Pick Six: Modern Fireplaces
The chief criteria is purely visual, and admittedly subjective. I evaluated fireplaces as freestanding, sculptural entities; as decorative objects in themselves and as part of a composition, and as architectural elements within a room-the above-mentioned environment, with the hearth as a focal point. Fire, it should be noted, has all sorts of archetypal and atavistic connotations; often, the interest in the hearth environment is a product of the tension between these associations and cultural modernity. The winners, in reverse order, follow:
6. Carlo Lucci, architect, fireplace in a living room with plastered and wash-painted hood, brick hearth, and marble mantle. I like the faceted dimensionality here, along with the juxtaposition of materials, details such as the edge joinery on the brick and the built-in log holder. Also the raised plane of the fireplace itself, related to the horizontal shelf, and the balancing of the composition with the wooden keel ceiling and rectangular lamps. The hearth becomes a visual focus without applied decoration.
5. Mario Gottardi, architect, brick inside fireplace; enameled steel panels by Romano Rui; walnut veneered walls. The fireplace considered as an artistic composition, an oval recessed and wholly contained within an abstract enamel work with a vaguely medieval theme, contrasting the modernity of the room with an ancestral use of fire. Note also the Venetian glass lighting fixture juxtaposed with the hearth.
4. Eugene Gerli, architect, gneiss (a metamorphic rock) mantel and fireplace with wrought iron fire dogs by Guido Somare. The fireplace itself considered as an artwork, forming a three-dimensional graphic composition related to the abstract painting hanging above it-in the photograph, the fireplace almost appears as an abstract canvas. Lit, the flames will create a variable abstract pattern.
3. Romano Rui, sculptor and designer, fireplace in sheet iron, enameled opaque black outside and red inside, embossed copper hood; free-standing fireplace by an artist, showing modernist sculptural possibilities for this domestic mainstay. I like the slightly surreal aspect of the fireplace, referencing steam boilers or coke furnaces of the early industrial revolution, and mimicking heat in the copper color of the hood. The protean aspects of the living room ensemble are reinforced by the cross bow on the wall, and the baroque fireplace tools.
2. Robert Frei and Christian Hunziker (Swiss), along with Henri Presset, sculptor, fireplace of slightly rusty steel rods with basalt hearth. A collaboration of architects and artists produced this living room built around a fireplace pit with a floating hood. I love the literal centrality of the hearth, which is also the main visual element and sitting area of the domed space. The steel rods again reference the industrial revolution-though in a machine-age modern manner-while the fireplace pit is a far more ancient allusion.
1. Giampiero Aloi, architect, fireplace in ceramics by Fausto Melotti. Here, the fireplace element is presented as a tokonoma-an alcove-related to the horizontal alcove above it displaying ceramic figurines. Melotti, one of Italy's pre-eminent 20th century ceramists, creates a modernist take on the tiled fireplace. The entire hearth is treated as a piece of decorative art, like the wall unit to one side, or the scroll on the other.