Heat It Up

A fireplace brings more than warmth to a home.

Vail Design at Altitude column
By Kim Toms

A fireplace is much more than a place to heat your toes – it’s an architectural feature that brings an overall warmth and sense of appeal to your home. Odds are if you are considering designing a new fireplace, you are more than likely designing a new home or updating your current space.

Take your time while designing your fireplace. Proportions matter: Make sure the space above the mantel fits well with the space below the mantel to the hearth. The best way to make sure it works is to get out the graph paper and create a “to-scale” sketch. It will give you a better feel of what the finished product will look like, and ensure the proportions fit.


If you’re redesigning a fireplace, you may be lucky enough to have an existing wood-burning firebox. You can most likely keep it as long as the firebox remains in the exact existing location. If not, due to code restrictions, you’ll need to use a gas firebox. I suggest visiting one of the local fireplace showrooms that have many working models on their floors. There are so many beautiful options: corner glass, see-through, linear, traditional shapes and a variety of finishes – it’s helpful to see and feel the actual potential unit in person.

It probably does not need to be said, but, consider your home aesthetics when selecting the firebox and the surround cladding. The perimeter of the firebox, the area surrounding the box’s opening, and the hearth need to be non-combustible and coordinate with the cladding.  Please refer to firebox manufacturers recommendations and local codes for requirement specifics.

The cladding will transform the look of the fireplace. The options are endless and this is another place where your personality can come through. If using a stone veneer (fieldstone, slate, split-faced, stacked, marble slab), bring in an engineer to be sure it can hold the weight. While stone always looks great in the mountains, there are so many other ideas that create a sensation. Brushed stainless steel, copper, stone tile, wood and sheet metal are excellent options.

Fireplaces can and should be the focal point of the room (second to the view, of course!). Therefore, I am not a big fan of incorporating the TV into the design of the fireplace for a few reasons.  However, if it must be integrated, consider these few tenets: heat can damage the television, a mantel may need to be eliminated or lowered to accommodate the TV at proper viewing height.

At the moment, it seems too hot to think about a fireplace! Nevertheless, if you take the time now you’ll be so glad you did when another chilly, snow winter comes to Vail.

Kim Toms is a principal at Slifer Designs. She is the resident fixed finish expert and looks forward to cozying up in front of a fire this winter.

Want to know about new arrivals, special offers and more?