Fireplaces - Periodic Fireplace Design
One origin myth of fire finds it a product of theft by the hero Prometheus from the Greek god Zeus, who had some nasty plans for punishing mortals with it. Instead, it was Prometheus who got punished - in an epically unpleasant way - and we were left with the fruit of his labor. That myth doesn't say much about fireplaces, but it does illustrate how long fire has been central to civilization. And for most of its millennia of use, decorative have been the last thing on peoples' minds - staying alive long enough to use the fire being the main concern.
In Europe it was only after medieval times, as life became more secure and prosperous, that the wealthy could begin to think about interior design. The fireplace, as the focal point of domestic life, was a natural contender to be the aesthetic focal point of a house too, and from the Reformation onwards it began to fulfill its potential.
The Renaissance was to have a huge influence on European fireplace design, as on all artistic endeavors, but to some extent Britain remained an aesthetic, as well as literal, island. That means that British/English fireplaces from the Renaissance period have a distinctive style (whether inferior or superior to their European cousins is a matter of taste). The Renaissance did make it to Britain in the end, though, and the neo-classical designs of architects like Inigo Jones and Christopher Wren are instantly recognizable.
The 19th century saw a Gothic revival based around a renewed interest in the religious inspiration of the medieval period, with its gilding and carving and heraldry and arches. This era also saw William Morris' Arts and Crafts Movement, which held that art and labor were deeply interconnected and that there was greater value in an article lovingly handmade than something machine produced (which, considering this was the age of industrialization, was much less obvious then than it might seem now). Fireplaces of this period would incorporate intricate wood carving, hand-painted ceramics, murals and metal designs - just think of the famous wallpapers.
And the 20th -21st century? We'll skirt, for the sake of brevity, over the various technological developments which have brought us highly convincing gas and electric flame effects, mock-fuels including driftwood and pebbles and gel fires which produce multicolored flames. Suffice to say that in interior design, as in other aspects of art, we are post-modern - anything goes. Styles and eras are borrowed willy-nilly for contemporary decorative fireplaces. For something really modern, there are the hole-in-the-wall designs, but equally trendy are environmentally friendly wood burning stoves, or a massive Victorian cast iron fireplace if that's what you fancy. The environmental issue is an important one, though, and will become the pressing issue of the new century. So perhaps the really trendy thing is to be as energy efficient as possible - for advice on how to do this, try the National Energy Foundation (www.nef.co.uk).