Home is Where the Hearth is: How We Warmed up an Industrial Loft


What is the role of the fireplace in a modern home? We surely don’t need them for function anymore, and as a matter of fact, many of them are counter-efficient, drawing hot air from the room and dumping it outside (that’s what the handy glass door is for). But there is still something undeniably hypnotic about a warm, crackling fireplace; so many people agree that even without the space or means to crank one up, they watch it for hours on netflix, warming their souls from the inside out.

In contemporary times, the matter of having a live flame in one’s hearth more often involves a firebox than a fireplace. A fireplace, unless the masonry infrastructure is already there as in many vintage homes and apartments, is very costly to acquire since it requires a special type of fireproof brick (firebrick) and the installation of the entire setup. A much cheaper option, although less durable in the long run, is the firebox, something which is prefabricated externally, and then cut to fit the residence after manufacturing. These types of fireboxes can be modified in terms of their presentation and dimension with ease since they are a newer product.

collage of fireplaces with different design influences, midcentury, modern, rustic, farmhouse

Once a fireplace is in place there’s no point disputing it—it becomes the focal point of the room, where all eyes will swivel. With that in mind, the options are endless as far as customizing this centerpiece to reflect the design tone of the room, and for that matter, the home around it. Some fireplaces/boxes will read sleek and modern, outfitted in smooth black, white or grey granite or marble. On the other end of the spectrum, a more rustic, farmhouse vibe can easily be read by a multi-tonal stone inlay and vintage tin accessories and tools around it. Floating or hanging configurations are available for that ultra edgy look. Degree of projection from the wall face also belies a certain design profile, whether more traditional or contemporary. Lastly, as a rather heavy piece with less mutability than a piece of furniture or paint coat, it’s important to keep things neutral, yet provide a strong statement that will underscore the aesthetic of the interior space around it over the years.

One of our most common residential rehab types is a loft space. Lofts are perfect for many types of tenants, from those who need a studio space to families that want to adapt as they expand. The open layout is a draw as well; less walls equals unfiltered light, right? Not so for all lofts, especially ones which have evolved over the years to serve different commercial interests. So it was for our Erie Street Loft clients who wanted to reboot the open loft feel and let in more sunlight. But they also wanted to completely rehab their first and second floor, eradicating some of the industrial feel that lofts can have. To complete this for them, we changed the second floor walkway to a glass one so as not to cut off incoming light. And we outfitted the loft with reclaimed wood and vintage signage from Rebuilding Exchange. The piece de resistance was our reclaimed timber fireplace surround, which warmed up the entire space, and not just with temperature. Natural materials, like oak, elm and pine contain colors from deep reds and browns to light tans and yellows, all what the human eye would consider “warm” colors; and like the natural world that humanity has known for so long, it symbolizes home in a way that is visceral. We utilized this connotation in our design to create the feeling our client wanted so they could have the best of both worlds.