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Pardon my French! Anatomy of a Bilingual Fireplace.

April 17, 2018

I’ve been involved with the business of reclaiming, studying, researching, documenting, restoring and carving fireplaces for nearly Twenty years and one of the challenges I continually face is how to effectively communicate fireplace components in words, particularly over the phone or even by email to customers and design professionals alike. The biggest hurdle? Consensus on ever-changing Terminology.anatomy of a fireplacemodern-old-farmhouse-with-limestone-fireplacelimestone-fireplace-living-room

Like everything these days, the names of things carry many meaning and can be interchanged and interpreted in a hundred different ways. There is no one correct way to describe the components of a fireplace in any language anymore. What we refer to in our day-to-day conversations doesn’t always jive with historical or technical terminology especially when you cross languages.antique-fireplace-design

For instance, the industry that includes fireplace products has come to be known in the anglo-saxon world as the ‘hearth Industry’ a term that doesn’t translate well into other languages. The word hearth, technically speaking, is now used by this industry to describe the fireproof thick stone bottom floor that the entire fireplace sits on.old-fireplace-limestone-stone-carved Just a hundred years ago however, it referred to the traditional fireplace as a whole and to the place where the fire gets ignited. In many old French and European fireplaces that you can see in French Manors (Manoir) castles and museums, the bottom of the firebox and the Bottom Hearthstone were one of the same. In French the Hearth piece is called ‘’Âtre’ or ‘La Base Du Foyer’antique-limestone-fireplace-reclaimedantique-fireplalce-design-in-country-side-living-room.

Nowadays, in Hearth Industry terms, the thing that creates the fire – be it a masonry assembly, a steel box that contains wood-burning, or an electric device that creates a flame-like light – is called the fireplace or ‘Cheminée’ in French. FYI, the diagonal strip on top of the letter ’é’ is called ‘Accent Aigu’ and it sounds phonetically like the quick ‘Hey!’sound you make when you yell at a dog who is chewing on your carpet!limestone-fireplace-carving-stone-antique-reclaimedbelgium-old-limestone-reclaimed-fireplace

Further subgroups to a firebox or ‘Foyer’ are fireplace inserts and freestanding stoves. So in industry terms, the ‘fireplace’ is just the thing that makes the fire. Then comes the rest of the wall. The word ‘mantel’ or ‘Linteau’ in French use to mean the shelf that projects from the wall above a fireplace including possibly a face piece and a couple of supporting corbel. Traditionally its the thing you hang stockings from at Christmas time, and place photographs, mementos and vases the rest of the year. In hearth industry terms however, the word mantel is often used to describe not only the shelf, but the entire decorative element that surrounds the fireplace opening, also known as the ‘fireplace surround’. In Britain where they only refer to the mantel top the chimney piece. Don’t get me into what they call it in French because the terme changed so many times over the centuries…antique-limestone-fireplace-reclaimed

Confused yet? I am…

Anyway, my point is that fireplace terminology is a bit slippery. For my part, I like to think of the whole thing: the wall, the surround, the hearth and the fire itself, as the ‘fireplace element’. After all, it is the whole fire feature that can transform a space.Fireplace with a furnace or stove insert

For the sake of clarity, here is a diagram, describing the terms of each compartment of an ancient traditional 15th century French fireplace. Don’t feel bad if you ever get confused about the fireplace/Hearth verbiage, whether American, British or French, k now that you are not alone! classical-itlalian-living-room-design-limestone-fireplace-oldLimestone Fireplace with a furnace or stove insert


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