The heat is on

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When the heat is on, and you’re at the coalface of the interior design, the conversation will eventually turn to fireplaces. We asked interior designer Sam Elliot to give us some guidelines so you don’t get all hot and bothered about the decision.

What is the starting point for choosing a fireplace?

Decide on a fuel type. I find that our clients fall into two camps – those who are sold on the romance of a real open fire where gathering and stacking wood is part of the experience and those who sick of the mess and stress and so opt for gas. Once upon a time, that was all the choice you had. These days, ethanol is another fuel type – a good alternative because fires don’t require a flue.

How do you integrate the fireplace into the design?
It depends whether the layout of the room suits a built-in version or a freestanding one. Of course, woodburners are generally freestanding, and they do enhance the casual, rustic look of holiday homes. Our own marketing director has a free-standing fire in the corner of his living room on Waiheke Island. I’d encourage clients to look closely at the built-in option for gas or ethanol fires. One popular idea is to design the fireplace within a media wall near to where the television will be. That makes the placement of furniture that much easier because the two natural focal points in the room are in the same direction. You don’t want a fireplace located behind a seating area.

Tell us more about ethanol
It’s a sustainable resource made from plant material such as corn or sugar and basically comes in liquid form in a bottle which you decant into the fireplace. Recently we’ve been installing some gorgeous hanging and pedestal fires that use ethanol. These Cocoon fires are like a space-age orb and really complement our modernist designs. They have a stainless steel or matt-black finish and put out around 3.6 kilowatts of heat which would suit a room of 50-60 square metres. You can buy the orb and the pedestal separately so the fireplace can be used hanging in one area and then, if you like, rotated and perched on top of the pedestal for a different look or to be moved to another position – even outside.
We’ve also recently installed a built-in ethanol fire built into some shelving in a holiday home in Pakiri. It has a custom-designed firebox to fit the space so, really, the sky is the limit.

What about heatpumps?
They are certainly efficient but many people prefer the ambience of a real fire. Usually, we’ll add a heatpump if it’s a two-level dwelling or the owners really want it for air conditioning in the summer.

What’s the latest trend?
Outdoor fireplaces that you can cook on continue to evolve – some have pizza ovens – but if there’s room in the garden, we’ve seen a return to the 70s-style fire pits. These are such social places entertain with built-in seating, sunken into the section, around a fire which is great in the crisp winter evenings. In one recent job, we used an offcut from the kitchen benchtop to transform the fireplace into a low table for drinks and nibbles in summer. Many people don’t know that if you opt for a through-wall fireplace that punches through to the outside, only one side of the fire really gives off substantial heat.