The best modern fireplaces for your home


Image Credit: Andrew Ashton for Eco-Smart

Winter has arrived. And with it, fireplaces to warm the hearth.

Fireplaces have evolved from the days of the hunter-gatherer huddling around the campfire to modern city living, where, at the touch of a smartphone button, an indoor hotspot can come alive.

“Basically we separate fires into three categories these days,” says Jeff Collins, marketing manager of Australian company Real Flame.

“We start with fires that are purely decorative. They are designed not to create heat but more a focal point in the room, an ambience and romance and all of the things that a fire evokes with people.”

Then, there is a “crossover product”, which, while still decorative by nature, can heat small spaces up to about 40 square metres.

The third category has a nice flame pattern and a double-glazed fireplace which can heat up to about 150 square metres, he says.


Image credit: A Real Flame Elegance gas fire. Photo: Real Flame

Real Flame’s fireplaces are designed and built in Scoresby, Melbourne. Collins says they primarily play in the high end of the market. Wood, ethanol and gas are among the various types of fireplaces available today.

“Gas is the most popular because it gives you a very robust flame,” says Collins.

“I think probably wood would be second most popular because a lot of people see it as being a cheaper alternative for running costs. That is really only the case if you have access to free wood.”

Collins says if you look at the typical living pattern of a family, one of the pros of having a heating fireplace these days is lower running costs. They tend to spend 85-90 per cent of their time in one area in the house where most of the family eat and watch television, he says.

“Most people these days don’t want heated bedrooms,” Collins says. They want bedrooms that are comfortable but not heated so ducted systems are becoming less popular to run in that instance, he says.

“Gas fires are looked at as a good alternative because you can heat the main living area at a third of the cost of running a whole of home-ducted system. So economics come into it.’


Image Credit: Balcony romance. Photo: Eco Smart

Collins lists smell and safety among the cons of having a fireplace.

“I think the biggest con with wood would be the smell. It creates a bit of a dust and smell in a space and that’s once again why a lot of people are moving across to gas.

“Cons of ethanol, I guess, would be to some people the safety aspect. Because you have to carry a hot inflammable liquid in a container to the source of the fire and top it up.

“For gas, I guess the only con would be sometimes it is difficult to install from a flue perspective, particularly in high-rise apartments and difficult areas where it might prove hard to get the flue up.”

Eco-friendly fireplaces (such as those from Designer Fireplaces) are increasingly sought-after by consumers.

Stephane Thomas, director of The Fire Company, says a bioethanol fire is an environmentally-friendly fire that’s an alternative to more traditional sources of heat.

Established in 2002, The Fire Company’s range of eco-friendly bioethanol fireplaces, burners, fireplace inserts and accessories can be found in 75 countries.

“These fires operate using bioethanol, an eco-friendly, renewable energy source, which burns clean and produces no harmful emissions. Bioethanol fires don’t have flues or utility connections, which means they’re portable and can be used in a wide variety of outdoor and indoor environments. They’re also efficient and cost-effective.”

There are many EcoSmart options of freestanding, portable fires which can be positioned and moved as required.

Enter the modern era of a smartphone-operated gas fireplace. New Zealand-based Escea’s in-house engineers have developed the Smart Heat Technology.

Smart Heat refers to the ”brains” behind the gas fireplace, the company’s website says. “It continuously monitors the temperature to increase or decrease the heat output to maintain a consistent temperature. These brains also enable the Escea fireplaces to be controlled with a smartphone via the Escea app.”

Property stylist Jo Powell of 3 Pea’s Property Styling says people often have almost a romanticised notion about certain heating options.

“It’s nice to have perhaps an aesthetic aspect for it, but the heating that you choose must provide the heat that you need for the area that you’re attempting to warm,” Powell says.

“In certain situations, I would always bring in a heating specialist to make sure that the specifications of the unit that’s going in will satisfy the requirements,” she says.

“There can also be some safety issues around that in terms of ventilation and flueing. When you are dealing with old fireplaces as well you need to be sure that they are structurally sound.”

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Note from us:

If you are interested in Austrian ceramic fireplaces speak to a specialist and contact Designer Fireplaces.


1O Stunning Examples of Tiles Around A Fireplace

1O Stunning Examples of Tiles Around A Fireplace




Whipple Russell Architects


This is an example of a contemporary dining room in Los Angeles with white walls, a ribbon fireplace and ceramic floors. — Houzz




Chandos Interiors


Rustic Details (Detalles Rústicos) Spanish-style architecture, similar to Mediterranean style, boasts great rustic details. Thisfireplace features a single rustic timber as a mantel against the earthy elegance of the Mexican tile on the surround.


This is an example of a southwestern porch in Houston with a fire feature, tile and a roof extension. — Houzz




Artistic Designs for Living, Tineke Triggs


The floor is oak, and they played around to create a custom finish in a matte medium gray-brown that would complement the home’s furnishings and the reclaimed wood of the ceiling beams. The fireplace facade is ceramic tiles from SpecCeramicsthat are rough cut for an undulating texture and are designed for an easy locking installation.


Inspiration for a contemporary kids’ room in San Francisco. — Houzz



Lindsay von Hagel


After demolishing the intrusive brick hearth and fireplacesurround, Cindy and Jeff opted for the clean look of a metallic-finish ceramic tile. Custom shelves put an awkward corner nook to good use. Large gears form the shelf brackets and are repeated in the side table, adding industrial accents to the room.


This is an example of a traditional living room in Seattle with a tile fireplace surround. — Houzz




Bill Fry Construction – Wm. H. Fry Const. Co.


Ecosmart Fireplace, an eco friendly fireplace installation. According to the Ecosmart website, “EcoSmart Fireplaces are fuelled by bioethanol, a renewable liquid fuel produced from agricultural by-products which burns clean – no smoke, no sparks, no fuss.” …


This is an example of a mid-sized midcentury open concept family room in San Francisco with a game room, white walls, a corner fireplace, a metal fireplace surround and a wall-mounted tv. — Houzz




Atmosphere Interior Design Inc.


Ceramic tile, floating shelves, and marble around fireplace insert.


Contemporary family room. — Houzz




Arthur Dyson Architects


Room divider. You don’t need to have a corner made from two walls for a fireplace. This artful fireplace is located at the open corner of the living room and acts as a room divider between the living room and the adjacent kitchen — brilliant!


Contemporary living room in San Francisco with a concrete fireplace surround and a corner fireplace. — Houzz






A custom fireplace, clad in honed limestone, is a focal point for the master suite’s sitting area, which includes Philippe Starck armchairs. One of Rhys’ ceramic pots graces the Camerich coffee table. The photograph above the fireplace is by Vee Speers.


Photo of a contemporary living room with white walls, a standard fireplace, a stone fireplace surround and medium tone hardwood floors. — Houzz






Wow with a feature fire – While double-sided fireplaces are more commonplace in living spaces, they’re perfect for creating an open plan bedroom and bathroom with two access points and heat benefits for both sides. Make a feature of the dividing wall with tiling, using the tile colour in both spaces to create cohesion.
This is an example of a contemporary bedroom in Toronto with a two-sided fireplace. — Houzz




Charmean Neithart Interiors, LLC.


Ceramic and glass tiles. Individual ceramic or glass tiles are a definite win on any fireplace surround. They’re available in many colors and shapes, so the design options are endless.


Photo of a beach style living room in Los Angeles. — Houzz


Making a Fashionable Statement

Once your wood is seasoned and prepared for use, then you’re ready to move the beautiful logs inside.

Storing firewood indoors can be achieved in any living space, whether it be outdoors, inside a living room or bedroom. In this article we will discover funky new ways of showing off your well seasoned kindling, for all to adore in the upcoming months!


First, search online and through magazines what kind of layout you may want. Consider which option is the best way to compliment your fireplace, while maintaining the best focal point. Choosing an asymmetrical or symmetrical design, traditional, modern or contemporary look depends on location or positioning of your fireplace. Make sure you appoint a contractor or professional for a building plan.

Design: Up, down, side to side… You name it!

Here are some cool ideas to consider for your ideal wood storage.

In the wall: This can be any size; height or width. Wall storage can liven up a room, or add rustic flair to any old space.

Under the hearth: If you prefer an organized and clutter-free space, storing wood under the fireplace can prove to be very functional. Installing a drawer or secret cabinet is a great way to add style and organization (as well as surprise!) into the home. Heck, if you prefer, stack your wood out in the open for all to see!

Hidden Angles: for those who don’t relish the idea of wood being a focal point, there is always the option of storing on an angle. Here is a picture to illustrate:


Utilizing furniture: visit your local antique or vintage shop to find furnishings and accessories which you can retrofit. If you have limited space with nowhere to house your wood, feel free to use a bookcase, dresser..the opportunities are endless!


Tips and Reminders:


Although storing wood in your home looks beautiful, you want to take measure and keep these considerations in mind.

  1. Think about practicality; know your home. You will have to think about keeping a ladder or great step stool to help you out depending on the size of wall storage. You do not want to put yourself at risk!
  2. Make sure your wood is seasoned for well up to a year before bringing it into your home. This ensures that no little critters inhabit your wood. Well seasoned dry wood will have no scent, no moisture, and no bark or sap. Bugs and insects love all those things, and seasoned wood doesn’t have it. So, rule #1 – SEASON YOUR WOOD!!
  3. Line your space with durable material. Especially since you’re stacking wood, you don’t want an unstable base foundation, or a finish that could wear and get scratched. A rubber mat liner is a great material to use, as it is anti-skid and has treads. Easy to cut and size as well as affordable, these mats are transparent and are a great investment.
  4. Do not spray your seasoned logs with flammable solvents. This includes air fresheners of any kind or insect repellants. Instead, buy ant and bug traps to place inside your storage. These have no potent smell and will not ruin or taint your wood. You don’t want to be burning wood that has chemicals on it, after you worked so hard to season it!!
  5. Only take what you need. While big storage spaces are great, they can be hard to maintain for some if you do not burn wood frequently. A solution would be to fill your space halfway, and replenish when scarce. This makes cleaning easier to keep on top of, as well as keeping track of your firewood stock.

If this article inspired you to get a fireplace of your own and you are in Cape Town or Johannesburg- contact a fireplace designer in your area!

Article and image source:

How Fireplaces Work

Do you love sitting by a fireplace? Does a crackling fire define a home to you? If so, you’re not alone. In a survey conducted by the National Association of Home Builders, 77 percent of home buyers said they wanted a fireplace in the family room [source:].

The indoor fireplace is a technology that dates from the Middle Ages, when people in medieval castles and homes used them for warmth. However, traditional fireplaces today are desired more for their aesthetics than to be used as effective heating appliances.

Fireplaces are often desired more for their aesthetic value and ambiance in homes than
they are for their heating abilities.

Even as far back the 18th century, Benjamin Franklin noted that “the strongest heat from the fire, which is upwards, goes directly up the chimney and is lost” [source: Carlsen]. And Franklin was right. The standard fireplace is among the most inefficient heating devices you can operate. In fact, it can be so inefficient that in some cases it actually makes your house colder.

Inefficiency is not their only drawback. In addition to the risk of setting the house on fire, the smoke that ends up inside your home can contain harmful chemicals, which is a problem in tightly sealed modern homes. And although many modern fireplaces use renewable fuel, they’re not considered completely “green,” because they can add to air pollution.

But it’s not all bad news for fireplaces. Improvements have given fireplace fans a range of more attractive alternatives. Better designs provide more heat, less waste and safer operation. If you’re willing to give up the smell and glow of burning wood, a direct-vent, gas-powered fireplace can be an efficient heat source that may even save you money on fuel.

In this article, we’ll look at how a fireplace works and how to operate it safely. We’ll also consider some innovations that allow you to have a fireplace without a chimney, on your patio or on the coffee table in your living room.

The Parts of a Traditional Fireplace

To understand how a traditional fireplace works, you’ll need to know about its various components:

  • The hearth is built out of a fireproof material, such as bricks, and extends out beyond the fireplace.
  • The surround protects the walls around the fireplace and is often topped by a decorative mantel, perfect for hanging Christmas stockings or holding family pictures.
  • The firebox, the interior of the fireplace, contains the fire and collects the smoke.
  • The flue is the passageway at the top through which the smoke and gases travel for exit. Flues are often made of baked clay, but can also be stainless steel.
  • The chimney surrounds the flue, keeping its heat from contacting any flammable building materials that may have been used on the home.
  • The smoke chamber connects the fireplace and the flue. At the bottom of the smoke chamber is the smoke shelf, which deflects downdrafts and prevents any rain or soot from dropping directly into the fireplace.
  • Beneath the smoke shelf is the damper, a movable covering that separates the firebox from the space above. It prevents cold air from moving down into the house when no fire is burning. Some chimneys may also have a chimney damper, which is operated by a cable and closes the chimney at the top to eliminate downdrafts.
  • The spark arrester is a metal mesh that fits over the top of the flue and prevents the exiting gases from carrying burning materials onto the roof. A chimney cap prevents moisture and animals from entering the flue. It may rotate to block wind gusts.
  • Some fireplaces are equipped with an ash dump, an opening with a trap door where you can push the accumulated ashes into a pit below for later cleanout.
  • Fireplace doors can be made of glass or metal. They shut off the air flow when the fire has died down or the fireplace is not in use.

The Mechanics of the Traditional Fireplace

Lighting a fire inside your living room presents two obvious challenges. First, you have to avoid setting your house on fire. Second, you need to keep the smoke from spilling into the room. A fireplace solves both difficulties. It is made from materials that don’t burn (traditionally, stone and brick, but also metal and tile), and it takes care of smoke by sending it up the chimney.

The most important mechanical function of a fireplace is to generate a draft. If you think of a hot air balloon, you know that a mass of heated air rises. A fireplace creates a column of heated gas inside the chimney. As that air rises, more heated air from the fire is pulled after it. The result is a draft — a steady flow of smoke and hot gases — up the chimney.

The draft serves another purpose, too. Any fire needs a steady flow of oxygen to keep burning. As the hot gas rises, it pulls fresh air into the pile of burning fuel.

You might remember from physics class that there are three methods by which heat moves:

  • Conduction — a hot object touches a cooler one
  • Convection — a movable substance, such as hot air or liquid, circulates into cooler areas
  • Radiation — warm electromagnetic waves, such as rays from the sun or a heat lamp, carry heat to cooler objects and warm them by making their molecules move faster

A traditional fireplace heats by radiation — the flame and hot coals send out rays that strike objects or people in the room and speed up their molecules, thereby warming them up.

But the principle of convection is also at work in a fireplace, and this is one reason why they can be so inefficient. The major portion of the heat that a fire creates is in the form of hot gas. Convection sends this gas up the chimney, where it is wasted. What’s more, the draft can draw more warm air from inside the room than the fire needs to burn and pull that air up the chimney as well, leaving the room colder than before. Some experts say that traditional fireplaces can draw four to ten times as much air from the room than is needed to burn the fire [source: Carlsen].

Sometimes, more heat is lost through convection than is added through radiation, resulting in a fireplace’s negative energy efficiency. The colder it is outside, the colder the air that the fireplace sucks in and the lower the efficiency.

How to Operate a Traditional Fireplace

Operating a traditional wood-burning fireplace is not difficult if you follow a few simple guidelines. First, you should begin by choosing the right fuel. Be sure to burn hard woods, such as hickory, ash, oak and hard maple. Soft woods such as pine and spruce generally don’t burn as well or provide as much heat. Also, be sure your wood is seasoned, or dry. Wood needs at least six months — many experts suggest at least a year — of drying to reach the 20 percent moisture level that is recommended for a good fire [source: Taylor]. One way to be sure your wood is seasoned is to knock two logs together and listen for a hollow sound, not a dull thud. Seasoned wood is also darker and has cracks in the end grain. Avoid using wet or rotten wood, and never burn trash or cardboard in your fireplace. Pressure-treated wood and chipboard are also inappropriate.

To start the fire, you need kindling — smaller pieces of wood that will take flame easily. Stack a few split logs on your grate and place kindling around and below them. Make sure the damper is open before you light the kindling with newspaper. Don’t use too much paper, as flaming scraps can be carried up the flue and onto your roof. Never use gasoline, lighter fluid or a butane torch to start a fire.

Once the fire is burning, you may still encounter problems with puffs of smoke entering the room. One cause of a smoking chimney is a house that’s too tight. If there aren’t enough openings to make up for the air drawn up the chimney, it can cause negative pressure in the room, creating a partial vacuum. Air pressure forces air down the chimney to compensate, resulting in a smoky house. The solution is to crack a window near the fireplace to let air in [source: HGTV].

Here are some other points to keep in mind:

  • Leave a few inches of ash in the firebox to help reflect heat and provide a bed for coals, which radiate heat.
  • Some experts recommend using andirons instead of a grate, so that logs to drop onto the bed of coals where they burn more efficiently [source: Carlsen].
  • If your damper is adjustable, gradually close it as the fire dies down to maintain a draft and limit cold air from coming down. But don’t close it completely until the fire is out.
  • If your fireplace is equipped with glass or metal doors, make sure they are closed before you go to bed.

No matter how carefully you operate your traditional fireplace, much of its heat is lost up the chimney.

Improving the Efficiency of a Traditional Fireplace

There are two main strategies for improving fireplace efficiency. The first is to use convection as well as radiation to capture some of the heat from the fire. Some fireplaces include a built-in heat exchanger — channels where room air can circulate around the hot parts of the structure — either through natural air flow or forced by a fan. The air absorbs the heat and returns it to the room.

The second approach is to block part of the front of the firebox in order to limit the amount of air that flows unnecessarily up the chimney. Usually, this is done with doors made of tempered, heat-resistant glass. Adjustable inlets allow enough air to reach the fire to keep it burning.

Here are some specific ways these two strategies are used:

A tubular grate is a series of open pipes that curve behind the fire and extend out the top of the firebox. The idea is to draw in cool air at the bottom, heat it and let it flow into the room. The problem is that much of the heated air is drawn back into the fire. Used with glass doors that block this air return, a tubular grate can help squeeze more warmth from a fireplace [source: Ace Hardware].

Glass doors reduce the loss of room air up the chimney and still allow you to view the fire. The drawback is that the glass can also reduce the heat that reaches the room by half (even a mesh screen reduces radiant heat by 30 percent) [source: Bortz]. The result is a small gain in efficiency.

Fireplace inserts are metal boxes — usually equipped with glass doors — that fit inside the firebox. They use a heat exchange chamber with channels to allow room air to pass through and absorb heat. Fireplace inserts usually require a full stainless steel flue liner, rather than simply connecting to an existing flue. An insert can put out up to five times as much heat as an open fireplace [source: Carlsen].

Some homeowners prefer to take advantage of the efficiency of a wood stove by placing the stove on the fireplace hearth and running the stovepipe into the fireplace chimney. By doing so, they lose the pleasures of an open fire but gain energy efficiency.

Now that you understand the workings of fireplaces, you might be interested in reading more about modern, eco-friendly, heat retaining fireplaces such as Austrian Ceramic fireplaces that are designed and built into beautiful modern designs but companies such as Designer Fireplaces in Cape Town. For advise on what design will work best for your home contact them by visiting their website on

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10 Beautiful Tile Fireplaces

Make your fireplace an eye-catching addition to your living room. Check out these 10 tile fireplaces in various colors and finishes.


Complementary Contrast

Contrast is the secret of this lively living room. The fireplace surround contrasts shiny black tile with a traditional white mantel. Bright orange hues make an unexpected appearance and jump out against icy blue walls. Traditional furnishings come alive against worldly, eclectic accessories. Design by Judith Balis. Continue reading “10 Beautiful Tile Fireplaces”

The Internal Workings of an Austrian Ceramic Fireplace

We share this easy to understand explanation of how a heat-retaining ceramic fireplace works:


Ceramic Fireplaces

  1. 1.000° Celsius burning temperature; leads to complete combustion, low emission and very little ash (empty once per year).
  2. Hot flue gases travel through the hand built ceramic passages.
  3. Only 10-15% of the energy is lost into the chimney.
  4. The knobs on the patented ceramic refractory brick increase the surface area by 25% leading to a better heat retention in these types of fireplaces.
  5. The patented ceramic refractory brick is made of 7 different clay types and is burned at 1.450° Celsius. Quality that lasts a lifetime!
  6. The refractory bricks are joined by a tongue and groove system and special heat resistant cement.
  7. Even before the fireplace is built a virtual combustion is simulated on the computer. Through this the perfect efficiencies and emission levels are achieved.
  8. Healthy and comfortable radiant heat is provided from the surface are of the fireplace.
  9. With a single heating a will provide warmth all day long.
  10. The large fire-door provides a stunning view on the flames. Its intelligent design ensures a clear & soot-free view.

Our thanks to Designer Fireplaces, a leader in the fireplace market, providing fireplaces in Cape Town for providing the above information. Visit their website on

Originally posted on Fire and Design