Hearth and Home continued...
Gas and electric fireplaces are practical alternatives to wood-burning ones. Gas gives off a hearty flame and lots of heat at the flip of a switch. Electric fireplaces can be used year-round-in the summer, turn on the fire minus the heat. Electric ones require no venting, which makes them the perfect choice for basements. Log on to hpba.org.
Mantels aren't just for fireplaces. If you discover a beautifully detailed vintage piece, try placing it on a long wall in a dining room, bedroom, or even a bathroom. Use the top of the mantel as an alternative display shelf to hold your favorite collectibles, framed photos, or books.
Once the weather turns cooler, entertaining alfresco becomes less of an option-unless you have an outdoor fireplace. CFM Specialty Home Products offers several models suited to a variety of environments, and functioning with either gas or wood (myownbbq.com). Also consider the Oasis from Lennox Hearth Products, a wood burner with a large viewing area and stainless-steel screens (lennoxhearthproducts.com). And remember: When installing a fireplace, hire a certified professional. For fireplace surrounds, contact the Mason Contractors of America (masoncontractors.org).
Chimeneas are an inexpensive alternative to outdoor fireplaces.
Editor's Picks: Firepits
Smith & Hawken backyard firepit.
This classic firepit's extra-thick copper basin (24″ dia.) makes it durable, while its light weight makes it portable. Do not use on flammable surfaces. (29 lbs.; smithandhawken.com).
Unique Arts 30″-high copper firepit.
Because the solid-copper bowl is raised, the flame is elevated, making this pit perfect for decks or wooden surfaces. Includes a shelf and steel grill for barbecuing (35 lbs.; exterior-accents.com).
Frontgate outdoor copper firepit.
At 40″W x 9″D, this pit can hold large logs, for a longer-burning fire. A deep basin helps contain ashes and a wrought-iron base keeps the basin stable (66 lbs.; frontgate.com).
Step 1: Build a base.
Newspaper "wands" work well. Take a sheet and roll it from one corner to the other, tying it with twine. Make a half-dozen of these and lay them on the grate.
Step 2: Add some kindling.
Cross about a dozen dry twigs (those the diameter of your thumb are best) in the grate on top of the newspaper.
Step 3: Stack the logs.
Seasoned wood, or logs that have dried for at least six months, should be loosely placed in the grate, allowing for air space.
Step 4: Open the damper.
Now roll another wand, light it, and touch it to the newspaper in the grate. Immediately replace or close the screen. Remember, never leave a fire unattended.