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posted: 3/9/2014 5:45 AM

A cozy home is a necessity during an endless winter

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  • With new elements available on the market today, we can make a simple cabinet function like the fireplace of yore.

      With new elements available on the market today, we can make a simple cabinet function like the fireplace of yore.
    Courtesy of Spark Fires

By Christine Brun

There appears to be enough cold weather packed into this year to keep us pondering about how to be cozier in our homes, large or small.

Obvious things like checking the weatherproofing of windows and doors, accessing damage to roofing and ensuring adequate insulation are all at the top of the list for a wise homeowner. We bought an older home and were shocked to discover more than 35 holes in our aging roof! Once we repaired the damage, we noticed a significant improvement in controlling the temperatures inside. But when we put a new roof on, the difference was stunning.

Thoughts naturally go toward fireplaces as the traditional symbol of residential warmth. Time was when a fireplace provided the heat for each bedroom of a house. From rustic potbellied stoves to small brick fireplaces, individual rooms were heated by burning some sort of fuel source. Many homes today are heated via a system of distribution; from a main spring located in a basement or central heating unit. Natural gas, radiant heat, heat pumps, geothermal heating, wood and oil are ways that we heat our homes.

No matter how the heat is delivered, the aesthetic symbol of the traditional hearth is deeply embedded in our vision of positive design elements. With the sleek, new elements available on the market today, we can make a simple cabinet function and feel like the fireplace of yore. Requiring no venting allows a designer to position the modern equivalent of a fireplace anywhere in the house. Here a cabinet functions as both a room divider and an element to house the fire. One can use heating elements that burn ethanol with practically zero clearance, allowing for a hearth to be inserted in custom cabinetry in any room of a house. In a bookcase, a burner can sit calmly next to a stack of books.

For those in rental situations, it is easy enough to buy stand-alone units that mimic a traditional fireplace. You might position such a piece anywhere in a room. Most burn some type of gel fuel and enable you to turn down your furnace a little. Prices range from $300 to several thousand dollars; you can even find some in discount retail stores such as Home Goods or Big Lots. However, the real bargain is that you do not need a huge amount of space for a brick and mortar firebox and chimney.

Other ways to increase warmth in a room include thick and luxurious textiles. Revisit the traditional way of lining draperies at the cold windows with thick, felt inner-lining. It is the most expensive way to make drapes, but is an effective way to keep the cold from seeping into a room through cracks in wooden windows or single-pane glass. Wood window treatments are also very efficient in acting as a barrier and include wood blinds, wood shutters and wood vertical blinds.

Consider bringing in an area rug into a room with tile or wood floors during the colder months. If you are concerned about making a room feel smaller with a rug, try to keep it close to the tone of the main floor covering. For example, if your wood is a mid-honey tone, try to use an area rug with similar color value. If your flooring is natural stone, keep the area rugs close in color and tone to the stone.

Coziness is enhanced with throw pillows, soft blankets or throws. For the winter, you might keep a collage of pottery on a side or console table, whereas in the stifling summer months you would choose to remove a tablecloth and replace it for a simple vase of fresh flowers instead. Pattern, rhythm and softness are the tools of nesting.

Christine Brun is a San Diego-based interior designer and the author of "Small Space Living." Send questions and comments to her by email at

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