Old New Orleans homes are often long on charm and short on energy efficiency. Case in point: many fireplaces in the notoriously drafty structures don't work. While some homeowners are content to screen off the dark, empty hearth and call it a day, there are a host of new, innovative ways to safely introduce fire to spaces indoors and out. Whether your goal is aesthetic (to introduce the look of flames) or functional (you want to warm your space by at least a few degrees), there's a product suited for the job.
Nomita Joshi Gupta, a board member at The Green Project (2831 Marais St., 504-945-0240; www.thegreenproject.org), architect, designer and owner of Spruce Interiors and Design (2043 Magazine St., 504-265-0946; www.sprucenola.com), says her clients sometimes request large-scale custom fireplaces, but often, a small fire element can produce the same effect.
"People want touches of warmth," Gupta says. "People like to have a glow, whether it actually gives out warmth or not."
Employees at Brasa Fire (www.brasa.co), a New Orleans-based company that began selling its eco-friendly, portable fireplaces in 2009, notice the same trend. "We've moved away from the larger, custom-installed fireplaces and are doing smaller fire features," says Adrienne Hennessey, marketing director at Brasa Fire.
Hennessey says the company's shadow lanterns are their primary sellers. The sculptural urns contain a fire element that burns eco-friendly bioethanol fuel, which is made from discarded brewery mash. The only byproducts are water vapor and a small amount of carbon dioxide. ("The same amount you and I expel by talking," Hennessey says.)
From a designer's perspective, the shadow lanterns feel high-end, and from a consumer standpoint, they're a great conversation piece, Hennessey says. Bigger than candles and smaller than fireplaces, the lanterns can be placed anywhere some extra warmth and excitement are desired.
"They are small enough to sit tabletop,indoors or outdoors, and they raise the temperature of a room 3 to 7 degrees [depending on their size]," Hennessey says. "If you have a drafty room or a closed-up fireplace, you don't have to do any modifications in order to use them."
Fireorbs (www.fireorb.net) are another modern way to introduce fire to the home. The futuristic, podlike casing hangs from the ceiling and rotates 360 degrees. Daniel Weiner, an architect with Wisznia|Architecture+Development, says he will include the orbs in the penthouses of his next development.
In a press release, Fireorb creator Doug Garofalo stated, "You can have essentially fire floating in air in a room ... in front of a window — fire floating in a landscape. It's magical."
Fireorbs start at $5,900, and there are both wood- and bioethanol-burning models. For people seeking a budget-friendly option, Gupta recommends building an outdoor fire pit using repurposed materials.
"You can create a fire pit out of pretty much anything," Gupta says. "You just have to find a vessel, a fire source and fireproof material."
Gupta suggests using an old iron sink, bird bath or terra cotta chimney pipes to make a fire pit. "Find a really beautiful planter or an old iron sink, fill it up with pebbles and put in a fire unit [a steel box that contains the fuel]," she says. "Don't put a fireplace closer than 5 feet to any flammable material."
Fire boxes cost $60 to $200, and repurposed materials range from a few dollars to a few hundred. Gupta says some people buy salvaged fireplace mantels from The Green Project and fill them with candles, which approximates the look of a working fireplace.
"That is another cool way of bringing warmth and light into a space," Gupta says.
For people who like the look of fire but don't want to worry about safety, Gupta suggests electric fireplaces. "You can literally plug them into the wall," she says. Gupta recommends Napoleon electric fireplaces (www.napoleonfireplaces.com), but warns they can look artificial. An alternative is to fill tall, clear vases with Christmas lights. "You have a warm glow, but you don't have to deal with fire," Gupta says.
Hennessey says one of her favorite things about the shadow lanterns is their convenience.
"After dinner, I like to turn one on outside, have a glass of wine and then I just snuff if out," Hennessey says. "It's not a big investment of time and effort to use them. ... [They] can make a drafty space feel cozy or fancy up your space for parties."
"People always gather [around] a fire," Gupta says. "It's a very community-type of feature, a fireplace. It draws families together."