Few interior features spark more visual interest than a fireplace, often the focal point of any room that has one. But as we rekindle our priorities at home – seeking comfort from corner to corner – modern fireplaces are leaning into the spotlight with striking, sculptural forms.
Evoking a lifestyle that prioritises quiet moments in a big way, they are no doubt a sign of the times, a modern take on hearth and home. "A sculptural fireplace in some ways is about taking a stand, and stating very directly what's important in the home," says New York designers Husband Wife, noting the growing desire for intimate interior spaces that draw us away from our digital lives.
This growing interior design trend covers an eclectic mix of styles. Fully bespoke fireplaces range from hand-hewn forms that double as bonafide pieces of art to sculptural installations that soar toward the ceiling. Many of the materials and elements may seem familiar, some used since Mediaeval times, but their applications are monumental.
"Today, these age-old materials are being used in new, modern ways," says London-based designer Natalia Miyar. "When mantels are used, their scale and materials are being manipulated with modern detailing. And in many cases, the mantel has been eliminated in place of entire walls sheathed in materials like stone, decorative metals, plaster, or concrete."
Materiality only scratches the surface, too, as fireplaces embrace new levels of dimension with one-of-a-kind designs. "We’re seeing more texture, expressive detailing, and options for craft and refinement in fireplaces now," says Dallas-based designer Chad Dorsey. "They’re a design move that adds value to the home and a creative area where you can reflect personal style."
Turning up the heat in more ways than one, here are a few designs that break the mould with surprising materials, proportions, and style.
1. STAND OUT WITH CONTRASTING PROPORTIONS
Going big at home is the new vibe - even for small living room fireplaces - as homeowners swap standard and rectangular fireplace covers for statement architectural details.
"I would always advise to never be shy with your ideas – be bold in color, shape, size and contrast" says NYC’s Neal Beckstedt. I
In this stone fireplace, contrasting proportions and finishes take centre stage; antique Belgian tumbled stones surround a small square firebox while a traditional mantel gives way to an oversized, curvy overmantel in smooth, black plaster finish.
2. FIRE UP YOUR SPACE WITH A SCULPTURAL FOCAL POINT
A sculptural fireplace is a surefire way to create a focal point in any space, which is what this living room trend is all about. Playing with scale ups the ante. You can elevate the traditional fireplace design by going floor to ceiling like this striking Malibu installation by design icon Kelly Wearstler.
With layers of raised marble radiating from its centre, it anchors and defines a cosy space within an open floor plan thanks to its monumental design – proof that the mantel is no longer the limit.
3. ADD CURVES AND ROUNDED EDGES
Small but mighty, this design started with a vintage bronze surround which designers bulked up with a bulbous mantel. Rendered in the same plaster as the wall, it gives a gentle dimension to an otherwise flat surface.
"At the end of the day, the fireplace should speak to the ethos of the room," says Justin Caputo of New York’s Husband Wife. "First, focus on one material that elevates the design. Second, base your dimensions on how you will perceive the fireplace while sitting in the space – consider where you want to draw the eye."
4. CONSIDER TEXTURE FOR THE ULTIMATE SURFACE TREATMENT
Along with shape and scale, a pronounced and textural surface helps hold your attention in a living room. Here, the stone fireplace could easily double as a piece of art, embracing expressive detailing that creates movement and rich textural contrast.
‘The architectural fluting of the Sausalito facade adds an unbelievable amount of intrigue and appeal to this substantial bespoke fireplace,’ says designer Chad Dorsey.
5. MATCH YOUR MATERIALS AND STYLE WITH YOUR SURROUNDINGS
If you’re looking for inspiration, your location can lead the way. "I believe in contextual design and connecting materials, textures, and colours to a place," says Natalia Miyar.
"Look to your surrounding environment for cues without being too literal." In this fireplace, designed for a client in Ibiza, Miyar chose a sculptural design to soften the home’s modern architectural lines; a limestone mantel resonates with the shell-strewn beaches nearby, and its scale "echoes the surrounding hills."
6. Opt for limewash
For this voluminous fireplace, a subtle plaster finish pairs with light limestone to soften its colossal form, almost blending into the background of this white living room. But the inside counts, too, thanks to a sculptural fire feature with stark, material contrast.
"Stick to matte finishes, opt for limewash or plaster for the walls and search for innovative ways to add a burner that doesn’t include cheesy looking log sets," says Susana Simonpietri of New York’s Chango & Co. "Here we opted for this custom made fireball system which provided yet another fun element to look at and discover."
7. MAKE YOUR FIREPLACE A PIECE OF ART
At the end of the day, a sculptural fireplace should live up to its name – play with dimensions, materials and finish, and don't be afraid to really create something personal and artistic.
"Get creative," says designer Chad Dorsey, who crafted the fireplace above with an off-center firebox and a wavy, sculptural surround. "People tend to gather around the warmth of a fire and relax. Their eyes will linger on what stands out. In a good way. Think of it as a place to make a statement in your interior. Think of a sculptural fireplace as art. The options are endless."
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Keith Flanagan is a New York based journalist specialising in design, food and travel. He has been an editor at Time Out New York, and has written for such publications as Architectural Digest, Conde Nast Traveller, Food 52 and USA Today. He regularly contributes to Livingetc, reporting on design trends and offering insight from the biggest names in the US. His intelligent approach to interiors also sees him as an expert in explaining the different disciplines in design.
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