Dramatizing a plain fireplace With some originality, plus fine craftsmanship, you can create a stylish focal point, even without a mantel, for a room in a contemporary house.

BY DESIGN

June 16, 1996|By Rita St. Clair | Rita St. Clair,LOS ANGELES TIMES SYNDICATE

I live in a contemporary-style home with a typically under-scaled fireplace opening that has no mantel. Unfortunately, it's in the living room, so it has to be made more inviting, because I plan to place seating pieces around it.

How might I treat the fireplace to make it the room's focal point? And where do I find a mantel suitable for a contemporary setting? Only traditional designs seem to be available.

I can help you with the focal point issue but not with the mantel dilemma. I don't know where you'd find a modern-type mantel and, frankly, I can't imagine what it might look like.

The reason why fireplaces appear so awkward in many contemporary houses has to do with architects' failure to come up with an attractive redesign for an element that no longer serves its traditional purpose: heating an entire room. All we usually get these days is a flat piece of marble or slate surrounding the fireplace opening. The hearth generally gets the same bland treatment.

So how does one accomplish the difficult task of transforming a hole in the wall into a dramatic design statement?

I'm afraid it may prove all but impossible without the combined skills of a professional designer and a talented craftsman.

But don't panic. This approach need not be a budget-buster. In a contemporary setting, it's originality that matters most; there's no need for hand-carved fluted columns or marble and granite inlays.

You can get started by reading some books on contemporary interior designs. They can be an excellent source of ideas and inspiration.

Let me point you in a helpful direction by presenting this photo of an inventive fireplace treatment that would look just fine in a room such as yours. I came across this illustration in a book titled "Designing with Tile, Stone and Brick" (published by PBC International). In it, author Carol Soucek King takes her readers on a worldwide tour of stunning homes.

This particular treatment consists of blue stone that has been cut into board and batten shapes and installed as though it were being placed on a home's exterior. While such a design can of course be produced with other materials and doesn't have to include a raised hearth, the use of stone does obviate the need for adding fireproof material around the fireplace opening as well as on the hearth.

Perhaps you'll agree that this sort of treatment is an attractive substitute for that elusive contemporary mantelpiece you've been seeking.

Pub Date: 6/16/96

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