The fireplace is an iconic symbol in American culture, and its designs-except for many of the European imports-have been largely traditional. But the trend in fireplace design is changing, and the new offerings at this year's Hearth Patio & Barbecue Expo in Atlanta signal the momentum.
"We've been looking at contemporary fireplaces for years, but there hasn't been a demand for them," Regency Fireplace Products' CEO Robert Little said on the show floor. "But now customers are asking for [them]."
This year Regency, a Vancouver-based company, has responded with Horizon, a 54-inch-wide linear fireplace that the manufacturer says complements open-plan living. It can be accented with a cobalt blue crystal or crushed ivory glass fire bed and offers 52,000 BTUs. The company also unveiled the Liberty, a modern-styled fireplace with a one-piece frame that will come in a variety of colors, including stainless steel.
Another manufacturer that has largely done traditional products, Burley Appliances, is now stepping up its contemporary offerings. "Market research showed we produce high-quality, reliable products of traditional design, backed with good support," says Steve Barson, CEO of the England-based fireplace manufacturer, which has a North American division.
Now Burley has introduced six new fireplace designs that incorporate new materials and clean styling. The largest of these, the Uppingham, measures 45 inches wide and is available with optional black or stainless steel decorative panels. (Burley even has changed its logo, which is now simple and clean, to reflect a change in attitude.)
The usual modern-leaning manufacturers also had new offerings. Portland, Tenn.-based Rais' newest introduction is the X-BASIC, a top-vented fireplace featuring a door that slides up and eco-wise burning technology that is used on most of its other freestanding products. It also incorporates an air-wash system that keeps the glass pane completely clean by pulling pre-heated air on the inside of the glass. It ensures nothing comes between the homeowner and a view of the fire. It's made with steel side and top plates and generates 72,000 BTUs.
Wittus, in Pound Ridge, N.Y., is offering up Zio, a wood-burning stove that incorporates a humidifier accessory that easily allows homeowners to add water at the top. The unit measures 51 inches tall and 18 inches in diameter. Its output is up to 28,000 BTUs, and heating capacity is up to 1,400 square feet.
Wolf Steel, the Barrie, Ontario-based manufacturer of the Napoleon Fireplaces brand, continues its own modern movement with the Linear Gas Series that "offers homeowners a designer custom fireplace without the 'custom' price," the company says. Units have a long, narrow firebox and can be installed as either a see-thru or one-sided unit. They also accept a rock/sand or crystal ember bed. Output is up to 25,000 BTUs.
Finally, Palazzetti Lelio, a 50-year-plus Italian fireplace manufacturer that is hoping to break into the U.S. market, brought with it a handful of highly contemporary products that is sure to get some attention.
Among Palazzetti's offerings were fireplaces made with a refractory cement-based material that is lightweight but heat-holding. One product that displays the material's versatility is Bronx, a freestanding stove that has the appearance of a blue-painted metal drum. The company also unveiled Marilyn, an inventive multi-fuel unit that burns wood as well as pellet fuels. If approved by the EPA, it will likely be the only one of its kind in the U.S. market, said James O'Toole, the company's export manager on the show floor. Palazzetti is hoping to break into the U.S. market soon