Inglenooks ,chimneys and other fireplaces

Over 50% of our work as specialists in heritage , period and listed buildings is related to fireplaces.
Inglenooks are great fun to work with and offer the potential to become the focal point of a home, but just as much impact and pleasure can be gained from the sympathetic treatment of a smaller fireplace.
There is something special about a fireplace, even better if it has a real flame, but just the shape of a now blocked off fireplace can enhance a room and form a true focal point.
The role of our fireplaces has altered though the years- once simply a ‘hearth’ in the centre of the floor with a hole in the roof to let the smoke out( if you are lucky!)-in other words, originally a totally functional thing ,which through centuries of evolution has become both functional and aesthetic- a place in the house to sit by in comfort, be it a labourers cottage or a grand house, most of us share the essential attraction of warmth, the crackle and aroma of logs burning.
Fashions come and go and with it fireplaces are altered, Blocked up, removed, reduced and rendered over , but if you look hard enough( and know what to look for) there will be clues that can lead one back in time and reveal glimpses of that original ‘character’.
It often falls to us as specialists to sensitively unpick the various changes in the history of a fireplace to arrive at a solution that seems right for the client and the house-This is the fun part!
Starting from what we have in front of us the aim is to work with the client and the property, its materials, building techniques and styles , bringing our practical experience into play so that together we can identify what is desired, practical and affordable.
Often at this point there will be input from Conservation Officers as much of our work is to listed or scheduled properties- Conservation Officers have the best interest of the property in mind and have the overview of the local area they work with, bringing a wealth of local knowledge ,for example, similar local architectural features ,or indeed informing you that your property has features unique to the area.
We will begin our work with an initial survey to assess the structural implications of ‘unpicking’ later additions/alterations. This is crucial and takes experience- one has to try to understand why builders did what they did – we all know that this can sometimes be a challenge in itself!
Usually though there is a logic to their input –a wall to reduce the size of the flue or fireplace is unlikely to be a structural element , but a wall underpinning a damaged beam of course is a different matter!
The survey will inform the likely age of the fireplace, which of course need not be the original age of the property, this dating through the clues left behind- brick size, mortar, hearth remains, beams and other features such as the scars left by ranges being cut into the brickwork, all in the context of the rest of the house can help to build a picture of the house through time.
Once the survey is complete we can move to the stage of how much/little needs to be done, but it is essential to let the house ‘speak to you’- listen to the clues that it has left and use them as a guide to achieving a solution that sits comfortably with the house and the client.
So, is it to be conservation, restoration or re design?
These three loose categories are useful as a guide:
All three in their own way, represent the ‘story’ of the property- its journey through time and the people that have cared for it- some approaches take it forward at a pace, others more slowly.
We encourage client input of course, but more than this , should the client want to have a
‘hands on ‘ approach, we can offer training and guidance as part of the service.
Simply put, it refers in this context to preserving what is presented and no more.
It might be an important feature, a fireplace or the whole property that requires this approach, the concept is the same-minimal intervention- that is doing only that which will preserve the material, aesthetic and function of the feature, only taking action if by not doing so the feature will suffer significant damage or loss. Any intervention must be in keeping with the structure, but should also be recognisable as an intervention too, so that it is not confused in later times with the original- honest and yet distinct, in keeping with the aesthetic- buying it some time.
In this case it is essential to have identified the features that might have been there, the clues left behind in subsequent alterations , the aspirations of the client and the thoughts of Conservation Officers if the property is listed- quite a task, but if you get the basics right then the rest is so much easier and satisfactory!
Restoration is a ‘best guess’ in many cases- it is where our experience of period properties and traditional building techniques comes into play. It can be a challenge, but it is always very rewarding.
We have to work with what we have in terms of client brief and the clues from the house to bring about a solution that works and is in sympathy to the original or the period that the client is aspiring to get to.
It could mean a complete restoration from uncovering the blocked up fireplace to inserting a reclaimed beam, bread oven, re pointing and laying a reclaimed hearth using local materials such as pamments, floor bricks or stone.
I think restoration is our favourite – it requires skill, detective work, experience and yet allows for a little creativity too!
Re- design:
Is exactly that- taking the elements that are significant to the client along with the features of the property and using these, coming up with a new ‘twist’.
Often an interesting challenge, but an opportunity to put my design degree to work!
Modern living can have its advantages- the ugly bit of an open fire is the cleaning out next morning- a modern gas or electric fire needs none of that, but can it present that all important comfort appeal and focal point in the room?
Some modern design, especially Scandinavian ,can be stunningly simple and elegant, taking the period home onto the next stage in its long story.

Starting the work:
Having a brief , the actual craft work of bringing it to life can begin.
The first is to clear out the debris- this can be considerable and so, so messy, but once out of the way real progress can be achieved.
We of course would ONLY use lime mortars- blended to suit the needs of the brief and also reclaimed materials unless a re -design calls for modern elements.
We source our lime products from various suppliers to the trade, such as Mike Wye and associates@,
or Ty Mawr @
Materials brought to the property ought to be sourced locally if possible, should be sound, and in the case of bricks ,should be matching in terms of colour, texture, size and absorbancy.
The first priority is to ensure that the structure is sound and any element removed are safely taken out .
The brickwork can then be dealt with and beams etc inserted, cleaned up and a hearth laid- each project is unique and requires a bespoke approach- it takes time, skill and patience, but the results are always worth the wait!

Our extensive range of local contacts for reclaimed materials makes sourcing these a lot easier.
We also have close contacts with a range of other trades from painters and decorators to plumbers and carpenters, all sympathetic to period homes.

After care:
As members of the GUILD OF MASTER CRAFTSMEN , our work is regularly vetted for quality of workmanship and customer service, it shows that we have a professional approach and that we will always offer an after care service.
However, a lot of this is simple maintenance – we only use natural products- linseed oil for example and a quick wipe over every few months with a rag and linseed oil is all that is needed for many materials.

Woodburners and flues:

Naturally many clients want to have an open fire or a woodburning/multi fuel stove fitted and part of the process.
We can offer this to clients on request, so that a complete package from initial survey of the fireplace, through to fitted working fire in a restored or rebuilt fireplace can be achieved.
The fitters we work with are Heatas registered and can provide practical information and a range of stoves to suit your property.

If you wish to make an enquiry regarding our services for fireplaces and/or any other period restoration to your home , please do contact us through the website- and we will be sure to get straight back to you.