Fireplaces were an important feature of Arts and Crafts design. In the era from which the Movement drew its inspiration the fireplace was only beginning to be sited on the sidewalls of great halls in the houses of the very rich. So the style adopted by Arts and Crafts was a 19th century day pastiche of what was really constructed during the Wars of the Roses. Designs were often in brick although stone could be used where it was a local material. The fireplaces were large, often rounded and had an inglenook feel. Bricks would vary in size, with courses laid vertically as well as conventionally or possibly in a herringbone pattern. Later designs often included tiles and the type of sinuous designs that are associated with Charles Rennie Macintosh and Art Nouveau. Tiles might have a pastoral scene or a complex flower motif and the Rockwood Pottery that produced early designs was closely associated with Morris & Co, the company that William Morris ran from 1875.
We still live with the Arts & Crafts legacy in mock Tudor houses, twentieth century wall panelling and old brick fireplaces. Like virtually all styles of the last two hundred years the popularity declines only to reappear up to one hundred years later. Charles Rennie Mackintosh is regarded as one of the greatest influences on architecture this century. His all too short career spanned the turn of the century and produced a variety of innovative buildings and interiors around his birthplace of Glasgow. Some see Mackintosh as a modernist, others as the link between Art Nouveau and Art Deco. He was probably neither, drawing his inspiration as much from classical shapes as the new industrial art which was beginning to prevail all over Europe. Mackintosh was not just an architect. His design brilliance extended to the interiors of the buildings that he designed. Together with his wife Margaret, Mackintosh believed that the interior layout was as important as the exterior form and designed individual items to compliment the total look of the building.
Fireplaces were, in his opinion, the 'glowing focus with decorative and symbolic interest'. It was important for him that each design should meld into the room and be personalised for the needs of the owner. His most famous brief was Hill House in Dumbarton, which he designed for the publisher, Blackie. In this house each fireplace is different. The living room design has niches for ornaments, while the fireplace in the library links areas of the room to form a whole. Each has been thought through and tailored so that is part of the room, not just a fitting. Today's fireplaces in the Mackintosh style tend to reflect his graphic style rather than his design flair. Art Nouveau roses interpreted by Mackintosh are common features and evoke turn of the century style. His designs for mantelpieces and complete fireplaces are too personal for 'off the shelf' production and will remain unique in the houses where they were installed. Whilst the name of Charles Rennie Macintosh first comes to mind when early 1900s architecture is mentioned, it is probably Edwin Lutyens who has left the greatest impression on country houses and official buildings in the UK and beyond. Macintosh, from his base in Glasgow rose like a shooting star around the turn of the 20th century only to disappear as quickly after only 10 to 15 years of architectural design. Lutyens, often together with garden designer Gertrude Jykell, produced houses in a wonderful late Victorian / Edwardian vernacular style that still impresses today. An examination of many of Lutyens Country House designs highlights the importance that he, and more importantly his clients, placed on the design of fireplaces. Many of his major, well-known designs - Castle Drogo, Great Dixter, Little Thakeham and others - feature in excess of 10 fireplaces - many specially designed to compliment the ambience of the room. Barton St. Mary near East Grinstead is a case in point. Designed in a rendered, South of England style, Barton St. Mary resembles two cottages joined together.
Internally, massive stone inglenooks, wealth of oak beams and vaulted ceilings evoke an era much earlier than its actual turn-of-the-20th century construction. In the dining room a large fireplace with projecting shelf and converging firesides in herringbone brickwork has a beautiful simplicity that is almost ageless. Built for local industrialist, Arthur Hemmingway, Heathcote near Ilkley is altogether a different proposition from Barton St. Mary. Finished in local stone, it is an imposingly grand house with echoes of a stately home. Internally neo-classical design reigns with pillars and ornate coving. In the Dining Room we see a simple bolection design with a massive Adamesque fireplace design superimposed over it. This is a strange combination, possibly specified by Mr. Hemingway himself. Bolection designs, with their unpretentious moulded shape were extremely popular, some within larger Adam-style designs, others forming the complete fireplace were common in other Lutyens houses - Great Maytham in Kent, Nashdom in Taplow, Berkshire and Temple Dinsley in Hertfordshire. Lutyens was often involved in modernisation of older houses where once again the simplicity of the bolection design helped blend new with old. Even today, bolection fireplaces are very much admired. Lutyens designs were undoubtedly extremely influential within the select moneyed class who employed him. However, it was Minsterstone together with a myriad of other local manufacturers of stone, marble and brick designs who adapted his designs for the smaller fireplaces to cater for the emerging middle class. Many of the fireplace manufacturers from this era have disappeared leaving Minsterstone, with its 120-year history as a lone survivor from a time when the gap between rich and poor was much larger than it is today. The dawning of the twentieth century also saw a variety of different stylistic influences on the fireplace in a way that no other century had experienced.
The heavy, gothic style that so typified the middle of the Victorian era was still being produced in vast numbers. But present and popular with the cognoscenti was the powerful Art Nouveau look, which had taken the country by storm, following the Paris Exhibition of 1881. The roots of Art Nouveau lay in the great European capitals of Vienna and Paris where the artistic elite rebelled against the constraints of the previous generation. The movement took on board the cast iron fireplaces, for so long the trade mark of the suburban development of our large cities, and added sinuous ornamentation, which gave these utilitarian items a modern look. Tiles on tile sliders began to appear in a wealth of designs inspired by rural images as well as classic Art Nouveau references such as the grapevine. William Morris' Arts & Crafts movement continued to exert an influence well in to the twentieth century. The inglenook had been a popular revival feature of Arts and Crafts' fireplaces as it created seating around the fire - often the only warm part of the house. In fact Morris' followers liked many features of medieval and Tudor fireplaces which they adapted and incorporated into their designs - some adding features like overmantels which would never have been part of the original. The 1920s looked for a different approach that combined industry with art. After the First World war, revival was still the name of the game for the middle classes who wanted their suburban houses gentrified with mock Tudor beams and fireplaces.
However, the rich and the artistic longed for designs that reflected the twin ethos of work and leisure. Art Deco filled this void and was born at the 1925 Paris based exhibition titled 'L'Exposition Internationale des Arts Deco et Industriels Modernes'. At the time, the style was often called Paris 25. The concepts behind the Art Deco included: The sacrifice of decorative detail to function. The rejection of history in favour of modern ideas The adaptation and adoption of industry - its designs and methods. Art Deco design was almost immediately translated into a wealth of designs, which used traditional fireplace materials, but in a more spectacular, avant-garde way. Simple understated lines were set off by the use of reflective chrome, lacquered wood or tiles to give a modern feeling, which shouted 'Modern!' without being too ornate. Like many of the other trends, Art Deco tended to be the preserve of the well off. The newly enriched suburban middle classes were more likely to have a simple tiled fireplace, normally in green beige or buff. Designs could reflect the Art Deco influence of the Mexican stepped pyramid or might be asymmetric, influenced by the social realism movement. Many 1930s tiled fireplaces also featured a wooden surround or mantelshelf in English oak. In the shires the fire surround was more likely to be in a local material, - brick in the South of England, stone in the North and tiles around Stoke on Trent. Designs in these areas were not so influenced by decorative trends.
Functional features such as bread ovens and hooks for hanging cooking pots lingered on in full or partial use within the country cottage well into the 1930s and 40s. World War II witnessed a complete halt in the house building programme as resources were funnelled into replacing and repairing bombed houses and in the late 1940s the push to re-house families saw a move away from conventional fireplaces in favour of the 'easy to install' electric fire. However as the UK became more prosperous during the 1950s local authorities and private house builders started to install tiled fireplaces again creating a regular demand for the slabbed designs produced by members of the National Fireplace Manufacturer's Association, which had been formed in 1945. These fireplaces were made down to specification rather than including any design flair and, by the middle of the decade, even the wooden mantel shelf had disappeared.