Before television, the hearth was the focal point of a living room. Even today, a traditional fireplace can still form the heart and soul of the home. But it's about more than the fire - the surround is just as important, and it pays to do your research.
First, decide on the style. A surround should sit sympathetically with the existing architecture, but it needn't be a perfect historical match. A Louis XV marble style may look appropriate in a Victorian townhouse, but odd in a tiny cottage. Next, consult a reputable builder and run your plans past them, then get them to install the fireplace.
Surrounds come in many materials, from marble and limestone to slate or timber. In Georgian times, choice of stone or wood was influenced by the proximity of a stone quarry. The Victorians favoured cast-iron, and tiled surrounds were common in the early 20th century. These days the decision is more likely to be affected by cost, as well as your preferred style. A beautiful antique wooden surround can cost as little as £300. Marble can set you back thousands.
Adding an attractive fire surround can add value to your property, so buy the best you can afford. A high-street option will cost less, but below you'll find some of the country's very best specialist shops - where you should find something to suit your taste and budget.
Many specialists will make your fireplace from scratch, so it's usually possible to scale it up or down. Ask for advice on matching the fire surround to the proportions of your room. An antique fireplace is an excellent choice for a period property, but rare or unusual versions can be costly. Salvage yards are fruitful hunting grounds.
If you're after a truly original piece, then an antique fire surround is the way to go. For those on a budget, architectural salvage companies provide brilliant hunting grounds for unusual pieces. The aptly named Retrouvius combines a showroom full of quirky salvage buys with an imaginative design service, so there's plenty of choice. This one - a 20th-century oak mantelpiece with carved capitals - is newly reconditioned and costs a modest £295 (1,220mm wide x 1,320mm high).
Retrouvius, 2a Ravensworth Road, Kensal Green, London NW10, 020-8960 6060, www.retrouvius.com
A designer fireplace that's affordable makes a guaranteed style statement. Chesney's has specialised in antique and period repro fireplaces for more than 20 years, and offers a service from style advice to installation. The firm uses designers such as Jasper Conran, to create unique designs. This one, The Coral by Jane Churchill, features organic motifs and is carved in hard-wearing Bianco Avorio limestone. It costs £1,169 (1,321mm wide by 1,176mm high).
Chesney's, 194 Battersea Park Road, London SW11, 020-7627 1410, www.chesneys.co.uk
AFTER THE ANTIQUE
If you're after a period mood but nothing too grand, then choose a reproduction surround based on a particular style, not a faithful copy. Stonemasonry business After the Antique offers an excellent choice in stone or marble, from 16th-century English to Flemish, and has a large stock at its Norfolk showroom. This one, the Classic French Farmhouse, is carved in marble. It costs £3,000, with optional hearth £400 (1,680mm wide by 1,242mm high).
After the Antique, Hythe Road, Foulden, Thetford, Norfolk, 01366 327210, www.aftertheantique.co.uk
A timber surround looks particularly sympathetic in a country property. Go to a specialist supplier for quality wood. Hallidays specialises in hand-carved fireplaces and offers 23 period designs in oak, cherry, kara sea pine and mahogany. There is also a bespoke service. The Romney, shown here in limed Baltic pine, costs £2,758 (1,333mm high x 1,358mm wide).
Hallidays, Queen Street, Dorchester on Thames, Oxfordshire, 01865 340028, www.hallidays.com
Stone Age has been a specialist stone supplier for almost 20 years, and offers its own masonry service. There's a vast choice of stone, including limestone, sandstone, granite, basalt, slate, marble and travertine: come along with an initial sketch, and the company's designers can dream up a one-off surround in the stone of your choice. Clean, contemporary styles are particularly favoured. The PPX, shown here in white limestone, costs from £4,000 (900mm high by 1,450mm wide).
Stone Age, 14 Kings Road, Clifton, Bristol, 08004 048 899 for stockists, www.estone.co.uk
TWENTIETH CENTURY FIRES
In a 20th-century house, it's trickier to get a surround to suit smaller room proportions. But that's not a problem at Twentieth Century Fires, which specialises in Art Deco, Arts & Crafts and Edwardian surrounds. After the First World War, tiled fireplaces became popular. Surrounds are made to order, so can be scaled up or down, and there's a choice of tile colours. The Craddock RA06 fireplace costs £875, including hearth and fret (1,270mm wide x 1, 270mm high).
Twentieth Century Fires, Vesta Works, Greg Street, Reddish, Stockport, 0161-429 9042, www.c20fires.co.ukReuse content