Now that summer is officially over and we have begun our journey into autumn, it is feeling a little like fireplace weather. And over my decade of working in interior design, I have noticed that often people might speak about their fireplaces but don't know what to call parts or areas, while others use different terms for the same object. So in an effort to offer some clarity, let's walk through some of the major parts of a fireplace.
The central and most important part of a fireplace is of course where the fire itself is located, the firebox. This is sometimes referred to simply as "the box." Fireplace boxes can be lined with brick, fireclay, metal, pretty much anything that is fireproof (obviously).
The next area of importance is the hearth. This is the area in front of the firebox and it too needs to be fireproof if you have a live fire. This ensures that popping embers from the firebox will not start a fire. For this reason, a hearth needs to be at least 18" deep. If you have a gas insert instead of actual burning logs, the hearth should still be made of a heat-resistant material since many of today's gas inserts give off a tremendous amount of heat that can still cause damage.
A hearth can be flush with the floor or as close to that as possible. Or a hearth can be raised. In the case of a raised hearth, the structure can turn into a bench!
Now we come to the fun parts of the fireplace: the fascia of the mantel can be clad in a myriad of stone or tile choices (again, any non-combustible material that covers at least 6" from the edge of the firebox), and of course the mantel shelf (people often refer to this simply as "the mantel") can be wood or metal. The shelf is a perfect spot for collectibles, art, and holiday decorations. See my previous post about Mantel Inspiration for a brief overview of what can be done to incorporate rich design into your fireplace.
If you don't have a mantel, you can add a floating shelf which offers a very sleek take on a standard fireplace.
On very traditional fireplaces, the mantel sides can also feature carved or fluted panels which are referred to as legs or pilasters. And the last large piece of a fireplace is what is called the breast. This is the structure that covers the chimney and flue. This is another perfect area for some extra embellishmnet. Traditional fireplaces might feature a material on the fireplace breast that is the wall material in the rest of the room. But modern fireplaces can be clad in tile or stone, often all the way to the ceiling.
But wait, there are some areas of your fireplace that you can't see! The chimney is the structure that rises from the fireplace itself and the flue is the duct, pipe, or opening that allows smoke to rise up and out of your home. If you have a gas insert, the flue can be directed either up or off the side to vent outward but if you have a log-burning fireplace, smoke only rises, so it is imperative that your flue go straight up. You most likely also have a flue cover that allows air to flow up when opened. Because burning natural materials coats the inside of your flue with creosote (a tarry by-product of burning wood), it's good to have a professional chimney sweep clean your fireplace at the beginning of every cold season.