Marble fireplace can work in a casual environment

DESIGN LINE

September 12, 1993|By Rita St. Clair | Rita St. Clair,Contributing Writer

Q: My living room redecorating project has hit a snag in th form of a brick-faced fireplace. I've always wanted to replace it with a marble fireplace, but I'm afraid that would look too elegant in a room with an old oak-planked floor and nondescript, Colonial-style architecture. Now I'm even more uncertain about such a switch, since the room is being redone in a style that's at once casual and traditional. Do you think a marble fireplace would look all right in these circumstances?

A: I think it could. Notice, though, that I've qualified my response because more is involved here than simply replacing brick with marble.

Contrary to the impression that I have made on some readers, I am not a proponent of the "anything-goes" school of design. I do like to encourage clients and correspondents to follow their preferences, but my own recommendations usually include lots of "ands," "ifs" and "howevers."

In your case, the first condition has to do with scale and design. The look of a room is often affected more by the size of a fireplace than by its surface material. The choice of marble or brick, in other words, matters less than the amount of space the fireplace occupies. Assuming that your fireplace doesn't overwhelm the setting, there's no reason to rule out marble.

Because it's almost always a focal point, a fireplace also needs to be at least somewhat consistent with the architecture and overall styling of a room. I don't see why marble wouldn't work with your oak-planked floor and Colonial-style architecture (even it is nondescript). And while marble does connote a certain elegance, I've seen it used effectively in casual interiors.

My only advice here is that you choose a type of marble that's subdued in its color and pattern.

Perhaps this photo will give you further inspiration. This English home, dating from the 19th century, has been furnished and finished in a casual style notable for its detailing. The white marble fireplace looks good in this setting, don't you agree?

As in your own room, the flooring here is bare wood plank -- waxed pine in this case. The walls are done in a neutral-colored striped wallpaper from Laura Ashley's "Calypso" collection. Notice that the figure drawings, like the wallpaper, don't clamor for attention at the expense of the fireplace. In fact, all the elements here work as an integrated whole, with the marble acting as a modest rather than a dramatic contributing factor.

It's the low-key color and veining that enable this fireplace to fit so smoothly into its environment. Whatever marble you choose should have the same characteristics, and should certainly not be highly polished. In fact, a honed finish might be most appropriate.

You could also consider a slate or metal surround for the fireplace opening. Materials of that sort are a smart functional choice. In the photo, for instance, a metal surround and metal grate make good companions for the mantel's decorative features.

+ Los Angeles Times Syndicate

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