Nothing beats the allure of a warm and welcoming home in winter, but heating must look beautiful, too. Combine modern options with an open fire or stove for the ultimate sensory mix, then curl up and relax.
We all know the theory: well-planned heating should keep us toasty and be eco efficient, not to mention chiming neatly with the architecture of our homes. Sometimes, however, with the increased availability of concealed under-floor heating and modern radiators, it is very easy to overlook the importance of making strong decorative choices. A beautiful fire surround or a stove can be a visual delight, whilst flickering flames satisfy our elemental desire to be cocooned. Adopting a thoughtful mix-and-match approach can yield results. “Take advantage of the cost efficiency of modern central heating, teamed with a stove or fire for a focal point,” says interior designer Rebecca Hughes. First thoughts should be a welcoming fireplace, whether a real or gas fire, to form the heart of a sitting room or kitchen, but from early on, keep an open mind on style.
The Original Fireplace
Unless your home is listed, do not assume you must keep an original fireplace. If it looks boring or is the wrong size, replacing it can transform a room. Before choosing afresh: “Think of a fire surround as a piece of furniture you’ll see every day,” says interior designer Marion Lichtig. Buying a quality fitting is not an extravagance, but an investment. Original period designs are aesthetically satisfying, whether in grand marble or limestone, or simpler timber or cast iron. Scour specialist fireplace dealers and salvage yards: options can be overwhelming and rare examples expensive but there are bargains to be had, too. Don’t become focussed on authenticity: a classically inspired fireplace sits happily in most period properties. Lichtig says Georgian architecture works extremely well with modern fireplaces. “And it’s fun to mix up periods,” adds antiques dealer Adam Bray, who installed 1970s inset fireplaces into a Victorian house to chic (and inexpensive) effect. If there is no time to hunt out the perfect antique, many fireplace specialists offer beautiful authentic copies of period surrounds: look at Jamb, Chesneys and Acquisitions of London.
Alternatively, commissioning a bespoke stone or timber design will deliver a personal twist. When shopping, do consider scale, says Paul Chesney of Chesneys: it is a common mistake go too small. “Don’t let the mantel shelf overshoot the edges of the chimney breast and ensure the height of the fireplace is less than half the ceiling height,” he advises. But it is also fun to contrast proportions. A deliberately super-sized surround in a small sitting room, says Bray, can add great character. If there is scant space for a fireplace, advises Lichtig: “Opt for a square opening with simple inset slate slips.” Focussing attention on the hearth also increases ambience, whilst for a classic Victorian look, a closed steel or cast-iron register grate is ideal; exposed brickwork, steel slips and a limestone or marble hearth, teamed with a brass or steel fire basket, suits grand and simple fire surrounds alike.
An upholstered fender provides practical seating and smart styling. At fender specialists Acres Farm, William Rollo says: “Nowadays designers are using pony skin, horsehair, velvets and coloured leather or suede.” With their distinctive silhouettes and dramatic flues, stoves are now highly popular; no wonder, because they produce a minimum of mess and deliver superior heat output. Do address practicalities first, however. Greg Taylor of Stovax advises commissioning a site survey. “It will identify the requirements for the hearth, flue system, ventilation and clearance of combustible materials,” he says. There are multi-fuel, gas or electric versions, though wood burning is most popular due to “its carbon neutral benefits”, adds Taylor. Review your potential room early, as existing architecture will affect the choice of style.
Will a new stove tuck into a fireplace or would a flush inset design be best? Placed centrally, a stove makes a striking room-divider, and a model such as Jotul’s F373 can even be made to revolve by 360 degrees. Fortunately, there are many design and size options, from cast-iron nine teenth century copies adding nostalgic charm to a cottage inglenook, to pared-down steel stoves for a rustic, modern interior. More specific style selections will include single or double windows, curved doors, or exposed or concealed flue pipe options. Stove specialists Clearview Stoves, Stovax and Charnwood have excellent traditional versions, and Scandinavian choices are available from Morso and Jotul. Whilst black remains the classic colour choice, more experimental enamel shades, such dark green, are available, or use pastels for a softer effect in a sitting room. And stoves need not be restricted to downstairs, either. “I’ve installed a wood-burning stove in a chilly country house bedroom,” says Bray, who finds that this combines practicality with romance.Flickering flames aside, central heating remains the backbone heat source in most houses, and with it comes the ‘ugly radiator’ issue. If you are able to replace them, think of it as an investment to enhance the look of your rooms. For a period home, the gold standard remains the cast iron column radiator style.
You will find reconditioned originals in salvage yards or from specialists such as The Old Radiator Company, or try The Traditional Radiator Company for authentic modern copies. For a nineteenth-century drawing room, ornate designs add sensitive authenticity, or in a bathroom, consider a wallmounted towel-rail radiator. Victorian styles in chrome or copper look smart and provide additional heat. Modern radiators come in myriad shapes and sizes and not only provide a style focal point, but can solve specific problems. For example, says Victoria Ruffy at Bisque: “Tall, thin wall-mounted radiators can be used in dead spaces such as next to doors, or on a column.” Also experiment with classic-style new radiators using bold colours as a feature. “Radiators can be supplied in many colours, or exciting metal finishes such as Bisque’s lacquered metal Classic,” adds Ruffy. If existing standard panel radiators must remain, painting them in a muted colour to match walls helps them to ‘disappear’, or buy flat bar-panel radiators, which are a discreet budget option – Heat and Plumb have a good selection. Alternatively, choose a radiator cover to conceal. A vertically slatted radiator cover looks contemporary – Jali offers pretty options in primed MDF, or Artisan Design has covers with matching shelves above.
The newest heating star is under-floor heating, providing a gentle ambient heat source with no need for radiators. “It is practical, unobtrusive and makes layouts more flexible,” agrees Hughes. There are two basic options: electrical mats, or pipes for hot water from the central heating system, laid onto a sub floor. Precisely because under-floor heating is hidden, it is a sensitive choice for period properties, and it can be retro fitted. But, cautions Heather Oliver from Nu-Heat: “First check that the house has sufficiently high insulation to guard against heat loss.” Under-floor heating works particularly well beneath hard surfaces such as stone flagstones or ceramic tiles, as these transfer heat effectively, but if laid under wood flooring, engineered timber boards are the best option. Once heat practicalities are assured, remember that every room benefits from tactile accessories. Consider a sheepskin underfoot or tossed over dining chair backs: Celtic & Co has skins in four sizes. Add sofa blankets, such as Tori Murphy’s UK-crafted merino lambswool throws in muted shades and Helen Moore’s ocelot faux-fur throws. If having a real fire is not an option, then flickering candles offer an alternative to create ambience. Wick & Tallow’s Lavender and Ginger candle is warming, or try The White Company’s new Weekend range that includes a fireside votive with sandalwood