A Brief History
Fireplaces have long been the heart of the home. The earliest examples, dating back to Medieval times, were simple open fires used for essential heating and cooking. A feature originally born out of necessity, fireplaces eventually began to include more decorative elements around the 11th century and soon evolved to reflect the distinctive architectural styles and influences of the time.
Despite the growing number of modern and contemporary fireplace designs available today, it is still widely popular for homeowners to reintroduce or restore fireplace surrounds to suit the style of or to directly contrast the detailing in the original property.
Understanding the key historical periods is essential to choosing a fireplace design sympathetic to the architectural style of your home. The most significant eras of fireplace design to familiarise yourself with are denoted below.
XIV, XV & XVI
The Louis fireplace era was named after the French Monarchs who ruled from the 1300s until the French Revolution of 1789. The Louis-style fireplaces seen today are reproductions of the original designs (referred to as Louis Revival) that were reintroduced and popularised by architects and interior designers in the 19th century and Victorian period.
Tudor & Renaissance
Tudor fireplace surrounds are specific to the Gothic period in England during the first reign of the Royal House of Tudor (1500 – 1560). Fireplaces seen during this period were traditionally more restrained than the later decorative styles and often made from sandstone or limestone and mounted around the central hearth or manor chimney. The Renaissance fireplace style began in the 1500s. This period of architecture was heavily influenced by classical Italy and characterised by elaborate detailing featuring religious motifs, mythological themes or coats of arms.
The Georgian and Regency period can simply be separated into two halves; in the first half of the century, fireplaces were characterised by large, grandiose and ornate detailing, while the second half gave rise to more subtle, classic fireplace designs.
The Georgian fireplace era took place between 1714 - 1820 and marked a period of economic and socio-political change in English history. The designs from this particular time were made in strict proportions and drew inspiration from Greek Mythology and imagery borrowed from earlier classical periods. Designers like William Kent were commissioned to create centrepieces of grand stately rooms in the Palladian Style.
The later Georgian or Regency designs began to reflect the newfound interest in neo-Greek, Gothic, new-Egyptian and Jacobean styles of architecture. A more austere approach to architecture and consequently fireplace design emerged from the Regency period. The lavish, ornate fireplaces of the Louis Revival and Georgian period were replaced by more rectilinear designs, which often included Greek Columns and reeding.
Victorian-style fireplaces were made during the reign of British Queen Victoria (1837-1901) and were still heavily influenced by the prominent classical detailing seen in the Georgian and Regency designs. Early Victorian designs featured intricate floral detailing, while the late Victorian designs were simpler and more geometric in shape.
The Arts & Crafts Movement (1860-1910) saw English designers and artists seek a renaissance of handcrafted goods over mass-produced items, and designs emphasised detailing influenced by nature, including birds, butterflies and flowers. Locally sourced materials and high-quality craftsmanship were at the forefront of this period, and notable designers from this era saw William Morris and William de Morgan rise to prominence. During the Edwardian period between 1901 - 1910, fireplaces grew simpler, taller, and slimmer compared to those of the late Victorian and earlier Art & Crafts designs.
The Art Nouveau and Art Deco phenomenon spanned from 1890 to 1910, concurrent with the Arts & Crafts and Edwardian styles. The exciting new fireplaces from this time saw a complete departure from the traditional designs and featured ostentatious motifs, which quickly became the height of fashion. Art Nouveau fireplaces focused on organic elements such as floral and plant-inspired details and stylised curvilinear forms paired with strong vertical lines typical of the work of Charles Rennie Mackintosh. The distinctive shift from historical neo-Classicism to Modernism was viewed by many as a significant turning point in interior design, and fireplaces are excellent examples of this.
By the 20th century, fireplace designs had evolved from their humble beginnings as the primary source of heat for cooking and warmth during the colder months to the more decorative and modern options available today.