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Fireplace Accessories & Furnishing

Ideas on how to furnish and decorate a fireplace.

We have mentioned the fireside in connection with screens, and this brings us to one of the most important features in an English room. It was in that brilliant book, "South Windy" that Norman Douglas put into the mouth of one of his characters the trenchant comment that the English climate was "only adapted for bears and wolves". However helpful it may be to our national conversation the winter aspect of our climate is seldom cheerful, and the need of bright fires to drive away the damp, penetrating chill of a November or February day in England or Scotland is absolutely essential.

Some sing the praises of concealed heating, and emphasise the extravagant filthiness of coal, and talk of the soot-grimed buildings of London and other cities ; and though any defence of the glowing comfort of the open fire must appear reactionary and archaic in the face of their very logical objections, nobody can deny that a wood or coal fire does warm a room convincingly, and in conjunction with central heating nothing can equal its attraction. Central heating alone accomplishes an even and comfortable temperature, and gas fires and electric radiators are excellent in bedrooms and small sitting-rooms, but for the room of fairly large dimensions a fire is essential; nobody would know exactly where to sit without it, and the fireside is an institution that will die hard.

Cast Iron Fireplace
Cast Iron Fireplace, 1895.
This modern fireplace with its raised grate was developed when coal replaced wood as the standard domestic fuel.

The furnishing of the fireplace, the selection of fenders, fender stools and curbs, the different types of grates and fire-irons, all the accessories of the coal fire must be considered in this section.

Fenders in brass or steel, pierced and fretted, are easily obtainable, and their sizes vary so greatly that nearly any hearth can be suited with one of appropriate dimensions. The beaten copper curbs, whose design was perhaps the most deplorable expression of New Art ideals, have been abandoned, and their heart-shaped angle-pieces and trailing vegetation have ceased to offend our eyes when we seek the comfort of the fireside.

The fender-stool is one of the happiest solutions to the question of fireside comfort, and whether it takes the form of a club fender, or is merely a broad upholstered curb, lined with steel or brass on the inside, it makes the chimneypiece surroundings appeal to us, insisting on the warm invitation a fire invariably extends.

A steel fender in the finish known as "Armour bright" is easy to keep clean, an advantage unlacquered brass cannot boast;- and in these servantless times such considerations must count with us. In the main we shall find few difficulties connected with the selection of a fender, for the numerous antique designs are easily copied and many firms specialise in the inexpensive reproduction of old models for modern rooms.

The iron log-fork and the huge tongs that were necessary in the days when large, wasteful fireplaces with roaring fires rendered near approach impossible, have had their time and have been replaced by the easily handled tongs and pokers of today. Although this work does not pretend to include Hints for Households, there comes to the mind here a point in connection with fireplaces that might easily come under that classification. Tongs are clumsy even at their best, and a glove in black velvet that can be slipped on for the handling of coal is much simpler and more comfortable. Such a glove should have one bag for the fingers and a separate bag for the thumb, so that it may be used on either hand equally well.

Fireside Fan
Fireside Fan, 1800-1825.
One of a pair of fans or hand screens, used to shield the face from the heat of the fire. Fans of this type could be found hanging either side of the fireplace or arranged decoratively on the mantelpiece

Fire-irons and dogs in iron, steel, brass and copper, moulded, fluted and chased in hundreds of patterns are to be had, and they should always match the fender, for steel fire-irons in a brass fender would strike a jarring note. The furniture that surrounds the fireplace, apart from the actual fireplace furnishings and such decorative and useful additions as bellows, should be selected very carefully. The system of draughts and the lighting in a room should be studied, so that protective measures may be taken against the former, and full advantage obtained from the latter.

Antique Fire Grate
Antique Fire Grate, 1780.

The advantage of having a long, low stool directly in front of the fire has been mentioned in the section on antique stools, and the flanks of the fireplace must be thought of next. A deep grandfather chair can be on one side, with perhaps a settee opposite. A small stool in some corner on which an ash-tray may be placed is desirable, and an excellent ash-tray stand can be made from an old wig stand. Wig stands can often be obtained, and when the block at the top is removed and a small wooden tray replaces it, the stand becomes a useful and interesting piece of furniture.

The coal box has many forms. Whether it is in wood or metal it should always be close to the grate, for the transport of a shovel full of coal across a room is often the cause of undue wear and tear on carpets and rugs. A box that is frankly a coal box and does not attempt to be a mixture of a witch's cauldron and a gipsies' camp kettle is the most suitable. Some design in brass or copper that allows coal to be shovelled out with the least trouble is the sort of box that makes for convenience, and obviates the risk of coal being upset on the floor.

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