This homeowner grew up with a fireplace in her kitchen and had such warm memories of the coziness it created that she wanted to share the experience with her family. When the time came to renovate the kitchen, a fireplace was high on her list of priorities. But the space allotted had to marry form and function in such a way that it also provided a storage and display niche that would add to the character of the kitchen.
To realize her vision, the homeowner brought in architect Mark Larson and designer Alecia Stevens. Both imagined the renovation of the entire home in the vernacular of a European country house, which guided their choices for surface materials and finishes. Those decisions, in turn, helped them shape the fireplace niche in the kitchen. "A small, intimate space can capture the feel of an entire house when it pulls together all the materials in one location and composition," Larson says.
The first thing considered in designing the fireplace area was the home's overall style and the mood the owners wanted to evoke. Larson and Stevens aimed "to craft an updated version of a European country house," Stevens says. "So we selected materials with a lot of weight, mass, and density -- not a lot of fuss." The result is equal parts rustic and modern with a mellow ambience. Simple finishes and natural materials create a no-frills, masculine look that suits the family's lifestyle and interests.
Even at its most casual, the European country aesthetic is elegant with subtle textures and a quiet yet luminous palette, rusticity tempered with simple refinement. Larson and Stevens chose natural and handcrafted materials -- limestone, oak, and metal -- in keeping with the style of the house. Limestone forms the hearth and fireplace surround, while a hand-forged iron fireplace screen and firewood box imbue the niche with artisanal charm. Quartersawn oak shelving matches the wide-plank floors. Hand-finished Venetian plaster coats the walls in a subtle, chalky finish.
The earthy color scheme springs primarily from the wood shelving and stone surround. "The materials and finishes are naturally their own inherent color, and the palette is intentionally limited to evoke a calm warmth," Larson says. Light-hue walls wrap the niche in a restrained tint, providing a neutral, gallerylike backdrop for paintings and collections. "Both [the homeowner] and I wanted something completely neutral -- nothing too yellow," Stevens says.
The durable materials are juxtaposed with a craftsmanship finish that is sensual to the touch. "The imperfection of the Venetian plaster walls makes them especially beautiful, and the feel is silk," Stevens says. The metal artist who created the stair railings in other parts of the home also created the fire screen and wood holder.
Strength and Durability
For an active family, materials and finishes must be low-maintenance and hard-wearing. "The materials were selected to be durable enough for their particular use and location," Larson says. "For example, the hearth and fireplace surround are honed stone to handle heat and abuse, the wood box allows logs to be tossed in without damage to the adjacent walls and shelves, and shelving is thick enough to span the niche without sagging."
"Lighting is a component that is often overlooked when designing a storage and display area," Stevens says. "The type of lighting you choose is affected by both the style of shelving and the type of items on display." Track lighting or spotlighting will remove shadows on the back of shelves, or an accent lamp can be placed directly on the shelves as part of the decor. Consider including an electrical outlet at the back of the shelves if you want the option to include an accent lamp.
A dull or dated fireplace is rife with possibilities, as these once dilapidated examples show. See these fireplaces be transformed into amazing focal points.
Dress up your mantel, too. Mantel decor can add the final polish to your fireplace. Explore these avenues as inspiration for your own.
New week, fresh ideas! Sign up for our free Decorating newsletter to get the latest decor, color, storage, and how-to ideas delivered to your in-box every week.