Turning Up the Heat with Indoor and Outdoor Fireplaces

There is something special about a fireplace. With the New Year upon us and winter settling in, the cozy, intimate ambiance of fire is alluring, beckoning people to gather around its welcoming glow.

Harrell Design + Build’s award-winning Senior Designer/Design Coordinator, Sara Jorgensen, AKBD, CID, says that a fireplace makes the wish list for most homeowners. During a remodel is one of the best times to modernize your fireplace and make the most of this inviting and visually appealing element.

Interested in updating your fireplace? Harrell Design + Build can help!

In November 2016, the Bay Area disallowed the installation of new wood-burning fireplaces. Since then, gas fireplaces (sometimes called “appliances”) have taken center stage, with advances in efficiency, technology, versatility, and aesthetics.

Manufacturers like Heat & Glo, Regency, and Ortal offer homeowners a fantastic array of fireplace options.

“With today’s innovative and imaginative designs, the sky is the limit when it comes to integrating a fireplace into a home environment,” Sara enthuses.

“Although there are electric fireplaces available, they do have their disadvantages,” Sara explains. “For homeowners who desire the warmth and cozy atmosphere of a real flame, a gas fireplace is the best option. Electric fireplaces, though they are improving, don’t offer that distinct ambiance just yet.”

Types of Contemporary Fireplaces

The sizes, shapes, and styles of today’s gas fireplaces are seemingly endless. Below are six of the most common. Some manufacturers offer interior lighting for select styles, illuminating and showcasing the unit even when it’s not in use.


These built-in linear fireplaces integrate beautifully into walls and can be accented with a variety of architectural elements. Flank them with built-ins, surround them with stucco, stone, tile, or concrete, or create a contemporary hearth and mantle. Sizes range from 16 inches, perfect for a cozy space, to an impressive 8 feet in length.


In sizes from 19 to 99 inches in length, corner fireplaces have a front-facing glass panel along with a pane of glass on either the right or left side. Two-sided units are an architectural feature, it’s almost like having two units, one on each corner of a wall.


These fireplaces have panes of glass on the front and both sides, offering an unobstructed view of the flame from multiple vantage points. Sleek and modern, they are a stand-out architectural element in any space. As with other units, lengths vary from 20 inches to 8 feet.


Two-way fireplaces provide visibility and emit warmth from both sides. Enclosed in walls or columns, they are a modern way of dividing living spaces while creating a contemporary open concept that also serves as a focal point of separation. These are ideal for uniting kitchen and dining rooms, main bedrooms and the main bathroom, and, when placed on an exterior wall, can serve as a dual indoor-outdoor fireplace. With lengths from 16 to 96 inches, see-through units can fit into intimate or expansive spaces.


When integrated into an existing firebox, an insert offers the classic fireplace charm with a safer, contemporary design. Inserts are available in standard sizes to fit snuggly into existing wood-burning fireplaces. Inserts are also available for use in outdoor fireplaces.

Stand Alone

These freestanding units can sit directly on the floor or be mounted onto a wall and vented sideways to the outdoors, avoiding the need for considerable construction. Some are sleek and contemporary, others are more traditional, and others still are Mid-Century modern.

Design, Style and Media

Each style of fireplace can also be customized with a collection of striking interior design “media.” The “media” in the fireplace is the pebbles (glass or stone typically) that are placed in the unit.  Homeowners can also choose materials for the back wall or panel of the unit as well as elements that accent the base.


Ceramic river rock, pebbles, and powder stone in black, white, red, and gray are a few options. River rock and stone have mineral speckling to achieve a realistic appearance. Stones and pebbles blend the natural and contemporary. Another option is black and gray “cannonballs,” which can also be used as a “base” from which the flames emanate. Cannonballs have a rustic yet modern appeal.

Fire Glass

Small, polished bits of glass are an incredibly chic interior media element, reflecting and enhancing the flames. Clear, obsidian, blue, and amber are just a few of the color choices available. As a high-tech add-on, some fireplaces offer multi-colored LED lighting, making for quite the artistic effect when used with the transparent glass media.

For an artistic effect, illuminate clear glass using interior LED lighting, which comes in many colors to match any desired mood.

Logs & Branches

For those who appreciate a rustic appearance inside their fireplace, several types of artificial ceramic logs, branches, kindling, and embers can be mixed and matched. Pine, elm, and oak are popular for homeowners who desire a natural appearance. Logs and branches have realistic, cracks, bark, and charring. Branches fashioned from black iron offer a modern twist.

Bricks and Panels at Rear and Side Walls

Traditional or herringbone brick in red or gray create a classic fireplace appearance. A reflective black panel makes the flame look more prominent and creates a next-level ambiance especially desirable in large spaces.

Cool Wall Technology

Since the invention of flat-screen televisions, mounting a TV above the fireplace has been a trend. One of the biggest obstacles is the required non-combustible zone, the area needed to ensure the TV’s electrical systems aren’t damaged by heat.

This restriction results in many televisions being placed at a height that is too high for proper viewing. “That’s one of the reasons I love Ortal products,” Sara shares. “Their Cool Wall Technology ensures the walls that surround the unit remain cool. It completely opens up the design possibilities. Now, a television or a work of art can be placed directly above the fireplace without concern.”

Smart Technology

Many modern fireplaces can be controlled with a remote or a smartphone app when connected to WiFi. Other units can be integrated with a centralized home automation system.

Bringing the Warmth Outdoors

Having a comfortable, private outdoor space to enjoy has become incredibly important, especially this year. Thanks to our favorable California climate, we can enjoy the outdoors year-round, especially in Silicon Valley.

As a focal point, an outdoor fireplace can be just as significant to the overall look and feel of an outdoor room as its indoor counterpart. American Fyre is one of several manufacturers that feature glass fiber reinforced concrete (GFRC) units. These modular units are completely customizable to create an impressive look with a stylish surround or hearth, finished in stucco or stone to coordinate with the exterior of the home or other outdoor living amenities, such as an outdoor kitchen.

Also noteworthy is Isokern, manufactured in Virginia by Earthcore, which takes the outdoor fireplace to another level. Isokern products are made with volcanic materials from Iceland. They are lightweight and boast refractive properties not found in their GFRC counterparts.

Most manufacturers offer vent-free models, permitting an outdoor fireplace to be installed in a covered area.

While an outdoor fireplace creates a place to gather in front of, fire pits, fire bowls, and fire tables offer a place for everyone to sit around. These products, which are offered in both liquid propane and natural gas versions, add the allure of an open flame to backyard spaces.

Harrell Design + Build’s award-winning, certified landscape designer, Lisa Parramore, APLD (Association of Professional Landscape Designers), recommends outdoor fire bowls, pits, and tables from the following manufacturers.

Kindred offers a selection of pre-finished glass fiber reinforced concrete fire bowls, adding a “heightened level of design and elegance to any outdoor space.” Each unit has a powerful 65,000 BTU burner, a patent-pending burner system, and heavy-duty stainless steel construction. Backed by a 10-year warranty, Kindred’s fire pits, tables, and bowls produce brighter, taller flames using half the fuel.

“For homeowners who want a simple yet attractive solution, these are some of the best.” To enjoy the fire pit immediately, Lisa recommends choosing a unit that doesn’t require an additional finish, such as stucco or tile. She also suggests units with refillable/replaceable propane tanks. “The quality of burners is also essential, as they have a direct impact on the appearance of the flame.”

For homeowners who want a fire table or bowl that blends into the existing aesthetics of their yard, Warming Trends fire tables and fire pits are offered in a variety of shapes.

Warming Trends is also leading the industry with their precision-engineered CrossFire brass burner, a unique fire pit burner that “utilizes cutting-edge technology to produce a taller, brighter, fuller flame.”

Each of these units can be customized with different media, including ceramic and steel log sets, lava rock, and an array of colored fire glass. The exterior of the unit can be finished with stone, tile, or stucco.

Regardless of which type of outdoor fire feature you choose, you can enjoy a cozy gathering space for making smores, sipping a glass of wine, or staying warm while social distancing.

Inspired to update your fireplace, your home, or your outdoor living space? Schedule a complimentary consultation with a Harrell Design + Build Designer and let us ignite your imagination!

Woman Founded and 100% Employee-Owned, Harrell Design + Build has created distinctive homes in Silicon Valley and on the mid-Peninsula since 1985. Our Design + Build Team is here to help you reimagine your home inside and out.

Start Your Project Today!

Let the team at Harrell Design + Build work with you to transform your home today.

We are so thrilled with our beautiful new kitchen and family room, designed and built by Harrell Design + Build! The Harrell team combines creativity in design and solutions with the highest standards of craftsmanship and construction.

The ‘Harrell Crew’ was the best contractor we’ve ever had in our home! In addition, everyone was careful and respectful of my allergies and asthma and did extra prep work & careful clean-up to minimize problems for me.

I would like to thank you, Iris, and all the other people from your firm for an incredible job on my new home office. All of the folks I worked with were courteous, conscientious and kept their commitments.

We wanted to let you know that we had our first major entertaining event last weekend with a party for my library staff. Everyone was very impressed with the remodel and I spent a lot of time showing off various features to the guests.

“On Thanksgiving Day we received many compliments on our new kitchen and the outdoor projects. We’re proud to entertain, and each time we do, I think about you, Kai, John, and the many others who pulled this off. Thanks to all!