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Choosing A Traditional Masonry Fireplace

Just like wood, stone can bring natural warmth and character into a home. And like the timber framers who expertly cut and carve posts and beams following centuries-old methods, today’s stone masons produce functional masterpieces using traditional craftsmanship. Choosing a full-masonry (as opposed to a factory-built) fireplace for your home is just one decision you’ll […]
by Timber Homes Illustrated Staff
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Just like wood, stone can bring natural warmth and character into a home. And like the timber framers who expertly cut and carve posts and beams following centuries-old methods, today’s stone masons produce functional masterpieces using traditional craftsmanship.

Choosing a full-masonry (as opposed to a factory-built) fireplace for your home is just one decision you’ll make—then you’ll need to choose a mason, decide on the material for the fireplace and select a style for the fireplace.

When looking for a mason, ask for recommendations from your architect or builder, suggests Wayne Cook, a mason in Oregon. “You can ask around in stone yards, too,” he says. “They know all the masons.” As with anyone who will work on your home project, be sure to check references and ask to see a mason’s work before signing a contract. The web site of the Stone Foundation (www.stonefoundation.org) also offers a list of stone masons and masonry contractors. 

To choose a material for your fireplace (or fireplaces), flip through magazines or books for photos of styles that appeal to you. Take pictures of fireplaces you admire in other people’s homes, in restaurants or other buildings. These photos and magazine clippings should give the mason a good idea of what you’re looking for in a fireplace—whether it will be built from rounded river rock, textured flat stones, brick or some other materials. While it makes sense to look at samples and discuss your options, you should leave the process of choosing the particular materials for your hearth up to the mason, Wayne says, because he or she will know just what is needed for your project. Asking a mason to work with a pile of stones or rocks that you’ve purchased yourself may be asking for trouble. 

As you look at more fireplaces, you’ll discover that styles are almost unlimited. From beehive-shaped Kiva hearths found in the Southwest, to tall, shallow Rumford fireplaces, to more rustic rock surrounds, you’re sure to find a look that is perfect for your home.

Unlike a factory-built fireplace, one that is hand-built by a mason will not have a metal firebox that is covered by some finish material. (If your budget won’t stretch, choosing a prefabricated unit may be the best choice.) Masonry fireplaces can be fueled by either wood or gas. When gas will be used, have the gas line installed before work begins on the fireplace, recommends Massachusetts mason Mark Mendel. “You have more access before the masonry begins,” he explains.

Although fireplaces have been in homes for ages, there are a few new trends. The fastest-growing is the popularity of outdoor fireplaces, which extend the season for people to enjoy their outdoor living spaces. These fireplaces can burn wood or gas and may share a chimney with an interior fireplace. Masonry bake ovens are showing up in kitchens in greater numbers. These ovens give cooks the opportunity to re-create the brick-oven flavor found at restaurants in their own homes. Brick baking ovens can also be built outside as part of an outdoor kitchen.

The warmth of a fire can bring life, energy and charm to any room of your home. Consider adding one to your dining room, just off your kitchen, or your master bedroom. In the bedroom, Mark Mendel suggests choosing a gas-fueled hearth. “By the time you lug in the wood and the fire gets going, you’re asleep,” he says. With gas, one click of a switch or remote and you can enjoy dancing flames.

Published in Timber Homes Illustrated Staff
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