Thursday, September 16, 2010

Design element: firebox patterns

The house we are building is now being framed, so many of the concepts that I have thought about in the abstract are requiring a firm decision in the very near future.  Individually they are small decisions, but cumulatively they number in the hundreds, and each decision makes a contribution to the overall aesthetic and function of the house. 

One such decision that we had to finalize this week was the pattern of the firebrick in the fireplaces (the firebrick is the ceramic material that lines the inside of the firebox).  Yes, a small thing, but given that I have posted about mantels and fireplaces frequently on my blog, it is one that I have great interest in.

Back in 2008, I professed my admiration for a herringbone pattern in the firebox, as seen on my favorite cover of Veranda. 

This beautiful firebox features a herringbone pattern with the fire bricks in a slightly larger size.  Interior design by Suzanne Kasler.

The effect can look quite different depending on the size of firebrick used in the fireplace.  This fireplace (designed by Jim Howard, with a custom size mantel by Francois & Company) uses larger size bricks for a more graphic effect.

One of the French style homes in Atlanta based builder YM Derazi’s portfolio has an interesting herringbone pattern using larger scale firebricks and multiple brick colors.  Image via YM Derazi.

Personally, I prefer when the firebricks are very thin and detailed, as seen in this picture of a house under construction in Atlanta.  I love the design and color of this particular firebox, and the fact that the hearth is flush with the ground.

Another one of my favorite fireplace pictures – the combination of the traditional mantel, the graphic contemporary art, and the delicacy of the herringbone pattern in the fireplace makes for a great vignette.

The pattern in this fireplace is also in herringbone design, but appears to be vertically oriented rather than horizontally oriented.  It is an interesting twist on the herringbone pattern.

Many fireboxes have the firebricks in a clean lined running bond pattern.  This is a nice subtle look.

This fireplace, with a mantel by Francois & Company, had a simple design in the firebox, which works well as the floors of the room are a herringbone (this house was a showhouse several years ago).  

Another Atlanta showhouse from several years ago shows a running bond pattern with larger size bricks. The scale of the brick has a big impact on the look and feel of the design.  Interior design by Womack Interiors.

A small scale running bond pattern in a fireplace featured on the Belgian Pearls blog.

The pattern in the firebox appeals to me every time I see it – thin strips of fire bricks, laid in a vertical pattern with a thin horizontal layer separating the rows.  This fireplace is in the Max & Company Atlanta store. Architectural design by Jim Howard.

A close up of the firebox in a house designed by Bobby McAlpine has firebricks in another interesting arrangement – this time columns with the thin split firebricks laid horizontally. Image via Benecki Fine Homes (builder and owner of the house pictured above; interiors by Melanie Turner).

This image intrigued me, not only because of the unusual dark color of the firebrick, but also because of the interesting pattern – a unique twist on herringbone, with rows and columns.

This beautiful firebox combines the best of both designs – vertically designed fire bricks surrounding the firebox, and a herringbone pattern inside the firebox.  Architecture and photography by Peter Block.  This home was built by YM Derazi, and it is truly exquisite. (YM Derazi is also building my home, so I have first hand experience with the quality of their work!).

Of course, if you actually use your fireplace, it often ends up looking like this….

At a design meeting this week, my architect suggested a pattern that I have not really seen in many pictures.  It looks somewhat like the pattern in this picture, although the firebricks will be thinner.   We both think it will look beautiful with the antique limestone mantel that Suzanne selected for the living room.

Do you have a pattern that you like inside a firebox?  I don’t even recall noticing this particular design feature before writing this blog, but it is now an element that I appreciate and notice whenever I see a well done fireplace.

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  1. The house we are building is now being framed, so many of the concepts that I have thought about in the abstract are requiring a firm decision in the very near future. Individually they are small decisions, but cumulatively they number in the hundreds, and each decision makes a contribution to the overall aesthetic and function of the house.

  2. (I have found that facebook pulls the first comment as the description for the post, so I pasted the first paragraph of this post so it will pull the correct text)

  3. i love adding a pattern inside the fireplace. It adds so much dimension, texture, and interest.

  4. Isn't it funny how there are things you never think about until you are in the midst of the building project-so many minute details. If I was picking today, I'd definitely go with the fireplace detail on the Veranda cover...it's gorgeous!!!

  5. I usually don't pay attention to that particular feature but I'm glad you pointed it out. The last picture you shared is quite interesting because it looks less "designed" and more natural. I really like it. They are all beautiful but the other one that always strikes me (like you) is that one by Jim Howard. In the right setting (like pictured) it's "knock-your-socks off" good.

  6. I'm sure it will be great and not like anyone else's. I'm going with the sooty look. The clean ones may as well be in a studio showroom, like artificial flowers. What is the best look with soot? (Reminds me that Gordon despises fresh candles, they have to have been lit and melted a little, the more the more drippy better.) Of course I don't like the sooty smell so much.

  7. I am a fan of the herringbone pattern for the firebox...at least that is what I pick 9 out of 20 times for our own home and for clients. It is classic, add interest, and when there is no fire ablaze it still feels like a beautiful piece of art.

  8. I have the herringbone pattern in my firebox. It's what the architect speced and so I went with it. It is beautiful, but we do use the fireplace and so it looks like the sooty one above. I wouldn't let my DH use the fireplace for a few months when we moved it b/c of the soot. That was silly...

  9. I never paid attention to this feature either, until we renovated our home two years ago. We moved one of our fireplaces, and the mason pulled me aside and asked me what pattern I had wanted. I had no idea what he was talking about, so he showed me a chevron pattern with thin bricks on the floor and I was sold! I didn't realize all the options out there, but regardless...would have still chosen what I did! Love what you have selected as well!

  10. Funny but I never thought about this design element either and dashed down to see what ours look like. Being an 18th century house with fireplaces well used they're sooty but a lovely herringbone in one.

  11. There are so many patterns to choose from, and all that you showcased are beautiful. However, the mantel chosen sounds divine, so I would be careful not to choose a pattern that steals too much of the real focus. And, yes to a hearth flush with the floor. One of ours is slightly raised and makes me nuts. Of course, the whole thing was ugly so the box and surround got painted black! I loved this post, if only to dream....

  12. We had a very simple design of firebrick in our open, oversized fireplace. Even though we live in Florida, we use it often in the winter (lots of windows, lousy insulation, thin blood). So I was devastated when it almost immediately started looking like the if-you-use-it photo (it had never been lit when we bought the house).

    When we renovated, we completely redid the entire fireplace--20' high, enormous load of granite, you name it, but I was of course disappointed with the look of the burnt brick. We have an Irish Black granite surround, and my contractor came up with the idea of painting the firebrick black. It was terrifying, but I love it. Surprisingly traditional, too, and I don't ever have to worry about cleaning that brick.

  13. WOW. I never even noticed. Now I will be checking out fireplaces.

  14. Details.....that's what designers are all about! smiles.

  15. The fireplaces and the rooms are beautiful here! I can't choose just one, although I love the black and white image.
    Have a nice day.

  16. Wow! I don't think I've ever noticed all of the options of fire brick patterns. I think I like the herringbone pattern best but in a smaller sized brick and in the pale shade most of them are shown in your pictures.
    Do you ever think you can't possibly make one more decision when building your own home?

  17. I've never rally given the inside of a firebox much thought. But after seeing all the pictures you've collected, my favourite is the vertical herringbone with thin stones/tiles.


  18. Can I tell you that this is an amazing and instructive post? In the sense that I have never paid any attention to the firebrick, and now it's all I see when I look at a fireplace! Thank you for giving me some time to think about something I would have totally ignored, potentially to my detriment. Many thanks!

  19. Herringbone all the way!


  20. I LOVE the pattern that you chose. Will yours have the antique brick look that is in the photo? It's fabulous!

  21. We have herringbone in one firebox and straight lines of bricks in another. Both fireboxes however have a large cast iron decorative plaque stood against the back of the firebox to reflect the heat. Do you use these in the states?
    My French Country Home

  22. I like the herringbone. We recently built a house in DC area. We used herringbone for our fireplace. Only thing is I wish I did it in a dark stone instead of cream so that I would not be afraid to use it!

  23. All the decisions that must be made when building a home, whew! And yet you've handled it so well (plus writing your blog and all the other things you do, much less care for the family!) Applause! I have taken notice of firebrick, but not quite like this thorough job you did here, kudos!

  24. You are SO lucky!!!! You have so many amazing people working on your home, Suzanne Kasler, Stan Dixon, LandPlus, and now we find out you are using YM Derazi! I stumbled upon Derazi's website yesterday and his work is incredible! If I was building my dream home I would choose these exact people. Im sure magazines are already lining up to feature your home as their cover house once its completed! Good Luck during these stressful months!


  25. Old good classics.
    Perfect choices.
    Love love

  26. I LOVE the herringbone pattern, that really grabs me the most. All lovely classic looks though!

  27. awesome post.

    i love the examples that you shared with us.

    have a sweet weekend

  28. What an incredibly comprehensive post. I have 2 favorites in this group. First is the 5th photo which I liked for the same reasons you did as well as the fact that it successfully straddles the line between traditional and contemporary. And I loved the shot from Belgian Pearls with the brick running bond - I'm sure the rest of the beautiful decor didn't affect my decision :-)

  29. I have a simple brick style in my own home, but I LOVE the herringbone. Of course, I love just about anything herringbone, so no surprise there! ;-)

  30. Oh, and just like bondgirl, we painted my firebrick black.

  31. Design is truly "all in the details"! This is such an interesting topic that I have not often seen highlighted, so thanks for sharing all of the photos! I am a fan of the multi-colored design in the French-style home. However, I also like the smaller scale patterns, as well. Let's face it.... adding this detail to a fireplace.... in any pattern.... is nothing short of spectacular!

  32. Much like everyone else I love that herringbone pattern. Especially in those very thin bricks like photos 4 and 5. Stunning! Thanks for sharing the many possibilties of a detail I would have never thought of.

  33. Hi there! Of course, I have an opinion!

    Your first instinct was correct; in my opinion! the firebricks are either laid sideways.......(the skinnier ones you liked in the first place.....)

    (or the other way......(the larger ones, laid the wrong way) they are the same size.

    The classic and most attractive , in my view, are the old light terra cotta firebricks reclaimed; or (reproduced in the same way) laid sideways in the skinny side out herringbone.
    Every other kind looks contrived, false, pretentious......and fake to me.

    Look at old houses.......no one was trying to prove anything; nor impress anyone; nor show off the inside of the fireplace. Fireplaces were for fires and providing heat. Lordy! Back to basics!

    That is all recent and unfortunate. The sideways way provided the best heat conservation......and that is why it is authentic.

    They didn't have all those aluminum and steel contraptions in chimneys that we are required to use now. There have been some truly hideous "inventions" in this realm.

    They used the most simple and real things.....for real reasons, ie: conducting and conserving heat.......and sending it into the house. Many houses the fireplaces were the only source of heat..and the firebricks were made in the back yard with local soil. That is what terra cotta is!

    (It is like adobe in California) Our soil we could make bricks out of. They would be black.......but they would be bricks. The color of the terra cotta pots and bricks....depended on the soil in the area. Italy and Provence had red or pink or beige terra cotta.

    Depending on the area.

    I guess it, as are many other decisions , is a choice that is of taste.

    taste varies vastly; to say the least. I just go always toward authentic, simple, unpretentious. What makes you happy.

    Believe me; once you have a few fires in that fireplace; no one will even really see the firebricks. That is the challenge in building or remodeling a house...........One has to picture the finished room.....with people, dogs, fires in the fireplace.......no one focuses on the details.......unless they are wrong.

    And then they stick out like a sore thumb!!!!!!! YIKES~~~!! I vote for authentic.

    .That is why that is my choice.



    ps I think you can see the inside of our fireplaces in House Beautiful.....September 2010
    I will try to send you the link. it is "Patina" Sept. 2010! Can you find it?

  34. Very nice idea, often overlooked. For us the herringbone is a classic, yet the vertical pin stripes that Jim Howard featured are a very interesting and intricate idea!

  35. Definitely skinny brick in herringbone pattern flush with the floor...


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