Contemporary fireplaces are popular choice for buyers
From ancient fire pits to today's linear styles, a fireplace has always held a bit of magic.
Today that magic might look like this: A young couple cuddles up on their sofa in front of the fireplace in their new home. They gaze at the glowing fire that comes to life with the flip of a switch. The linear fireplace fits in with their clean-lined furnishings and contemporary decor.
Very contemporary linear fireplaces are popular now, and the trend is growing at a rapid pace -- specifically with the 40 and younger crowd, said R. Patrick O'Donnell, president of Hearth & Home in Mount Prospect.
"This age group is heavily influenced by HGTV, based out of Toronto -- and Canada is a very contemporary fireplace market," O'Donnell said. "The style could also appeal to contemporary-minded seniors who want something current with high style."
Philip Little, general manager at Fireplace and Patio Depot in Willowbrook, agrees that people are getting away from the traditional look and going with very contemporary fireplaces.
"We're seeing a lot of the linear-look gas fireplaces with a simple ribbon of fire. Instead of logs, some people like to burn (natural gas with) river rock or crushed glass," he said.
A lot of people have more contemporary furniture, and fireplace manufacturers are producing sleek fireplace styles to fit in with the contemporary furniture, said Chris Talbot, fireplace manager with Schwake Stone in Mundelein.
Whether classic or contemporary, a fireplace creates a cozy ambience and is a striking focal point in any room.
At KLM Builders in Spring Grove, 60 percent of clients include a fireplace in their homes. "A lot of our customers are opting for a granite surround around the face with a wood mantle," said Kim Meier, president of KLM. "Then, in most cases, we have a recess in the wall where we mount a flat screen TV, sometimes hidden behind a painting. This is a popular application."
You need that linear look to accommodate the TV above the fireplace, Little said. Some people place a large mirror above the fireplace, which reflects light from the room and makes the room look larger. It also adds to the open and airy feel of the room.
Dan Mayer, president of Northwest Metalcraft in Arlington Heights, is in tune with the contemporary trend, and he also sees the popularity of outdoor products.
"Outdoor fireplaces and fire pits are exploding because people are enjoying the outdoors more, and they like the ambience of sitting around a fire. The best time to enjoy the outdoors is in the fall."
People also like to entertain in their backyards, and they're extending their homes to an outdoor living rooms now," he said.
People can create warmth and ambience in more than one room with a two-sided fireplace in a wall that separates two or more rooms. There is also an indoor/outdoor see-through fireplace on the market that lets you enjoy a fire both indoors and out on the patio at the same time.
Recently, Craig Shodeen, president of Shodeen Homes, built an indoor-outdoor, two-sided fireplace for a client of its custom home division, Sjodin Custom Homes. When sitting outside in front of the fireplace, you feel the heat while the fan blows the heat inside, as well, Shodeen said.
"I put one in a friend's home and started showing the house, and people said they wanted one just like it, and asked whether they could put one in a screened porch," Shodeen said.
"Several companies make them, and there are many options. It's very cool. We were just saying that maybe we should put one in our gazebo. This seems to be a hot item for us now."
In addition to the family room, homebuyers are putting a fireplace in master suites and kitchen dining areas.
"In the last five custom homes we've done, people wanted a fireplace in the kitchen nook where they can turn the table parallel with the fireplace," Shodeen said. "We started labeling that area the hearth room."
With new materials and better efficiency, fireplaces play an important role in the comfort and the visual appeal of today's homes.
Most people are using gas logs because it's less messy, clean burning and economical, KLM's Meier said.
With the traditional fireplace, some smoke comes in and most of the heat goes out, said Ed Schappert, sales manager with Hearth & Home.
"A modern, direct-vent fireplace is efficient and the best way to go with modern construction," he said.
Little of Fireplace and Patio Depot agrees.
"People are looking for energy efficiency, and wood sucks heat out of the house. Also, a lot of wood today has parasites in it, and it's against the law to import wood from other states.
"When you put in a set of gas logs that will last forever," Little said. "You'll pay for it in the first year if you stop burning wood."
Also, direct-vent fireplace inserts retrofitted in existing fireplaces are becoming more and more popular in the Chicago area. "You can have a beautiful fireplace, but you don't want your money going up the chimney. The inserts save money, and everyone likes to save money," Talbot said.
With direct vent fireplaces and inserts, 100 percent of combustion fumes are removed from the home, and only heated air is brought in. These sealed fireplaces provide optimal heat, conserve energy and ensure clean, safe indoor air quality.
"The inserts make the fireplace up to 85-percent efficient," Little said.
Shodeen, too, sees many people converting their fireplaces to direct vents. "With the cost about half, in a lot of cases, people can have two direct vent fireplaces instead of one masonry," he said.
If you no longer like the look of your fireplace and want a more current vibe, consider giving it a facelift to change the look and feel of the whole room.
When people update their 1950s or '60s homes, they want the fireplace to look nice and fresh with a new face, Mayer said. "We have a full line of mantels and surrounds for people who want a new look, and we're doing a lot of these.
"We do a lot of stone fireplaces where the thinner stone complements either a traditional or contemporary decor."
Talbot is also part of this fireplace renovation scene.
"We can get rid of the brick either by taking it out and replacing it or covering it with natural stone veneer and put in a new door and mantel. A brick fireplace looks dated, especially for the younger generation buying homes today."