Traditional Fireplaces A Historical View

by Painter Lady

A 19th century architect at the drawing board
Image via Wikipedia

Building a house is a romantic adventure.

As we learn and become educated in time, quite likely, chatty sentences embracing “detail”, ” influence”, “style”, will fall tripingly from our lips.

Gradually the difference between concrete and cement will become established in our reluctant minds.

We will learn to turn coldly away from cast iron (it must be wrought); eventually we will read a blue print as lightly as though it were a best seller, and check up a specification as easily as a bill from the electric company.

To our  neighbors we will speak of tile, expanded metal lath, of trim, of valves, of classic hoods, airily, yet as to one having authority.

By and by, we learn to support this weight of knowledge with quiet grace, eventually it slips into a useful background, and then we awaken to the real romance of building a house, with the realization of all the wonder.

Photo of a stone fireplace.
Image via Wikipedia

And the fascinating importance of the fireplace is born in upon us.

Early in the development of home architecture, the fireplace became the center of decorative interest. In time it was ornamented from ceiling to hearth, richly carved pillars supported its lintel, the chimney breast of the French fireplaces carried the finest examples decoration.

Then the design ideas began to change  into famous furniture periods, settles and great couches were placed in front of the hearth,  and in Colonial and Jacobean times the opening for the actual fire was so broad, that seats, were built in the chimney sides.

Stone and brass were finely and fantastically developed for fireplace fittings, tiles were brought from southern countries for the hearth and the fireplace became the pet of the domestic architect.

The fireplace has been no mere home-building detail, not just an opportunity for comfortable evenings in the winter time. It has helped make history. It has brought romance into architecture, just as the casement window did centuries ago, and as the garden gate did later.

An outdooor fireplace
Image via Wikipedia

The first fireplaces were built of stone in the center of the room, in fact the central hearth is still found in the homes of our North American Indians. The only way in which the smoke was carried off in those early days was through a hole in the roof, through crevices about the windows and through open doors.

But the central hearth with all its inconveniences did bring warmth into the house and furnished opportunity for cooking indoors, and at night the dwellers and their dogs clustered about it to sleep.

But  most home builders moved on and at last smoke turrets were introduced into the roofs and louvers came into existence so that smoke could escape without letting in rain and wind.

A little later the movable brazier arrived and was definitely more comfortable than the fixed hearth in those enormous huge halls.

Gradually a little imagination crept into the question of heating great palaces, and the fireplace was shifted back against a wall, sometimes to the corner of the room. There were no chimneys, to be sure, but tall hoods were introduced that projected over the hearth, and sloped back to the wall at the roof, the smoke escaping through a hole in the roof, directly over the top of the hood.

These hoods were very beautifully proportioned and seemed to be an integral part of the great coved stone ceiling through which they passed at a vast height. They are still to be found in some of the old English Chapter houses. The hearth projecting out in the room from the wall, with a metal hood, sloping back to a chimney, is much in vogue today in England. The idea being that no heat can be lost up the chimneys.

Some magnificent fireplaces were built with these hoods in old English houses, but the finest of them could not equal the hooded hearths still to be found in France.

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