11 December 2023

What is a Fireplace Hearth?

In homes around the world, and in Britain particularly, the fireplace hearth, or hearthstone, is considered the heart of the home, hence the old phrase ‘hearth and home’.

The hearth has long been associated with the centre of warmth, light and even food preparation in the home, with fireplaces being used as a primary means of domestic cooking up until the early 20th century.

Today, while hearths can still serve a practical purpose, they are often used as a design feature, with a range of aesthetically appealing material options on offer.

Understanding the fireplace hearth

In a practical sense, a fire hearth is a piece of non-flammable material placed in front of the fireplace in order to protect the home from the heat and hot materials that emanate from the fire.

In a metaphorical sense, the fireplace hearth has come to embody the sense of home. Because of its position as the primary source of light, heat and cooking in the home, hearth and home are culturally indistinguishable.

Now, hearths can be made from a variety of visually pleasing materials, including granite, marble, and hearth tiles, designed to serve as a focal point of a room. Unless you have a fireplace that burns solid fuels, a hearth is not strictly necessary, but including one even in a modern home can bring a classical, homely design aspect to a room.

From classic to contemporary – exploring hearth varieties

Traditionally, in the UK, materials such as marble and granite were not as widely available, so fireplace hearths were most commonly made from brick or stone, often with decorative tiles placed around the fireplace. Today, a wider selection of more elegant materials such as sintered stone, granite, limestone and marble are available, allowing for the creation of more design-focused hearthstones that are used both in a practical and an aesthetic sense.

The use of more traditional materials such as a stone hearth, however, can be a means of adding a more historical design touch to your home, or if you live in an older property, a way of restoring some of its original charm.

Beyond aesthetics – unveiling the hearth’s functionality

Aesthetics aside, the fireplace hearth serves a practical function at its core. Made from fire-resistant materials, the hearth is there to guard the home from heat and hot materials that might emanate from the fire. It also serves as a place to store wood that can be dried next to the fire, and, in a modern decorative sense, it can also be used to house ornaments and other decorative items.

The materials that are chosen for fireplace hearths are selected thanks to their heat-reflecting properties, and different materials suit different hearth applications. For example, some materials such as slate can expand when heated, and may not be suitable for open fires, but make a perfect decorative choice for gas fires.

Setting new foundations

Hearthstones are important for a number of reasons, both practical and symbolic. They serve to protect the home from fire-related hazards, while also allowing for the opportunity to integrate a classically inspired design touch into your property. In addition to this blog post about what exactly fireplace hearths are, we also have a blog post on what makes them important, as well as some handy maintenance tips.

Answering your burning questions

What are the different types of fireplace hearth?

There are a few key types of fireplace hearth –

  • Hole-in-the-wall – this is where there technically is no hearth, and the fireplace is raised off the floor and set back into the wall
  • Raised firebox – where the lip of the firebox is above the hearthstone
  • Flush hearth – this design features a hearthstone that is flush with the bottom edge of the firebox
  • Raised hearth – a raised hearth is where the lip of the firebox sits below the edge of the hearth, making your firebox appear sunken into the floor

Do I need a hearth for an open fire?

  • Yes. A fireplace hearth is more than a decorative item when it comes to open fires and is a necessary safety feature.

How big does my hearth need to be?

It is recommended that a hearth be placed 300mm (12″) forward from the fireplace opening or stove and 150mm (6″) on either side of the opening. These measurements should be taken from the front of the burner, or the front of the fireplace opening where the fire is set back into the opening. The hearth needs to protrude 150mm (6″) on either side and 500mm (20″) in front of the stove when an open fire is placed in a fireplace recess. A freestanding stove that is not positioned inside a fireplace recess needs to have a hearth that is at least 840mm (33″) square and the stove itself placed no closer to any of the edges than 150mm (6″).

If the stove has doors that can be opened, the hearth must be at least 300mm (12″) from the front, and 225mm (9″) from the front for stoves without doors that cannot be opened. Hearths for stoves and fireplaces have to be made of non-combustible material and be at least 50 mm (2″) deep.

When placing an order for a fireplace and hearth, it is crucial to confirm with your supplier the kind of equipment that will be utilised. A solid fuel fire may not be appropriate for the type of hearth material and design used in a gas fire.

What materials are available for fireplace hearths?

There’s a huge range of materials a fire hearth can be made from, and the first concern is that it’s a non-combustible substance. At Impala Stone, we stock a range of premium fireplace hearth materials, including sintered stone, granite, limestone and marble.

Elevating aesthetics – hearth design trends

Current design trends in hearths for fireplaces point towards the use of clean, visually pleasing materials that can be used to make the fireplace and the hearth the focal point of a room.

Stones such as granite and marble allow for the integration of fascinating natural patterns into interior design, with their completely unique profiles of mineral inclusions and crystals creating striking surfaces.

Sintered stone, an extremely durable modern alternative to stone, makes for a tempting alternative to the traditional options. It’s made with a collection of hard, visually pleasing minerals that are heated (or sintered) together to form a surface that cannot be burned, scratched or stained. It offers a huge range of colours and patterns, allowing you to create a clean, modern look.

Crafting your perfect hearth

Selecting the right fireplace hearth for your needs involves a few main considerations –

What kind of fire you have – whether you have a solid fuel fire, a gas fire, or an artificial fire will influence the kind of hearth you need, and whether you can afford to prioritise form over function

The size of your fire – in the case of a solid fuel fire, the size of your fireplace will affect the size of your hearth, as the measurements for your hearth size will be taken from your fireplace

Your interior design concerns – the overall aim of your interior design will affect your choice of hearth materials, and it’s important to consider your design goals as a whole when selecting your materials to make sure your fireplace hearth blends smoothly

If you’re still uncertain about your choice of fireplace hearth, talk to the experts. At Impala Stone, we supply a huge range of hearth materials, as well as templating and installation services. Get in touch with us today to discuss your needs, using our contact form, or by calling us on 01332 824 200, or emailing us at sales@impalastone.com