Stone Fireplaces - A Worthwhile Investment
Limestone and other natural stone
Well-made stone fireplaces have an inherent air of grace and longevity which could make one a worthwhile investment. They are usually made of sandstone, limestone or the latter's subset, marble, and they come in all sorts of designs from classical (like the Hellenistic era it echoed, the classical period was literally built of stone) to contemporary.
There's also reconstituted stone - stone powder mixed with cement and cast instead of carved into intricate patterns. It's the time invested in carving which adds cost to stone fireplaces, although the machine techniques of recent years have made it easier for craftsmen. If you're going for real stone, though, you will still have to be patient, particularly if you have had a design specially commissioned.
Limestone is the transformed remains of millions upon millions of creatures who would have had no consciousness of the fact that, as their light faded and they sank to the bottom of the sea, they would one day become stone. The richest sources are found in Europe, especially Portugal . Marble is limestone which, some 500 million years ago, was subjected to great heat and pressure to create a new, highly polishable kind of stone. Slate, a softer stone, is also used in fireplaces. Because they are natural materials, stone fireplaces are susceptible to chips and scratches.
For any serious damage, you will have to get an expert in, but if it's only light wear and tear you may want to take DIY approach with some specialist glue and filler from a fireplace/DIY retailer. Make sure you follow the instructions carefully. For cleaning off light soot marks from marble and slate, try soapy water and a rinse. For deeper cleaning or for cleaning other kinds of natural stone a slower method is suggested: a paste of sepiolite powder (a kind of clay) and distilled water for gentler cleaning or sepiolite and white spirit for greasy stains (again, ask in a DIY shop or a specialist retailer). Spread the paste a couple of centimeters (three quarters of an inch thick) over the area you want to clean, leave it for at least four hours, then brush it off and rinse it carefully.
Stone is also used in the making of stoves, such as the increasingly popular soapstone variety. Ceramic is also a popular stove material due to its even radiance - ceramic wood burners are considered a particularly environmentally friendly choice of heating if used with wood from a sustainable source.