Q: We're going to remove a wall in order to combine the kitchen with the adjoining family room. I think, however, that it may still be necessary to have some sort of visual barrier to the more messy food preparation area. A two-way fireplace seems an intriguing possibility, but it's not very functional. Do you have some suggestions?
A: What you really need is a partial division between the two rooms. A good solution might be a sturdy, self-supporting structure that doesn't go all the way up to the ceiling. One side could serve as a kitchen cabinet, while books, a television and a stereo system could be housed on the side facing the family room.
Such a free-standing partition can float in space without touching either the walls or the ceiling. In a painted or natural wood finish, it will be an attractive yet functional addition that doesn't look as heavy as a fireplace.
An opening that's visible from both the kitchen and the family area may not be visually appealing unless the facing material of the fireplace is conducive to this special mood. You may be interested in the innovative alternative shown in the photograph.
I first saw this unusual combination bake oven and cook stove some years ago in a remodeled farmhouse in Finland. It was remarkable not only because it's such a functional piece of equipment. The wood-fired oven, a baker's delight, can be used either together with, or independently from, the cook stove.
At the same time, the soapstone material causes the heat from the fireplace to radiate evenly, producing a cozy warmth throughout the space. This could actually be a perfect solution in your situation, since the combination of oven and fireplace bridges the gap between a kitchen's functional aspects and the aesthetic pleasure associated with a family room setting.
The model seen here is available from the Tulikivi Group of North America in West Lebanon, N.H.
Let me caution you, however, that a fireplace needs to be in use in order to serve its intended purpose as a design element. A cold, empty fireplace opening can be a dismal sight. That's perhaps less of a potential problem with an enclosed system such as this, but it's still a factor to keep in mind, particularly in climates with brief or mild winters.