Victorian Fireplace Design

The Victorian era, named after Queen Victoria of England, spans the period from 1837 to 1901. The Industrial Revolution resulted in building factories to churn out goods in great mass and at more reasonable prices. This resulted in the creation of factory jobs in the cities, and cities grew to house the new population of factory workers. Many new millionaires were created as a result of this new economic boom, and these "nouveau riche", or  newly rich, surrounded themselves in opulence if not always with great taste. Ostentatious designs in architecture and furnishings combined with goods brought back home from international travels. Every possible collectible was placed on display to share with visitors. The Victorians felt that all things should first be beautiful, and not necessarily practical. Dresses had hoops, multiple layers of skirts and yards and yards of fabric. Everything, to great excess, was thought to be better, and this extended to their homes as well.

Victorian architecture roughly spans the period from 1830 to 1910, and primarily evolved during the latter part of the Victorian era. Victorian architecture assimilated archtectural styles from abroad and included a number of styles including Folk Victorian, Italianate, Queen Anne, Romanesque, Eastlake, Gothic and shingle styles. But when most people think of true Victorian style architecture, they usually envision Queen Anne styles (1880 to 1910), built at the height of mass-produced architectural trim and painted in bright colors. Victorian farmhouses continued to be popular new home designs into the 1940's, though they were often somewhat toned down by this date.

(Richmond is one of the nation's most notable cities for its vast population of Victorian homes. The Church Hill neighborhood features a huge concentration of Victorian homes with many of the varying styles available in this revitalized urban community).

What's not to love about Victorian architecture? There are so many ways you can decorate them! If you love old antiques with their dark woods, velvet fabrics and unexpected embellishments, they'll find an appropriate home in an old Victorian house. Shabby chic styles also work well, combining chippy furniture with charming chintz and lace and overstuffed furniture. Eclectic tastes will also love this home, where you can feel free, as the Victorians did, to combine any number of favorite furnishings and collectibles for a place that's simply fun to live in. Even lovers of contemporary styles are finding Victorian homes a harmonious contrast where they enjoy the juxtaposition of architectural frivolity that mixes well with furnishings with clean and simple lines. Muted earthtone fabrics in solid colors allow the eye to rest when placed in a room with so much going on in the architecture. No matter your style, any Victorian home will certainly feel more homey with its one or more fireplaces in operation!

As the Victorian era predated central heating, a fireplace was featured in nearly every room of a Victorian home. They are most often very small sizes designed to burn coal, which burns much hotter and longer than wood. The mantels are ornate and may be made of marble, soapstone, cast iron or wood and often featured an overmantel. A tile facing is common. As in other areas of a Victorian home the fireplace - especially in the parlor - may be very ostentatious.

Take a look at more examples of Victorian era fireplaces at Southern Accents Architectural Antiques  

If you're restoring a Victorian era fireplace, keep in mind that its age likely means the chimney is unlined. If you intend to burn wood or coal in the fireplace then lining the chimney is a good idea; the bricks and mortar in a 100+ year old chimney is often soft and porous and may not be structurally sound.

We carry a good supply of antique cast iron surrounds, reproduction Victorian tiles plus fireplace furnishings in petite sizes and ornate designs that are perfect for accessorizing your fireplace.

If you're looking to convert your Victorian era fireplace to gas, you have 2 basic options. For a decorative, open fire you can install gas logs if the fireplace is at least 24" wide and 15" deep. If the fireplace is smaller than that, it indicates the fireplace originally burned coal and a gas coal basket in a simple style will not only fit it properly, it will look most true to the period of your home. A fireplace screen will help keep kids and pets out of the fire, or install glass doors which also helps stop heat loss when the fire is not in use. Just make sure and have the chimney checked first to make sure it's lined and in good operating condition before converting to an open gas fire.

If you'd like to convert your fireplace to an energy-efficient heat source, consider installing a gas fireplace insert like our best selling Windsor, shown left. The cast iron front is a replica of an antique and it's designed to fit into smaller coal-burning fireplaces and offer a choice of a log fire or coal effect fire. Featuring a glass window, gas inserts don't pull air from your house while creating clean and efficient heating performance while heating as much as 800 to 1000 sq. ft or so. The installation includes the use of dual 3" diameter chimney liners (one liner brings combustion air down the chimney while the other serves to exhaust the fumes). Coincidentally, this installation will provide safe operation that addresses chimney issues where the chimney is unlined or has poor drafting performance.

Don't forget the option of converting your Victorian fireplace to electric! You really may not need the heat generated by a gas insert in every room, especially for fireplaces in a bedroom or bathroom. Electric fireplaces generate about 5000 btu's and provide sufficient heat for a room about 12' x 16' as the sole source of heat. You save the expense of running gas lines and installing a chimney liner as there are no fumes emitted from an electric fire. At just 16" wide, the Opti-Myst electric insert at right fits into most small coal burning fireplaces while allowing you to keep your original cast iron frame. Just take it out of the box, set it in your fireplace and you're done! An optional heater is available.

Want some great design ideas? Check out our Victorian Fireplace Design board on Pinterest
 

FURTHER READING
Chimney Lining Requirements for Historic Homes
Gas Fireplaces in Bedrooms
Bathroom Fireplaces
Solutions for Small Fireplaces
Coal Fireplaces in America
What is a Summer Cover or Summer Door?

 

VICTORIAN HOUSE BLOGS
Victoria Elizabeth Barnes
OldHouses.com