When temperatures drop outside, a fireplace beckons with a promise of warmth and cozy ambience.
What was once the epicenter of all things food and heat in the days before electricity is still one of the most popular design elements of a home.
Whether it's a traditional stone or brick surround with a wood mantel or a sleek modern metal and glass design, there's a style out there for almost any taste, says Brian Denger, owner of Denger's Hearth and Home, a Kentucky company that builds indoor and outdoor fireplaces.
"As far as styling, I want to give them all the options and let them pick what style suits them," he said.
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But before the construction begins there are some important points to consider.
"The first question I ask is, 'Do you want to burn gas or wood,'" Denger said. "The next question would be, 'Is it something more decorative or for heat or for both?'"
Want to switch out your current fireplace for a new model? Denger says that more customers are seeking a redesign of an existing structure for a more efficient design and different style.
"One of the fastest growing elements is the fireplace makeover," he said.
Denger's company has refaced walls with stone or granite and even worked with other companies for built-in cabinets and shelves.
Once you have your fireplace, personalize it, whether it's decorating a mantel with collectibles or adding unique fireplace tools like those created by Lexington artist Lloyd Hughes.
Hughes, who has been metalsmithing full-time for 35 years, creates fireplace tools by forging steel in excess of 2,000 degrees and then hammering and shaping them into elegant designs.
Items made to order include pokers, shovels and brooms.
"For the broom portion, after I make the handle I send it to the broom maker who weaves the broom onto the handle," he said.
Another Hughes creation is a copper fireplace insert for Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort. Using the retoussé process, the artist worked the piece at the front and back with hammer and chisel to create a raised design of a buffalo.
Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind when using your fireplace is safety. In addition to having your chimney inspected by a professional before each season's heating season, the Lexington fire department offers these safety tips for fireplaces and wood stoves.
■ Always use a fire screen to contain sparks.
■ Never burn rubbish.
■ Make certain anything flammable is kept a safe distance away from the fireplace.
■ Never leave fire unattended, especially in areas used by children or pets.
■ Clean out ashes when cool and place in a metal container.