Sunday, February 27, 2011

Modern Fire - Love Hate

One of the most common requests I receive from clients, second to kitchens,  is to redesign an outdated fireplace (or to add a brand new one).  Just like any other architectural detail of a home, (staircases, doors, mouldings etc) fireplaces create character in an interior.  In well designed interiors, architectural elements like fireplaces and staircases should look like they 'belong' to the house, the style and character of the exterior structure of the home should be in sync with the interior architectural elements.  By in sync, I mean they should have the same character or.... thoughtfully and intentionally different so as to create a juxtaposition of style (not just randomly different).

Hands down my absolute number one favorite architectural feature in a home is an open wood burning fireplace.  There's nothing more appealing to me than the way a fireplace anchors a room or the warmth and ambience that's created from a crackling wood fire.

This is my idea of a perfect fireplace.  I love the simplicity of the space, the high contrast of the black mantle against the white walls, and the Eva Zeisel tea pot is definitely calling my name (I covet anything EZ).

Contrary to the notion that wood burning logs are only for 'traditional' spaces, this contemporary fireplace design illustrates how even the most modern loving trendsetters can bask in the glow of a crackling wood fire without hanging a fake looking flame on the wall. 

In my experience with designing fireplaces for clients it seems most people associate the concept of wood burning logs or a mantle or a hearth as being 'not modern', but you can see from the images above and the ones below, this simply isn't the case.  There are many ways to achieve a modern fire other than installing a linear gas burner in a wall.  Here's a look at some other favorites and examples of what I consider modern fireplaces..

This wood burning fireplace is modern perfection.

 The fireplace in Klaus Neinkamper's contemporary home as seen in Canadian House & Home has a sparse simplicity to it.

Modern classic.  Love everything about this fireplace.

I LOVE the contrast of an antique (heritage) fireplace with modern furniture and accessories. 

With all this in mind, you might understand why I find it so challenging to comply with the requests I receive for 'modern gas fireplaces'.  Not just the occasional request,,,,literally every client I've had over the past 5 years has requested a modern log-less fireplace - you know the units that don't have a log set, just the linear flame amongst some river rocks or glass beads.  I'll be as honest here as I am with each of my clients who've asked for one when I say I personally, honestly, really, really don't like them (hate is such a strong word).  I don't think they have the character of wood burning fireplaces in any way, to me they simply look like flat screen tv's,  but I think the biggest problem I have with them is they're so often, done so wrong.  Just like flat screen tv's, people are struggling with how to integrate modern gas fires into their homes in a way that looks appropriate.

There's nothing appealing about this modern fireplace to me.  A fireplace that looks like its floating on a wall always looks fake to me.  Its the character of a fireplace that I love, and this has none.

Again, I'm personally not drawn to this concept, you have to consider when the unit is turned off what are you left looking at? I'd rather have a great piece of art on that wall and some candles on the table.  This just leaves me cold.

I explain my point of view to clients and even though I show them other modern gas options that look more like classic wood burning fireplaces...I simply fail to convince them to change their minds on this issue. Just like men are dead set on having their jumbo size flat panel tv's and there's no talking them out of it,,,,many couples seem to be dead-set on having these ultra modern flame-only fireplaces.  First time homeowners, move-up homeowners or empty nesters, everybody wants them.  Regardless of the type of house they live in or the style of their decor, they all want them and I lose the battle every time. Ultimately, I surrender and 'Tim Gunn' it best I can.

There are many manufacturers making log-less gas fireplace units but frankly I don't find them very attractive, in fact most look rather cheesy to me.  I wonder why those who are opposed to fake logs seem to be ok with fake driftwood or fake lava rocks (?).  There are exceptions, one of the originators of the contemporary flame-only fireplace, and my favorite is Spark Fires, they have a truly clean face design with less visible trim than other mfg's and the media is optional.  So through the images below I thought I'd share some examples of what I think are well designed modern log-less fireplaces and why I think they've "made it work".

This is entire fireplace surround is beautifully designed.  I like that this surround and hearth looks authentic in that I could see this same design appropriate for a wood burning scenario too.  I love the rustic element of the wood logs even though its purely for display, its been built-in and looks like an artistic composition of wood vs gas flame.  You can see in this photo how much the gas unit looks like a TV, especially if it was turned off.  Because of this, I like the fact that the TV is not built in, its on a stand like an object or accessory on the hearth rather than it being integrated into the surround like the fireplace.  The dark colour keeps everything low contrast so the tv and the fireplace box are less of a visual distraction and the focus of attention is on the flame.

Architect: Hacin & Associates   Photographer:  Michael Stavaridis

A beautifully designed space. You can see how the fireplace and the stairs are designed with the same materials and quality of detail, they reflect the architectural style of the house.  I love how the fireplace is fully integrated into the structure and built with the same integrity as a wood burning hearth would be, giving it an authentic feel.  Nothing about this says 'fake fireplace' or 'after thought'.

Design:Rafael Novoa Interior Design   Photography: Alba Photo Studio

This stunning home is a modern barn conversion.  The rustic elements of the barns stone walls and timber beams are paired against contemporary furnishings, the sleek use of industrial materials like concrete and steel for the structures perfectly compliment the modern rustic architecture.

Altius Architecture Inc.   Photography: Patrick Burke, Tony round

Another beautiful example of how the fireplace is completely integrated with the architecture and you can see how the contemporary exterior style translates thru the interior.  The rock media used in the base of the fireplace suits the local.

Architect: Kevin White

Beautiful composition.  These fire units are so abstract that composition is very important.  The structure should be interesting enough (have character) to hold its own even when the fire is off. The entire fireplace wall looks very much part of the architecture like a true masonry fireplace would be.  This same design could translate to wood burning, the absence of the logs is consistent with the simple exposed elements of the loft interior.

Design: Frank Roop   Photography:  Eric Roth

In what is probably a more traditionally built home, this modernized fireplace has sleak clean lines constructed from slabs of vein cut travertine while still maintaining its 'traditional' mantle and hearth.  A clean linear look that suits the classic modern furnishings, it successfully transitions traditional with modern.

TV or no TV?

When you have a clean modern fireplace wall that is void of a mantle or surround, my advice is not to put a fireplace above it.  Particularly with gas fireplaces, I find this type of installation ends up looking like an appliance wall (think double wall ovens in a kitchen!) and while they both may function perfectly, aesthetically it has zero appeal.  It can easily look like you're roasting your tv over a flame like a rotiserie chicken.  I personally don't mind a tv over a fireplace, sometimes its the only solution if you want both in the same room and I believe it can be done well.  To my eye there needs to be a bit of separation between the two, so if a TV is going above the fireplace, even a modern fireplace, I prefer for the fireplace unit to have a surround and a mantle so there's more distinction that its a fireplace not another appliance.  A mantle will also help deflect the heat away from the TV screen.

So if you're still convinced you must have a modern gas fire or your existing one is looking tired and outdated - I'll be addressing some important planning issues that you need to be aware of when considering adding, modifying, updating or replacing a fireplace.  There are a LOT of strict regulations and requirements to research and understand before you'll know what's feasible and what isn't.   

Now with all this talk of fireplaces and the stunning winter wonderland view outside my window, I'm going to put some real logs in my fieldstone fireplace,  pour some tea into my Eva Zeisel tea cup and enjoy the simple luxury of a crackling fire. : )

    Photo Credits:
    1. Elle Decor -  Met Home Nov '08
    2. Michael Grimm - Photographer
    3. Canadian House & Home, Nov.09, 
    4. Source unknown
    5. Canadian House & Home
    6. Source unknown
    7. Mim Design, Australia
    8. and 9.  Unknown
    10. James Tse - Photographer
    11. thru 17. via
    12. Source unknown

    Wednesday, February 16, 2011

    Antiquing: Vintage Finds

    My favorite way to spend a Sunday afternoon is to go for a drive out of the city in search of antique sales.  Sometimes I'm looking for something in particular for a client, other times I'm just browsing for whatever catches my eye.  I love to scour thru the smaller items and seek out mid century treasures.  I came home from this trip with a bag full of goodies with no particular reason for buying any of them other than I was attracted to their form, colour or texture.  I'll hold on to them to accessorize a clients space, or give away as a hostess gift, or use in my own home.

    Mid century glass bowl.  I'm always drawn to the fluid shape and the movement of these pieces, I couldn't resist this one in a smokey gray.

    Teak barware (I think they're teak?) I scooped these up in a split second, I'm crazy for the form of the handles and the beauty of the natural wood.  One of the corkscrews is stamped 'made in Japan' the others are unmarked - how cool would it be to tie one to a bottle of wine for a hostesss gift! (If I could bare to part with it).

    Studio pottery.  My eyes are always peeled for studio pottery you can pick up some original hand made pieces for only a few dollars.  

    I definitely have a thing for bowls, mainly because they're just so super functional and so beautiful to look at.  I couldn't resist this small one with its tortoiseshell looking glaze.  It now lives on a tray in my front hall and is collecting coins.

    A small mid century glass dish in fluid smoky gray looking glass. I like these on a stack of books or side table filled with candies or nuts or in a bathroom filled with soaps.  A pretty interesting piece for only a few dollars.

    Austrian crystal candle holders.  They just look like chunks of ice and will bring a beautiful sparkle to any table top.

    As usual, I want to keep all of these finds for myself.......but instead they'll stay packed away awaiting the perfect place for them to shine again.  Well, except for the tortoiseshell bowl, I'm keeping it.

    All Photos:  Carol Reed

    Saturday, February 12, 2011

    Modern Love: Living Room Progress I

    Living Room - In progress

    Yesterday I spent the day overseeing the installation of some draperies and furniture in several rooms for a project I call "Modern Love" that I wrote about a short while ago here.  I'm working on six different rooms at the same time for which there are still several things on order and now, there's a bathroom reno added to the list (as of yesterday!) so I'm doing the installations in stages.  In the living room yesterday we delivered and installed draperies, area carpet, ocassional tables, lamps and a large abstract canvas (partially seen on right wall) then this room will be complete after one more installation.  I'll be adding some framed photography or artwork on the wall opposite the sofa (above a pair of lounge chairs that you can't see in the above photo), a side table for the day bed, a couple of floor lamps, a throw blanket, some accents pillows and a few small table top accessories.   

    Some designers do a complete room install all at once but I prefer to see all the main elements in place first so then I can assess and focus on all the smaller accent pieces needed to pull it together.  I think there needs to be a degree of flexibility in the plans for those unexpected finds or 'impulsive must haves' that allow the room to evolve in its own way.  Often some of the best things about a room are those unplanned or unimagined additions.  I also always find that once a client sees the room at this stage, and they love everything, it makes the process of selecting all those final accent pieces so much easier for both parties - they'll have more confidence to just let you 'do your thing' and you have a clearer vision of what's needed to make the space sing.

    It was a long day and although its still a work in progress,  I love to see the pure happiness on my clients face when they see the room at the end of the day.  My happy young client was beaming as he stared at his almost done living room,,,,,remembering what it looked like when he bought the house.......

    Living Room - Before.

    ......this is what the living room, and pretty much the entire house looked like when my single bachelor client became the new owner of this large suburban family home. Yikes.

    Its come a long way baby,,,,,,,and he's come a long way too, new baby and all!

    More updates on this and other rooms coming soon.

    All Photos:  Carol Reed

    Friday, February 4, 2011

    IDS 2011

    Light Installation by Commute Home

    In case you were one of the few design enthusiasts who didn't make it to the Interior Design Show in Toronto last weekend here's a limited mini tour of what caught my 'eye-phone' while I walked the floor of the show over the course of two brief visits.  To my eye most of what I see at the show isn't new to me because I frequent showrooms regularly and am pretty familiar with all the newest and latest.  What I enjoy seeing at the show are the ways the products and items are interpretted into creative exhibits, and inevitably,,,, I also do see a couple of 'new to me' sources from out of town.

    Without a doubt I'd have to say one of the most common trends on display was the colour black. Black walls particularly, in fact probably more than half the exhibitors incorporated black walls in their booths.

    My favorite exhibit space of the show was the Ikea booth where they had designed and built a 900 s.f. kitchen.  The entire kitchen was black. 

     The kitchen had black cabinets, black hardware, black counters, black tile backsplash, black appliances.  It was stunning and dramatic and all the different textures and sheen levels made the single colour work.  If you want to use an 'accent colour' to create impact, black is a favorite for me that I think works better than blue or green or red which in this case for an entire kitchen, wouldn't have the classic look, sophistication or longevity that black has.  Personally I get bored of strong colour very quickly and I think it gets tired and dated very quickly.  So I think the popularity of black is that you get that graphic impact that you'd get with a bold colour but its neutral.  Its moody and dramatic, it can be nostalgic or edgy, its always chic - so that has to be the feel you're after,  and don't ever attempt to use a lot of black in a space unless you pay extra attention to lighting!  Floating above and continuing the length of the kitchen was a sea of paper laterns.

    Natural woods and various jars of food items make a striking display against the black metalic tile backsplash.  I loved that everyone else loved this kitchen as much as I did - it received the Gold award for best booth.  A perfect example of how you really can be creative and make a design statement with product regardless how much it costs!

    Commute Home always has some of the most innovative lighting and furniture I've ever seen.  Their booth at IDS simply consisted of this striking metal rod light sculpture inspired by hydro towers.  Althoug this lighting is displayed in an abstract way, it can be installed in a variety of settings as the L15 Spike Chandelier- I've seen this fixture suspended over a dining table, its STUNNING - for sure, my favorite 'product' at the show.

    Another favorite of mine were the products at the 18 Karat booth.  Natural, organic and hand crafted elements seemed to be the theme, I was crazy for these wood bowls.  

    This row of chairs used as display shelves were cleverely hung on......... a black wall.

    The accessories were all displayed like pieces of art atop the sculptural like chairs.

    You know how much I love Style Garage and Gus Furniture,,,their modern industrial Canadiana styled booth was definitely one of the most popular with the crowd.  I've been a fan for years, and this booth made me fall in love with their product and philosophy all over again!  Note,,,, the black wall.

    This sculptural bookcase was an eye catcher.  It was made of corian, and was the feature wall of the Selene furniture booth.

    Personally I was surprised to see UpCountry at IDS.  After virtually being non-existent on the design scene since they were taken over by new Management a few years ago, they resurfaced at IDS featuring a new collection designed by Brit, Timothy Oultan.  You might recognize the look,,,Oultan designs a collection for Restoration hardware so its no surprise these pieces bare a strong resemblance to the new RH 'hand crafted' artisan look.  It certainly made for a theatrical looking display at the show but for everyday residential use I think pieces like these (union jack sofas) come across as very "staged" or unauthentic.  Everyone seemed to be raving about this collection, but quite honestly, it just doesn't appeal to me.... 

    The Style At Home booth was a standout amongst all the dramatic black,,,the innovative use of colour was a clever way to show off their new Beautitone line of paints.  The entire exhibit was refreshing and utterly creative.  You can read all about the inspiration behind the design of the booth by Margot Austin here

    Snob, always a favorite.  

    The colourful display of dishware at John Paul & Co. was irresistable.  This collection is by Missoni.

    There were several other exhibitors I was fascinated with which I didn't get booth photos but I can tell you natural wood slabs or planks were the common denominator I was atttracted to - mostly featuring hand crafted joinery techniques in clean contemporary silhouettes. 

    The consultation tables at the IDC booth where I was participating in Design Dilemma consultations with the public.  The entire back wall of the IDC space was

     If you weren't able to make it to the show and you'd like to see more, just google IDS11 or IDS2011 and you'll find links to many feature articles and blog posts by journalists and other bloggers.

    All Photos:  Carol Reed
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