how to stay warm

I have always loved fire. I love to look into it, feed it, follow its movement, but most of all, feel its warmth. And so it follows that I love a fireplace, too. A room with a fireplace should always feature it as the focal point, so I get an extra jolt of excitement when I get to work on a fireplace project at Uptown Custom Concrete.

My first fireplace surround and hearth.

Thoma fireplace

Many fossils of various sizes embedded into the concrete of my first Uptown fireplace project.

The first fireplace project I did was a surround and hearth for a traditional wood burning fireplace about three years ago. The homeowners provided fossils, trilobites, and nautili to cast into the concrete. The nautili were sliced and polished, but the other fossils were 3-dimensional and posed a challenge to embed into a flat surface so that the details wouldn’t fill in with concrete. I decided to use modeling clay to fill in around the fossils on the casting surface. After the concrete was cast I easily removed the clay revealing all the detail. I received a Christmas card that year from the homeowners with the fireplace featured. Nice.

One of the Jesse showroom fireplaces featuring a concrete mantle and a 14-foot concrete hearth.

With that first fireplace project in my back pocket, I got to work with Kelley Jesse on a couple of displays for Jesse’s Heating & Air Conditioning Fireplace Showroom in Champaign.

The great thing about this free-standing unit? It’s great for homes lacking a fireplace, and it doesn’t require a chimney.

A playfully-created seam on the 14-foot hearth at Jesse’s.

We took a gas fireplace and designed a free-standing surround so it could be placed anywhere in a room. I really liked the “fire glass” the unit featured — the broken glass that lines the fireplace bottom and replaces artificial gas fireplace logs. This gives an ultra-modern look and playful flame that dances and leaps around and through the fire glass. My next project with Jesse was designing a 14-foot raised hearth display containing three fireplaces, and a concrete mantle above one of them.

Having a raised hearth seems like a much easier way to get close to a fire than a bearskin rug, so when asked to convert an old Victorian coal burning fireplace, that’s what I did. The fireplace’s owners, Deb and Doug Wentworth, had been trying for years to make use of their non-functioning fireplace. The problem was that a coal firebox is too small to burn wood and they were worried about compromising the integrity of their 100-year old home by converting to a gas fireplace. They even investigated the possibility of burning coal. Not surprisingly, that wasn’t terribly feasible.



Doug and Deb’s fireplace before the concrete installation.

Coal fireboxes are very small, but Jesse got us a gas insert that would fit and we raised it up off the floor as far as possible. Deb did her research and looked at a lot of photos posted on various websites. The raised hearth was important for sitting, as was the mantle for her fleur-de-lis candle holders, and the rest followed. The hearth is a single piece and covers the old hearth on the floor. The profiles of the side pieces are thicker at the top so that the head piece could be thick enough to double as the mantle.

Doug and Deb’s new fireplace and concrete surround.

I went back a few weeks ago to take some photos and get some feedback on their new fireplace: “We had no clear vision of what we wanted in the beginning. We knew we wanted something substantial, a piece of art, really. Douglas, at Uptown Concrete, spent considerable time creating a design for our fireplace. Using a 3-D drawing program, he was able to show us many different styles and views to help us imagine what the fireplace would look like.”

“Choosing the color was not that difficult. The large concrete samples he created made the process fairly easy. Being able to hold the samples, and see them with the furniture, walls, and floor, made us very comfortable with our choice.”

Deb and Doug’s daughter, Mallory, claims to do more homework when she’s at the fireplace.

“We couldn’t be happier that we decided to go ahead with this project. Instead of a wasted space we found displeasing, we now have a true focal point of the room. The raised hearth is the favorite sitting area for our two daughters, as well as our pets. We even rearranged the furniture so we could spend more time at the fireplace. We love that it is something different, that no one else has. An added bonus is our heating bill has been much lower, as it really does heat much of the first floor of our home.”

The conference room and lounge, at Uptown’s Urbana headquarters.

Not to be left in the cold, I remodeled my own living room last year, and installed a wood burning stove. The project required a large concrete hearth pad cast in four pieces with beveled edges where the fireproof barrier meets the wood floor. It is colored to match my a living room walls. My super-small house accommodated the unit perfectly, and I now can’t imagine not having it.

uptown hearth

The custom-colored, concrete hearth pad created at Uptown’s Urbana headquarters.

For those who crave warmth, there is no better source than a fireplace warming your whole house, keeping it warm long after the fire has gone out. It’s not just that it’s warm, it’s another whole level of warmth. The difference between a radiant heat source and a forced air heating system is like, well, hot and cold.

There are so many different fireplace options and concrete can accommodate them all. I’d love to work with you on your fireplace project. Contact me at douglas at uptown concrete dot com or 217-493-8295.

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