Our family lives in a small apartment that features two fireplaces. One is located downstairs in the living room and the other is upstairs in the master bedroom. The master bedroom is where the computer is and as such the master bedroom is where I do the bulk of my writing much of the year. Nothing is better than having the fireplace roaring and the words flowing as a story takes shape. Both fireplaces get lots of use depending on how much money we have to spend on firewood and the weather. While the use is obvious during winter months, it isn’t so clear during the warmer weather.  

What to do to dress up the gaping holes is an issue every year. Some of our neighbors put fake plants in them which don’t appeal to the wife or me. Others put elaborate trays of burning candles in them which wasn’t something we were in favor of either. Once again this year the deal seemed to be to move a couch in front of the downstairs one and ignore the one upstairs. This was on my mind during a recent trip to the library where, as I was checking out, I spotted this book and from the title assumed it might be what I was looking for. I grabbed it without looking at it and figured I probably had things covered.

I was wrong.

This book has nothing at all to do with anything fireplace related during the off season. Instead this book is primarily aimed at those looking to install a fireplace or update/remodel an existing one. Neither of those categories applies to those of us who live in apartments where landlords get excited over nails used to hang pictures on the walls. Still, having checked it out and lugged the book home, I wasn’t going to just toss it back in the bag for a quick return trip. I had to take a look at it in depth before I could send it back. Okay, so it is a compulsion but those who love books understand. Those that do not are something else entirely.

While it is not what I wanted or needed it is clearly a good book for the intended audience. After a dedication and a couple of pages of photographs of various fireplaces roaring away at various flame heights, the first chapter is titled “Design Considerations.” With numerous pictures and a short text the chapter goes over different types and designs of fireplaces, locations of the new fireplace which should be on an interior wall to reduce drafts, consideration of installation of an air intake system for your fireplace should your home be new or remolded to be airtight and signs of problems in existing fireplaces among other tips.

Twenty-six pages later the second chapter opens with “What’s New?” The twenty-four page chapter covers “masonry fireplaces, exterior chimney designs, factory–built fireplaces, EPA certified woodstoves (which are very briefly covered in the book), gas fireplaces, exterior fireplaces” and various design material questions involving each. Your choices are many and this chapter features, as does the entire book, page after page of colorful photographs depicting various types of fireplaces with assorted design elements including, but not limited to, mantles, seating arrangements, fabrics and textures, color choices, etc. Along the way in this chapter are tips on saving energy which is more important then ever before.

Chapter 3 consists of thirty pages on “Architectural Styles.” This chapter is devoted to mantles and surrounding area of a fireplace. There are numerous choices such as brick, paneling of various types, cut stone, wood framing, etc. This chapter goes into great detail both in terms of text and photographs with an eye to finishing the area around the fireplace.

Chapter Four titled “Wood-Burning Devices” is as the title implies all about the wood. Types of wood, the fact that the wood needs to be stored and kept dry, how to buy the wood, etc are part of this chapter. The twenty-four pages also include tips on how to start a fire, what can be added to a fire and most importantly what should never be burned in a fireplace. Based on what several of my apartment neighbors have done over the years, some of this should be mandatory reading for anyone with a fireplace. Though it does not say so, I would also recommend not burning telephone books in a fireplace based on having neighbors who felt the need to do it and were allegedly not under the influence at the time.

Chapter 5 covers “Gas Fireplaces and Stoves” in twenty-four pages that detail the basics, more on types and locations, as well as various venting systems that can be used. Venting systems are the primary focus here with lots of consideration given to different types and use depending on location and need.

“Electric Fireplaces” which were briefly mentioned earlier are covered again in greater detail in Chapter 6. Over twenty-four pages (again the symmetry with the length of the chapters is something) the basics of an electric fireplace are covered as well as their advantages with no disadvantages noted in the chapter. Clearly there are advantages but just like with E-Books, my strong preference is for the traditional. They just aren’t the same thing.

“Location, Location” is the title of Chapter 7 and a chapter that seems to be placed too late in the book. Some of this info is addressed briefly early on in the book. However, here the information is more in depth in that it covers the placement of fireplaces in various locations inside the home such as in bathrooms, kitchens, etc or outside on the deck. It would appear that this chapter should have been moved to the front of the book somewhere and certainly before Chapter 3 and the discussion on architectural styles. Clearly, the location of the fireplace will have some influence on the style.

Chapter 8 is the final chapter of this book and consists of a scant ten pages on “Safety Matters.” The chapter takes a look at various issues, how far materials should be from a fireplace, size of hearth, sparks and how to prevent them, etc. and how to prevent various common problems.

The book concludes with a short resource guide to various manufacturers and related services, a glossary, an index and a list of photo credits. The resource guide, while not intended to just depict ones used in the book does have little explanation of each one to provide more information regarding the products the company produces.

Part of the “Creative Homeowner” series, this 208 page book is a comprehensive look at various types of fireplaces and options regarding them. The text is secondary to the more than 450 photographs that depict all types of fireplaces usually with extensive design elements around them. In fact, there is so much in the area surrounding most of the fireplaces my inner “clutter alarm” repeatedly triggered page after page. Many items seemed placed far too close which may in fact be the camera angle instead of a real issue. Then too there was a question regarding the fires themselves. Interestingly enough, most of the fires which of course are burning brightly looked amazingly the same in terms of wood, flame and color which made me wonder how that was realistically possible.

Obviously the title is a bit off as it gives the wrong impression of the material inside. The title should include a word such as “remodeling” or “construction” or something else that would make it clear that this is a book aimed for those who are adding a fireplace or remodeling their existing fireplace. Despite that quibble, there is no doubt that the book is done very well and does exactly what it was designed to do for the actual intended audience. While it isn’t the book I needed, it is extremely well done and will easily help those who are looking to add a fireplace or remodel their fireplace situation.

Design Ideas For Fireplaces (Creative Homeowner Series)

Karen Stickels

Creative Homeowner


September, 2007

ISBN #978-1-58011-363-2


208 Pages


Review copy provided by the good folks of the Plano, Texas Public Library System


Kevin R. Tipple © 2008

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