplace may be surrounded with a tall wall of stones to create a log cabin effect.
Other fireplaces are enclosed on three sides by glass to create a dramatic vista through the flames. The design creates a stunning contrast of materials, particularly when the glass is topped with thick, uneven stones that lead to the ceiling, said Perry Ranes, national sales manager for Travis Industries, a fireplace manufacturer in Mukilteo, Wash
Those not comfortable with the heavy brick or stone detailing of a traditional fireplace or the stark lines of a contemporary one, can find plenty of options in between.
Manufacturers have added lines that offer interesting metal or stone materials without all the fuss of a highly traditional design. "Some of our cast iron is not as ornate as in the past, so someone can use it in an urban loft as well as a New England farmhouse," Ranes said.
There also are ways to take a standard builder's fireplace surround and add a little pizazz with built in shelving and lighting. At Country Club Villas in Joliet, one option is to add carved niches above the fireplace and install glass shelves for decoration.
"When you're standing about 20 feet from the fireplace it looks like the stuff on the shelves is hanging in mid air," said Don Smyczynski, president of the Country Club Villas project.
"Nearly 100 percent of all our homebuyers expressed the desire to have at least one fireplace somewhere in their new residences," says Pat Taylor, president and founder of Dartmoor Homes.
Taylor says the fireplace also plays an important role in a home's design, inside and out.
"The fireplace enhances a room's appearance by creating a central focal point and accentuating various features," Taylor emphasized. For instance, tall columns emanating from the fireplace can emphasize a room's height and space, while on the outside, tall chimney columns give a home additional depth and character.
According to Ryan VanLue of Rock Creek Homes, which is building semi-custom homes at the Hennings near Huntley, fireplaces also have a direct influence on room design in many homes.
"We design our family rooms around the possibilities of how the fireplace can relate to such prominent features as entertainment centers, plasma TVs, furniture, etc.," states VanLue.
There also are newer technologies that add a unique twist to a fireplace design. Some fireplaces are sold with lighting on the inside that can add ambience even when the fireplace is not on. Lopi brand fireplaces, for example, have aromatherapy trays hidden in the surround. Pull out the tray and add a little eucalyptus to the fire and let it resonate throughout the room, Ranes said.
Fireplaces also have become popular as supplemental heating sources. This can work well in older homes where there are cold pockets in various rooms. The fireplace also allows for zoned heating, which can save energy costs.
Fireplaces range in cost, depending on size, material and overall design. A basic fireplace typically costs about $1,300, with the more elaborate ones reaching $5,000 to $7,000 or more.
As you debate a fireplace style, the question of wood versus gas will arise. Many people like the nostalgic feeling of "putting another log on the fire" with a wood burning fireplace. These fireplaces are built into the home with a full chimney, which makes them a very permanent part of the structure. They also require more space and have to be planned during construction.
Gas fireplaces, however, do not always require a full chimney. There are models that vent through a wall and can be placed almost anywhere. These "direct vent" fireplaces can be added during a remodeling, as they require little structural work.
In many cases, the answer comes down to your lifestyle. How much time do you want to spend tending a wood fire versus just clicking a remote to turn on a gas one?