Design Tips for a Fireplace Hearth

New or remodeled, a fireplace hearth can become the belle of a room. Use our design tips to figure out your best mix of fireplace hearth function and style.

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Fireplace hearths are wonderfully adaptive elements in a room. They are often focal points for a space, providing color, texture, or pattern that helps to cement a design aesthetic. They're practical, too, helping to supply a buffer to the heat-generating fireplace. If you're revamping your fireplace hearth or adding a new one, there are several considerations that you'll need to review. Here are our best design tips for creating a fireplace hearth.

Take inspiration from your home. Whether the fireplace hearth is new or a redo, its design inspiration should derive largely from elements that exist in your home. That goes for big questions, such as determining the fireplace hearth's overall design, to little ones, such as the details that create a finished look. For example, a sleekly contemporary home demands a minimalist fireplace hearth; anything else would create design dissonance for a home. A traditional home, on the other hand, can be filled with exquisite crown molding and trim that can be replicated in the design of the fireplace hearth. Brick on the outside of an English Tudor provides material inspiration for a fireplace hearth on the inside of the home, while colorful tile accents can pull in the personalized whimsy of a cottage.

Decide if the fireplace hearth is flush or has a base. No matter the style, some fireplace hearths have a face that's flush and uninterrupted, while others have a built-up base that lifts the fireplace box and offers seating or display space. The choice might be both personal and practical: If the fireplace exists and the box is already elevated, a base might be necessary. 

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What's the floor in front of the fireplace made of? To ensure noncombustibility, certain materials must be used for the floor in front of the fireplace if the base is not raised. Sometimes that floor will match the fireplace face material, while other times it will offer a transition in color or style between the fireplace and remaining floor in the room.

Will your fireplace hearth include a mantel? Mantels are often used, but they are not a requirement for a fireplace hearth. Style is the determinate: Some traditional fireplace hearths do not rely on a mantel, while more modern-style homes might have one. A mantel does offer display space but might also become a source of clutter and distraction.

Include built-ins in the design for the fireplace hearth. Some fireplace hearths extend to the surrounding adjacent walls to create a full unit that has both storage and display areas. Others are completely self-contained and have no shelves or storage. What you do depends on two things: How much space you have and how you want to use the fireplace wall. More nooklike spots with a fireplace and fireplace hearth are often limited when it comes to furniture arrangement; extended shelves and cabinets are a practical way to work with space that might otherwise go unused.

Review possible materials and accents. Stone, brick, cement, or fire-rated drywall finish are go-to materials for making fireplace hearths durable and fireproof. They're also fairly adaptable when it comes to design: They can be left as they are or painted to match surrounding elements in a room. Accents are another way to add personality to a fireplace hearth or to ensure that the hearth blends in seamlessly with the rest of a space. Mantels can pick up on a specific material, or crown molding at the top of the hearth can repeat the woodwork in a room.

Evaluate your fireplace hearth based on gas boxes or wood-burning fireplaces. Different types of fireplaces have different practical needs. Wood-burning fireplaces require a space to store wood and fire tools as well as a protected area for a grate. Gas fireplaces have fewer practical needs but should be reviewed to allow for adequate protective space in front of the glass, which can get very hot.

Remember: safety, safety, safety. Design and noncombustibility of materials is of paramount importance for any fireplace hearth design. Always adhere to local building codes or ordinances, which will outline specific dimensions, requirements, and materials that can be used for a fireplace hearth. 

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