Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Off-Season Fireplace Fillers

While organizing this post, I realized it might be a bit premature for some of you in colder parts of the country. But Spring has definitely sprung here in Southern California. April and Easter are only a few days away, for goodness sake. Time to close up my fireplace. Bring it in line with the new seasons and my lighter, warm-weather decor.

However, as I'm proof-reading before posting today, it's dreary out and threatening rain. Perhaps this idea is premature here too! Maybe I'll have one or two more fires before closing it up this weekend and then... what?

What will I do to fill in that unsightly, unused fire box? What should take the place of the firewood-filled basket and hearth tools? Searching around in books, magazines and online, I've come up with lots of examples but still I'm not sure what to do here.

Part of the problem in my house is that I really don't want my fireplace to be the focal point of my living room. It's off-center and clumsily proportioned. We purposefully painted out the brick we uncovered in the process of remodeling so that it blends into the walls. I don't put much on the mantel either. A round, iron-framed mirror plus a couple of small prints propped up and some greenery or vase of flowers and that's it. Nothing that will call too much attention.

What I choose to fill or cover my firebox during the off-season will likely then be quite low-key. You, however, may have a perfectly centered, beautifully proportioned fireplace that is the star of your room. With that in mind as well, I've gathered a variety of options to inspire us.

One of the more traditional covers for an unused firebox is a decorative fireboard. A painted board or even an embroidered and framed panel does the job nicely in vintage surroundings. Plants and flowers, whether inside the firebox itself or placed on the hearth, are also classic choices. I might try a fern this year. But any fern in my living room will have to be faux. That corner of my living room lacks enough light to keep a real one alive. Dried hydrangeas or faux boxwoods in decorative containers are another alternative I might explore.

An obvious solution to covering the opening of an unused fireplace is a folding screen. Unlike the finely woven metal screens that prevent sparks and embers from escaping the fire, a carved screen like the one above, a painted screen or even an upholstered screen custom made to complement your room is purely decorative and should be replaced when fire season rolls around again.

Here's an interesting screen of sorts fashioned from the fronds of a sago palm. And while the fronds may be real, it appears that the fireplace itself is not. Placing items on the faux hearth of a faux fireplace lends authenticity to the overall look. On a real hearth, below, decorative objects and flowers soften the blackness without entirely blocking the firebox. Which is fine, I suppose, when the fireplace will be in use. But I'm not a fan of this particular flatscreen-over-the-mantel look. I would add something more to the hearth arrangement to further reduce (or eliminate altogether) the appearance of one black box on top of another.

Candles in the firebox are a tried and true solution to an off-season or non-working fireplace. I've never tried this myself though. Maybe this will be the year. No, I take that back. I know better that I'm really not a "candle person". I'd never bother to burn them.

I do like the look of these candle hurricanes set atop a chest placed in front of the fireplace opening. This particular arrangement seems meant for the winter holidays, but it could easily be replicated with branches and plants from our current season. The starfish and Nantucket baskets lend a seaside touch that can stay all summer.

A low chest or a bench placed in front of the fireplace adds extra seating while the fireplace is not in use. That's a smart use of a temporarily freed-up space.
Or move an entire seating arrangement and treat the front of your fireplace like any other wall in the room. I like this idea a lot for my own home. Since I have such a funky fireplace situation, I do tend to treat it more like a wall. There's a reading chair and floor lamp pushed right up almost against it now.

More often than not, I've taken the easy way out and simply plopped the basket that holds our firewood right into the firebox and called it a day. Expected but (sort of) effective. Decorative (kind of) but not intrusive.

I suppose I could expend a teeny bit more energy and stack the logs sideways in an artful arrangement. And make sure the room surrounding the fireplace is as interesting and colorful as the one below so the hearth is hardly noticed anyway.

Even more ambitious is this firebox packed full of... what? Is that wood? Shingles? Books? Whatever it is, it's a conversation starter for sure. Which is not what I want my fireplace to be. So, intriguing as it is, this won't work for me. (And does anyone else think of spiders when they see this? We have a lot of spiders here. No need to make them feel any more at home than they already do.)
This fireplace below, is, in fact, full of books. Sorry, but there's just something inherently wrong with this. Yes it's edgy and creative and colorful and solves a storage problem perhaps, but it's books in a fireplace! The implication really bothers me. Nope, not going to happen.

Something I have considered is making sure the room itself is so striking, so well put together and full of interesting furnishings and objects, that the fireplace becomes a non-issue. Unlike as we see it in the photo below - smack in the center of our view - I believe the fireplace here might be overlooked entirely by the occupants of this room. Now that's the effect I'm looking for!

The elements of surprise and distraction are definitely at work below. Neutralize the furnishings and windows and hang a big blue sail fish over the mantel. Fireplace? What fireplace?

I'll be working over the next few days to solve my fireplace puzzle. I have a set of small shutters that, with a new paint job, might be just the thing. I also have some wooden boxes, a couple of baskets, and maybe I'll go on the hunt for a faux fern just to see what that looks like. If I come up with anything blog-worthy, I'll show you next week!
In the meantime,
tell me -
What do you do with
your fireplace in the off-season?
Hide it or highlight it?


Kathysue said...

Tracy I have had a tri-fold mirror insert to cover the unsightly back of the fireplace, I put rock on the bottom and potted plants ,flowers etc inside with a grow light that I attach to the flue. It is pretty cool, havent done that for awhile I think I might do that again. It really is a nice look!! Can't wait to see what you do, Kathysue

Struggler said...

I admit I go for the easy 'group of candles' option. And yes, occasionally I even burn them.
I agree you, the books/fireplace link is disturbing. But I saw this collection of canvases over at The Homely Place, and thought that was kind of neat, especially in London where space can be so limited.

Anonymous said...

What a great post-very well planned out and with fabulous pictures! I can't wait to see what you end up doing with your fireplace. I have an awkward area in my family room and have just about given up on it.
I usually leave a couple logs in and put a couple of ferns on a low bench in front of it. That might be why I like the trunk picture! I also like the idea of having a simple ottoman in front.
I'm sure yours will be lovely ~
Sarah xo

the gardeners cottage said...

Hi Tracy,

Well I cannot wait for pics of your fireplace and what you choose to decorate with.

Sadly, VERY sadly I do not have a fireplace. It's the only thing missing from this cottage. I love the look of a fern in there. But I also love that pic with the trunk in front of it.

I will be waiting to see what you do!


Sanity Fair said...

Some great ideas - and appropriately subdued. What I can't stand is when people do weird things that try to hide the mantel too - it literally becomes the elephant-sized thing in the room!

Pigtown-Design said...

I have an old marble fireplace in my office and the interior is painted black. I have a pottery vase filled with dried hydrangeas in it.

AB HOME Interiors said...

What a fun post! I always decorate or highlight mine. They are inevitable and necessary so adding a few decorative items doesnt make them look out of place at all!

AB HOME Interiors said...

What a fun post! I always decorate or highlight mine. They are inevitable and necessary so adding a few decorative items doesnt make them look out of place at all!

AB HOME Interiors said...

What a fun post! I always decorate or highlight mine. They are inevitable and necessary so adding a few decorative items doesnt make them look out of place at all!

AB HOME Interiors said...

What a fun post! I always decorate or highlight mine. They are inevitable and necessary so adding a few decorative items doesnt make them look out of place at all!

Tracy F. said...

Great post,Tracy! I have this dilemna every Spring. I especially loved the picture with the sago palm and the blue planter full of white flowers. Thank you for so many good ideas.

Tim said...

Hi Tracy! Some really interesting fireplaces and a good discussion you have created too. I have restored the house I am currently in and unearthed an exquisite Marble Fireplace. While it should be used for it's intended purpose, I too find the fireplace will frame the use of floral (such as dried hydrangeas that have been mentioned before) really well.

Gil said...

Here's another alternative to think about! They not only look great but stop the cold drafts from an unused fireplace and stop heat loss up your chimney.



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find us at www.fireplacefashion.com


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