Q: “Now that burning fires in a fireplace is frowned upon in California, do you recommend foregoing building a fireplace in a new home? If so, why? Also, any ideas of how to transform old fireplaces into something aesthetic”
A: Does anyone not enjoy sitting in front of a fire? The experience seems deeply embedded in our limbic brains… I would re-phrase the questions this way: “Does the market expect a fireplace at time of sale?” – and – “Do you want a fireplace in your new custom home?”
These two questions are weighted differently depending on how long you plan to stay. Typically yes, the market still expects one to be there at the Sunday open house. Also typically, the longer you plan to stay, the less the market matters and more weight is given to your personal preferences. Also, unusual homes or homes at a high price point can more easily get away without one because the more unique homes have different expectations anyway. It is assumed that if you are in the market for a 10 million dollar home, you can probably afford to put one in fairly easily and not having one won’t matter that much to your purchasing decision. As for recommendations, I prefer to take cues from my client’s desires and the situation at hand. Remember that any new fireplaces must be gas burning by law. No more wood burning. It’s actually very unhealthy in any case…
Transforming old fireplaces happens either by
(a) Replacing the mantle, hearth and surround
(b) Installing an insert
(c) Ripping the whole thing out and starting over with a blank slate.
What most people don’t realize is that the removal of the original masonry fireplace is quite often very easily and cheaply done. That is to say it usually has no structural consequences for the home, and almost always may be removed without altering the structure of the building. Once removed, you are left with patching in the framing (very easy) and finishes like roofing, siding, drywall, and flooring. It’s as if it never existed, and for not very much money. You might even prefer a window in its place! Since the new gas-burning appliances are all made out of sheet metal, they require no structural support and you can even get entire glass enclosures that burn alcohol that are more like pieces of furniture than a hole in the wall you throw stuff into. All this being true, the aesthetic options are wide open for lots of fun interpretations of this classic feature!.