When the cold winds and wet rains of winter drive us indoors, we turn to the comfort of the hearth for consolation. Lucky for us, there are numerous Oregon craftsmen available to make that place both functional and beautiful. If you’re considering a custom fireplace for your home, begin by assessing the architecture. Take your cues from the placement of the doors, windows and furniture, and take into account the room’s major activities. In the following pages, we’ve rounded up three fireplace designs that get it right.
When Victoria and Jay Clemens first saw their Northwest Portland house, it included many appreciable features. The house had been built in 1968 in the International style, yielding an open floorplan, high ceilings, large windows overlooking a wooded yard and plenty of wall space for the couple’s art. As proprietors of a downtown art gallery, they had an extensive collection they wanted to display in their new home. There was just one problem—the walls, the floor and even the fireplace facade, were varying shades of purple. After settling in, the couple’s first project would be creating a clean slate, including refacing the fireplace themselves.
Fitting with the exterior architecture of the home, the fireplace consists of three rectangular levels encased in drystacked stone. This provides an airy division between the living and dining room. As such, it doesn’t compromise the window views and allows light to stream through the space. After painting the walls a neutral white and installing new wood floors, the couple took several months to painstakingly replace the mauve tile with white stone. The uneven surface of the stone adds a touch of organic texture in the now tailored white space. Each level is topped with a slab of Byzantine travertine marble, and a custom circular flue pierces the center to bring the whole design together. Once the facade was complete, the Clemenses commissioned a metal sculpture from John Kahouchtahola of Aztec Artist Productions to rest in the flame bed, making the fireplace the newest addition to their art collection.
When Wayne Cook relocated from the Maine woods to the Oregon high desert in 1996, he made the move by train. A stonemason, he sent his tools—the chisels, mallets and hammers of his craft—ahead of him. He’s since put them to good use. He and wife, Sonnie, bought land on top of Long Butte, six miles north of Bend. Inspired by their adopted landscape, they built a Pueblo-style house perched along the canyon’s rim. Once the roof and walls were in place, Cook got to work designing and building the fireplace.
It was important for the couple to maintain the panoramic views from the living room, so Cook opted for a rounded corner fireplace nestled between two windows. He chose quartzine dry-stacked stones in colors that evoked the desert landscape outside, and encased a certified clean-burning Modern Rumford insert. In his work, Cook uses a saw as little as possible, preferring instead to break the stone with a hammer. These breaks cause each piece to retain a more natural shape, giving his creation the less uniform appearance of traditionally cut stone fireplaces. This technique ultimately captures a sense of movement and enables him to incorporate details that reflect the house’s overall architecture—such as the sandstone reveal above the mantle and the arrowhead-shaped rock nestled at its base. Cook left the sidewalls of the fireplace uneven in order to create an undulating line of stone that better integrates the piece in the surrounding room.
Additional stone features, as well as the rustic window casings cut from rough-hewn timber, support the fireplace as the room’s natural centerpiece.
As Cook neared the completion of this project, the stonemason realized this was one piece of work he would keep for himself.
After several years studying architecture and engineering at Princeton University, Walter Moberg needed to get his hands dirty. The spectacular Cascade peaks lured the aspiring mountaineer to Oregon in the late 1970s. When he arrived, Moberg started a business installing wood stoves. This meant he happily spent his weekdays climbing roofs and constructing chimneys, and his weekends building fires outside of snow caves. This got him thinking about fire and the development of his early fireplace designs. In 1987, he found the perfect house in which to test his ideas, delapidated as it was.
It was a 1903 Craftsman bungalow in Southeast Portland, overlooked by most buyers due to unfortunate remodels that had rendered the original features nonexistent. When Moberg walked through the door, he noticed the location of the fireplace. In true Arts & Craft fashion, the hearth stood between the entry and the living room. Moberg knew he could restore that fireplace and the house to its Craftsman era.
He retained the fireplace’s central location to maximize heating efficiency. He rebuilt the chimney and installed his new clean-burning masonry insert in compliance with strict EPA emissions requirements. Inspired by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, the prominent Arts & Crafts designer, Moberg clad the firebox opening with St. Cecilia granite and inlaid Brazilian cherry in a geometric pattern. He topped the cherry mantle with soapstone, carved to replicate the room’s new crown moldings. For the hearth, he salvaged the fireplace’s original tile to play off the red tones in the cherry, and repeated the geometric inlay into the oak floor. On the back side of the fireplace, Moberg installed a sandstone bake oven and carved seating along the sides to provide a toasty place to slip off shoes and boots after entering. The renovated fireplace beckons guests to shed their wet coats, curl up in the living room, and stay a while.
The EPA estimates that seventy-five percent of wood stoves are outdated models that burn less efficiently, waste firewood, pollute the air and impact your family’s health. Here are some energy-efficient clean-burning local options.
Masonry fireplaces burn wood quickly and store the heat in their soapstone, which heats for hours after the wood has been consumed.
Alaskan Masonry Stoves | Ashland | 541.482.9379
Shadley’s Soapstone | Bend | doradosoapstone.com
Moberg Fireplaces | Portland | mobergfireplaces.com
Pellet stoves generally burn cleaner and more efficiently than traditional wood stoves. Inch-long pellets are often more manageable than logs.
Emerald Hearth | Eugene + Bend | emeraldpool.com
Pellet Stoves and More | Oregon City + Portland | pelletstovesandmore.com
Of the various gas fireplaces, vent-free gas fireplaces are the most efficient. They draw air from inside the house for combustion and emit heat back into the house from burning gas.
Home Fire Stove | Salem | homefirestove.com
Lisac’s Fireplaces & Stoves | Portland | lisacsfireplaces.com
Moberg Fireplaces | Portland | mobergfireplaces.com