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February 25, 2020

Fireplaces: The Heart of a Home


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A fireplace is the heart of the home.

The Scandinavian concept of "hygge" speaks to comfort and warmth on long nights and short days. A glowing fire and good company with a favorite beverage is the perfect antidote for ice, snow, and the sub-zero temps of our northern winters.

In our site-specific designs, the social seating and dining areas are often placed to make the most of the views and to maximize daylight from the east and south. The fireplace is often located on the north or west wall of the living space to provide warmth, light, and visual interest. The fireplace at Tidewatch is a good example.

Another approach we consider is designing the fireplace at the core of the home with living spaces surrounding it on both sides. In Englishman Bay Retreat, the living spaces look inward as the windows become dark outside and the center of the home is the warm thermal mass—a proven Maine tradition.

The character and spirit of a home can be expressed by a fireplace using a wide range of options and materials. New England offers locally sourced brick, reclaimed field stone, and many types of quarried stone. We often design with board formed concrete, hand troweled stucco, or salvaged materials. The fireplace hearth can be flush with the floor or raised as a comfortable place to sit, store firewood, and serve as a visual connection to the surrounding living spaces. If space or budgets are limited, or we’re seeking a higher level of energy efficiency, our design will call for a wood stove like at Cortland Barn Farmhouse.

Today we design fireplaces with adjustable dampers, controlled outside air sources to the firebox, and gasketed glass doors. This improves the thermal performance of the fireplace and helps prevent drafts and the infiltration of cold outside air (and not to mention, is required by some municipalities).

An all-season fireplace can extend the use of porches and outdoor spaces in all seasons. The porch fireplaces at Ledge Stone Cottage, Casco Bay Island Retreat, and Damariscotta River View Cottage are designed to complement the furniture layout, timber frame, and fitted screens and often feature wood storage, fire tools, spark screens, and mantles. Terraces and garden spaces can be opportunities for fire pits and grilling. It may be a simple, rustic fire pit like the one at Spurwink Retreat with a boulder back, or a more formal terrace like the one at Falmouth Foreside Cottage that includes stonewalls and a fire pit with a curb at seat height.

Regardless of the kind of fireplace we design in a home, we are grateful to the many masons and artisans we’ve worked with over the years who take our designs and bring them all to life with stone, brick, steel, concrete, and mortar.


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