The sculptural form or elements of it are being employed by architects in other parts of the country, too. A half wall that divides a modern room with large built-in shelving that reads like grids is compelling. The half-circle that defines the fireplace is in itself a shape that relieves the squares set up by the open shelves and the terra cotta tile floor.
Beyond traditional fireplaces, freestanding wood-burning stoves are making inroads in American homes, especially in rustic or casual settings. But some companies, such as Vermont Castings, show their porcelain enamel stoves (available in cobalt, cranberry, hunter green, sand and classic black) in dressed-up family rooms.
Another wood-burning option is a masonry stove, like those used in Europe centuries ago. Biofire Inc. produces a range of such styles.
The prototype is the kachelofen (pronounced cockel-oafen), a tile stove that dates to 713 and evolved into grand Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque styles that still may be found in castles and old buildings in Europe.
Manufactured in Austria of firebrick and clay, this stove is a true radiant heating system. It transfers its heat to the surrounding area through a large surface area that's heated to less than 200 degrees Fahrenheit, not too hot to touch.
Fans are not needed to circulate the air. Less convection means less air movement which, in turn, means less dust and less floor to ceiling temperature stratification.
One armload of wood will burn all day, but will continue to heat the area another 12 to 24 hours. The company says the stoves are 90 percent to 95 percent efficient.
The stove is tailored to a home's specifications, taking into account its elevation, size and style of windows, chimney and insulation of its walls.
Biofire offers a selection of decorative ceramic tiles, which are part of the face, customized to meet a range of decorating tastes. Brilliant blue, turquoise or purple tiles, some with patterns, stand out against white, reminiscent of houses in Greece. (Unadorned stucco also is available as a finish.) Prices for the stoves average $12,000 to $15,000, depending on the elaborateness of the design.
Some stoves and fireplaces do have a drawback: They produce ashes and require attention. If you like the romance of them, but not the mess, natural gas may be the answer.
For convenience, gas is hard to beat: Flip a switch and the fire's going (some even have remote controls). The technology of gas logs has improved to the point that the flame is much more realistic-looking and they can even produce the sound of crackling burning wood.
But most important for many people is that you don't have to worry about wood storage and cleaning up ashes.
Energy efficiency and safety are gas bonuses. New on the market is the catalytic gas fireplace. Developed by Superior, a fireplace company in Fullerton, Calif., its PureHeat model
requires no chimney and applies flame catalyst technology to ordinary gas combustion. The result is a clean-burning, safe and highly efficient gas fireplace.
Whether it's a wood-burning stove, a fireplace or a gas hearth that suits your desires, the glow of firelight is soothing. Gathering loved ones and friends around the hearth will warm the spirit as well as the body.
Pub Date: 7/11/98