Shag pile rug not included

There are few things better than a fire to make a room come alive in winter. Nicole Swengley checks out the latest gas fireplace designs

Most of us live in centrally heated, double-glazed, cavity-insulated homes. Yet we still crave the emotive and psychological aspects of a glowing fire. More than that, we expect them to look as attractive unlit as they are when lit.

But fires, these days, are no longer just a simple way of warming a room. They're sculptural artworks that you can locate anywhere in your home - even in the centre of a combined eating-living space or a rangy bedroom-cum-bathroom.

Technological advances in burning systems, ducting, flues and fans have fuelled today's adventurous designs, many of which can be operated by remote control just like a television.

Take the innovative fires created by sculptors Cathy Burkeman and Mair Davda, co-founders of B&D Designs. Hand-forged steel rods stand in wigwam shapes or stick out like porcupine quills on a bed of vermiculite (processed volcanic dust), which maintains an even flame by spreading the gas. The sticks begin to glow as the flames lick through, cracking and popping like a wood-fuelled fire as the steel expands and contracts. They also provide an effective heat source long after you turn the fire off. "We've taken the idea of a fireplace back to its primal form - a bonfire," Burkeman explains.

Another B&D design was recently installed in a Chelsea house purely to add drama to a bedroom. It is made of metal loops and was inspired by Saturn's rings. "My client wanted a sculpture for the fireplace and hasn't even had the fire connected to the gas supply," says Burkeman. Prices for B&D's designs start from £1,450. Meanwhile, anyone looking for a fire that can be centrally positioned in a room or tucked into a corner might contact Diligence, whose imaginative designs are custom-made by the French craftsman Dominique Imbert. Designs include Meijifocus, a circular fire mounted on a plinth and shielded by a glass screen, and Pictofocus, a glass-fronted fire in a steel surround that hangs on the wall; prices from £1,600 to £6,000.

CVO Firevault's central London showroom is an excellent source of sleek, modern designs ranging from a tiny aluminium pod in a stone surround (perfect for bedrooms but pricy at £3,347) to Fire Ribbon, a linear flicker of flames in a black granite surround (£2,697) that needs no flue. Unlike some flueless models on the market, CVO's models need no catalytic converter and designs like FireLine and FireEye can be located anywhere in the home; prices from £1,997 to £2,677 depending on the surround.

If you can't find a fire to suit your home, contact architect Henry Harrison, who runs The Platonic Fireplace Company. From around £1,500, he will create a one-off design through his "firescheme" special commissions service. Or choose one of his contemporary stone-and-steel fires in which flames lick through Zen-like ceramic pebbles or sculpturally shaped fireproof objects.

His fires can be located high on the wall or set within glass panels as a flaming room divider. You could even take the high-tech route and incorporate a plasma TV screen with your fire in an all-in-one unit. Or you could keep things thoroughly minimal with a simple horizontal flicker of flames set in a recessed burner in the wall.

www.bd-designs.co.uk, 020-8964 5355

www.cvofirevault.co.uk, 020-7580 5333

www.diligenceinternational.com, 01364 654716

www.platonicfireplaces.co.uk, 020-8891 5904

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