Dear Dean & Alan, 

To quote my favorite TV show, “winter is coming” (to Chicago). While I want to come home, pour a glass of wine and touch a button to start my fireplace, my husband is a total pyromaniac. He wants blazing, raging wood fires- I even have to hide the lighter fluid from him! 

So we’ve compromised: I get control of one fireplace, he gets the other. What can we do with each?


Miss Fyre

Dear Ms. Fyre,

You’re not alone! We’ve  found there’s two types of people when it comes to fireplaces: those who want to flip a switch, kick their feet up and start a fireplace with minimal effort, and those other rugged individuals who love every time-consuming part of burning real wood: the build, the hauling of the wood, the smell of the burn. You know, the lumberjack and Boy Scout types. You are firmly in one camp or the other. Pretty cut and dry.

So we divided up the camps and figured out what you need for each fireplace, and what you might want if you’d like to make it prettier

The bigger fireplace projects we’ve done involve adding in new ones, knocking out old ones, or refacing the walls around the firebox. We’re not going into that level of remodeling today, because those projects are long-term and best started during warmer weather, You will curse the contractors for all the cold air swirling around your house in the middle of winter. Take our word for it, don’t do this level of project when it’s cold out.

A project from last year. Here’s the before

here’s the after. Cool, eh?

We’re instead going to talk about simpler and easier ways to upgrade your fireplace whether you burn wood or prefer gas.

Fireplace Doors

if you’re burning real wood: essential

if you’re using gas logs: not necessary but aesthetically pleasing

Fireplace doors are essential if you’re a woodburner because they give you peace of mind when you go to bed that a random spark won’t pop out of your fireplace and burn your house down. That’s a nice reassurance.

They also help in heat retention and dissuade little curious ones from exploring the insides of a fireplace.

There’s two main types: masonry doors and prefabricated firebox doors. A lot of people don’t know what type of fireplace box they have: check this first as there are different doors that correspond to each. If the inside of your box is metal, you’ve got a prefabricated firebox. If it’s real brick and mortar, it’s masonry (more detailed ways to check here).

Masonry Fireplace Doors

They’re usually more expensive than people think, at least to not get the generic, flimsy kind. The good news is that companies like Stoll (who we love) will make them in virtually any finish and style that blends in your décor scheme.

Then you have to decide if they can be mounted outside (which is way easier), or if you have an irregular opening, they will have to be inset and “mortared in.”

gothic fireplace doors blacksmith style

If you have a rectangular front but want to simulate an arched top, go for a false arch. From our favorite manufacturer of fireplace accessories, Stoll


nickel fireplace doors with mesh screen

Simple, rugged, and masculine blacksmith styled doors in nickel plated steel.

industrial fireplace doors in steel with track

If you like a rough and industrial look, these doors operate on a gliding track. Aren’t you the hipster…also from Stoll

fireplace doors with decorative fretwork

A gorgeous arched front firebox calls for a beautiful fireplace door. The filagreed motif here is stunning

Want a Fireplace Mini-Makeover?

Click here 

Fireplace Doors For Zero-Clearance Fireboxes

If you don’t have a masonry firebox, then you have a metal firebox, or prefabricated box. Confusing the point further is that sometimes, people put a brick looking panel inside the box to make it prettier.

“Heatilator” is to a zero-clearance firebox as “Kleenex” is to tissue. The company was so successful in branding their version of a metal firebox, people started using the terms interchangeably.  Zero clearance fireplaces are manufactured fireboxes that are fire-rated so that no (zero) clearance is required between the firebox and construction materials like wood framing and sheetrock. Zero Clearance Fireplaces require an air exchange between the “inner” firebox and “outer” cabinet to keep all surfaces cool against the walls of your home. Each door is specially made to fit your brand of manufactured fireplace, with proper “air flow” provided in various ways to ensure the doors meet all ventilation requirements of the manufacturer. You can still get beautiful doors like these:  wdzcfi01_2 wdzcol05_2

but you just have to know in advance what type of firebox you have.



A surprising number of our clients are seriously annoyed with their 80’s brass fireplace doors. Simplest solution? Get some heat-resistant paint and change the offending parts to black.

easy fireplace makeover- DIY


Or if you don’t feel like painting, you can get some simple doors that fit into your existing track in black or nickel.Clip on aftermarket fireplace doora in black

If you’re lazy and would rather have gas logs instead of spending all day building a fire, you don’t have to get rugged, manly steel doors, as you can turn off the gas and close the flue when you’re done, But they do add a finished look!

Fireplace Screens

Woodburning: essential

Gas fires: nice to have for aesthetics

If the idea of a hurling red hot fireball spitting into your room seems rather unpleasant, and/or you’d like something less permanent than a set of doors, a fire screen might do the trick. Yes if you just want a functional solution, just get a cheap one at

Cheap Fireplace Screen

You can get one of these for under $40 bucks. And it will be painfully obvious that you have bought a $40 screen.From Wal-Mart

the big box hardware store. You’re not going to be in Architectural Digest this season, right?

But if you’ve got a beautiful fireplace, why would you? It’s like framing an original work of art in an Ikea frame! Spend some cash- there’s some beautiful screens out there but they’re not easy to find, and usually not at your neighborhood fireplace shoppe. But we know how to get them!

Functional Screens


Hard to tell from the picture, but here’s a stunning rigid fine mesh screen in a clean contemporary, minimalist silhouette.From Stoll

Hand hammered Stoll Blacksmith flat fireplace screen vintage iron

Hand hammered and extremely well built screen custom made by Stoll. They will build it exactly to the height and width you need, and finish it in anything imaginable

Midcentury fireplace screen

Is Midcentury design your thing? Cool, retro flat screen design from our friends at Arteriors.

Fireplace upgrade mesh screen with operable doors

This screen looks just like custom built doors, but is less permanent and has a mesh front so you can burn with the doors closed, unlike glass.

Decorative Fireplace Screens

If you’re not burning wood, you can get a bit fancier because you don’t have to worry about renegade fireballs. Think of these as sculpture.

Decorative Fire screen

Strong visual impact here.


Fireplace upgrade screen tribal

Inspired by a tribal motif, this screen works great in both modern and traditional interiors

Flat Arteriors Fireplace Screen Ranore

This is gorgeous asymmetry, but only use with a gas fireplace

I love the winding lines on this screen that echo dancing flames. From us!

I love the winding lines on this screen that echo dancing flames. From us!


Andirons and fire dogs are devices made of metal or ceramic which support the firewood so that a draft of air may pass around it, allowing proper burning and thus reducing smoke. They normally stand upon short legs and are usually connected with an upright guard. The guard keeps the logs in the fireplace as they burn and settle (Wikipedia).

Today, they’re not viewed quite as functionally. We like to think of them as jewelry for a fireplace.

fireplace andirons in crystal

These crystal andirons are spectacular if you have a smallish firebox opening

Fireplace upgrade andirons him and her shape

A little bit of whimsy, a little bit of elegance.

snakelike fireplace andirons

Snakes dancing forth from the flames? I like the concept. Very Medusa.

John Lyle Fireplace Andirons

These organically inspired andirons are from the undisputed king of decorative fireplace design, John Lyle

Fireplace Surrounds and Mantle Shelves

These words sometimes are confusing. Technically, a mantle surrounds the firebox on three sides. If it’s a wood mantle, some sort of non-combustible material like tile or marble serves as a heat shield between,

Mantle Shelves

Builders put in notoriously boring shelves. There’s a wealth of more interesting options out there, and if you’re a DIY person, you can negotiate putting in a new one relatively quickly. But if you’re like me, I’d call a contractor!

Fireplace upgrade yew wood mantle shelf

We love a gnarly wood like Yew against a sleek backdrop for high contrast.

steel fireplace mantle with corbel

Corbels add a bit of fun geometry to the mix with this steel mantle

Rough Hewn Live Edge cedar Mantle

Rough hewn cedar also adds a nice contrast in texture if you’ve got a flat tiled surround.

Mantle Surrounds

Mantle surrounds are a bit more elaborate than shelves. They can be made from stone, marble, wood, or metal. They’re designed to overlap your facing material and provide a finished transition between wall, facing and firebox. A few of our favorites:

Steel Fireplace Surround with chesspieces

Steel mantle for a crisp, masculine look. Custom finishes too from Stoll

Ornate mantle surrounds like this one from Ambella can be made out of cast stone and easily retrofitted.

Ornate mantle surrounds like this one from Ambella are made out of cast stone and easily retrofitted.


If you've got an older vintage fireplace, this arched surround adds a gorgeous detail. From Ambella

If you’ve got an older vintage fireplace, this arched surround adds a gorgeous detail. From Ambella

Chesney's offers reproductions of designs originally conceived by famed architect Sir Edwin Lutyens in various marbles.

Chesney’s offers reproductions of designs originally conceived by famed architect Sir Edwin Lutyens in various marbles.

So there’s lots of ways available to upgrade your fireplace without demolition or disruptions during the impending winter season. The holidays are coming!

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