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Burning Desire

Make your fireplace a reflection of your home

A pair of French, 18th-century Louis XVI bronze andirons.

 

My husband and I recently took a long weekend trip to Chicago simply because we hadn’t been to the Windy City in years. While wandering through the Magnificent Mile, the city’s epicenter, we found the Driehaus Museum, a faithfully restored 19th-century home. As we walked through the ornately decorated house, I was dumbstruck by the many massive fireplaces. Equally impressive were the variety of andirons and fireplace tools, some almost as tall as me.

If you are one of the lucky ones with a fireplace (this is the tropics, after all), consider the look and function of your fireplace. Start with the andirons, tools and accessories.

Andirons are those wonderful sentinels that stand in the fireplace and hold the wood.  The French call them chenets. The English call them fire dogs. They can be made of hand-forged iron, brass, bronze or any durable, flame-proof metal. In centuries past, the andirons often had a hook welded on to it that could hold a pot or two. Homemakers could cook a pot of soup or stew while warming the home.

“Andirons are first functional, then a source of beauty,” says Gay Wirth, owner of Wirthmore Antiques on Magazine Street. “Adding the perfect andirons and tools can make your fireplace work better and also be a lovely accessory to the fireplace, which is often the focal point of the room.”

Wirth says in the past, there was a mathematical proportion to making andirons work, but today that standard is more flexible. She recommends the homeowner first decide the size of the wood to be placed in the fireplace. Once you know how large the logs will be, then decide the size and style of andirons you want.

There are no hard and fast rules to picking a style.

“It’s fine to match the style of andirons to the room,” she says. “If your room is mostly French, you might want some beautiful, formal French bronze andirons. But it’s also fine to use something less formal, like simple, rustic hand-forged iron andirons to the fireplace. Sometimes adding an accessory that is unexpected is just what a room needs.”

Likewise, Wirth adds that a room with a modern look can also benefit from antique andirons. It’s all about balance.

“Experiment with several different styles of andirons and let the fireplace and the room tell you what works,” she says.

Once you have decided on the andirons, think about the tools needed to keep the fire blazing. Newer tools often come as a matched set, while antique sets are often mismatched. Wirth says that the tools do not have to match the andirons, but should be compatible.

No matter what style of tools you select — antique or modern, matched or mismatched — make sure your tools serve their proper function. The poker pushes the wood around and keeps the fire aerated. Pence (or tongs) are used to move the logs when they are hot. A shovel helps lift ashes out of the fireplace, and the broom sweeps up the remaining ashes. A fire screen keeps the embers from floating or popping into the room.

Last, consider adding a fender to your fireplace. Usually made of metal, a fender can keep ashes and debris from scattering out from the hearth. It can be in one large piece, with curved edges, or in three separate pieces.

“Decorating a room is like writing a piece of music, it has to flow,” says Wirth. “Look at the design of the fireplace and accessories. Do the shapes have movement? Do the pieces capture the light? Do they add that certain look that draws the eye to the fireplace? If you can answer yes to these questions, then you have found the andirons and tools that will stand the test of time.”

 


 

Fireplace safety tips

1. If at all possible, keep a window cracked open while fire is burning.
2. Make sure the damper or flue is open before starting fire.
3. Use dry, well-aged wood.
4. Clean out ashes from previous fires. Ashes should be no more than one-inch thick.
5. Have the chimney checked annually by a professional.
6. Never leave a fireplace unattended.

For more information visit: healthychildren.org

 


 

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