Design Q+A: Fireplaces

Structure, trends, and manufacturing the heart of a home.


From traditional and wood-burning to modern and gas-powered, fireplaces are undoubtedly the snuggest spot in the house. We’ve reached a point in design innovation where most ideas of what a homeowner might want can actually happen. Of course, you need the right architects, designers, and masons to grant the vision, but in most cases, these groups are in your corner, and want to make all your fireside dreams come true. The Local caught up with four Island companies that do this type of work, and do it really well. We checked in on designs, trends, styles, and recent projects.

Jill Neubauer from Jill Neubauer Architects Inc. works all over the Cape and Islands. Her office is located in Falmouth, but she’s had her fair share of Vineyard projects. Peter Breese, owner of Breese Architects Inc., is a neighbor of The Local. His office is at 7 Beach St. in Vineyard Haven. Patricia Giumarra is owner of Vineyard Hearth, Patio, and Spa, also a Vineyard Haven business. It’s located at 455 State Rd., and specializes in fireplaces, stoves, patio furniture, and grills. South Mountain Co. is an architecture, engineering, and construction business in West Tisbury. Its office is at 15 Red Arrow Rd.

What’s one of the first things to consider when designing a fireplace?

Jill Neubauer from Jill Neubauer Architects Inc.: Its presence in the room. It needs to present the core vision for the house. Traditionally, they were the central anchor to a home.

Peter Breese, owner of Breese Architects Inc.: A real key to our design is the masonry work on the surround of the fireplace.


What sort of styles are you seeing?

Patricia Giumarra, owner of Vineyard Hearth, Patio, and Spa: We sell a lot of linear fireplaces. More contemporary, very clean. People are getting away from traditional styles and wanting more clean and modern looks.

John Abrams, CEO and co-owner of South Mountain Co.: More and more, we find people are amenable to fireplaces being outside the conditioned space of the home. It’s pretty great to have a fireplace on a screened porch, like a campfire.


Any trends among recent projects?

Jill Neubauer: Yes, units are popular — linear and metal. There are also some wood stoves from Scandinavia that are modern and nice. Modern is in.

Peter Breese: I wouldn’t say gas is trending up, but it is very convenient, and more people are doing it.

Patricia Giumarra: Adding a fireplace door has become code for new construction. You can change the whole look of a fireplace by adding a glass door with modern finishes and design. It looks nice, and it’s functional — it keeps the heat in the house. People are upgrading their doors to get something more current.


What do you prefer, gas- or wood-burning?

Peter Breese: We feel like a country home is greatly enhanced by a true wood-burning fireplace. I think what happens with the gas-burning fireplaces is you see more contemporary and innovative things being done. With wood-burning, there’s that tradition of masonry fireplace building that is more of a continuous refinement of the craft. We sort of promote and emphasize the quality and beauty of burning real wood and doing a traditional fireplace.


Would you explain the roles of the designer and architect?

Patricia Giumarra: With new construction, the architect drives the design and placement of the fireplace. For gas fireplaces, the designer will get more involved and choose the shape, but she’s limited to the architect’s dimensions. As designers, we offer different choices to the homeowners to fulfill looks and dimensions. We try to stay up on trends and products available.


Is there a standard for size or depth?

Jill Neubauer: There are many ratios in fireplaces that are a bit complicated. Rumford fireplaces are shallow and throw great heat, but with the new code for fireplace doors, they are more difficult to work with.

Peter Breese: There are code requirement for certain minimum dimensions, but no, not really. You can do a fireplace opening that’s enormous. You can do different proportions. It doesn’t have to be that conventional-looking 36 inches wide by 28 inches high. We like to do fireboxes that are taller than they are wide — it tends to project more heat in the room. We also do oversize fireplaces for the presence of them in the room.


What are some common materials?

Jill Neubauer:
The more modern fireplaces have slabs of stone or concrete as the surround. Rusty metal is also popular. Same with sheets of blackened steel.

Peter Breese: In the firebox we’re working with more standard lumberyard firebrick.


Do many people want to integrate Vineyard materials, like beach stone or shells?

Jill Neubauer: I hope as few as possible. Some old historic fireplaces are charming when made all out of beach stones, but using little bits of nature as decoration is rarely successful.

Peter Breese: We’ve come across that, but if we’re going to bring in a mason who’s got a specialty of their own, we step back and let them do their thing. But yes, integrating Vineyard materials can be very interesting and have a unique result.

Patricia Giumarra: It depends. If it’s masonry work, and there’s so many really creative masons out here, sometimes you see little stones and shells within the fireplace opening. It’s great to see that creativity — it’s really a piece of art. We also see that in some of our mantel designs. We work with a company that sells really sleek-looking mantels with metal supports. Sometimes they integrate sea-glass-looking supports.


What do you see more of, fireplace overhauls, simple updates, or starting from scratch?

Jill Neubauer: Renovations, safety upgrades, and facelifts are common when renovating homes on the Cape and Islands.

Patricia Giumarra: We used to only do new construction or renovations, but now there’s so many new things available to change the look of an existing structure. New construction is most of our business. People are looking for the convenience of gas, which can fit into any type of construction. You can build them into walls. They’re not limited to be flush on the floor.

How has fireplace design changed or evolved over the years?

Jill Neubauer: Fireplaces were the central masonry core to a home. They heated the building in many ways, but being at the center was important. Being made of stones also allowed for a critical mass to heat up. Rarely are fireplaces through and through stone or masonry, as they all were. Now it’s a kit firebox, and then clad in the chosen material. Architects miss the authenticity of true materials. I am most excited when we use real materials for real fire — that is lovely. But the good news is that fireplaces can now fit in smaller spaces and are light, and can go in many designs.

Patricia Giumarra: I’ve been in this business 21 years. Where it was once just building a square box, now there’s a lot more options. With the popularity of shows and HGTV, people are more excited to change things in their home and make it their own. You can go online and spend hours looking at fireplace design. People will come in with photos and say, I want this. It’s a different thing. People are much more educated about designs in particular, which means I have to keep up with it that much more. Which I enjoy too.

Peter Breese: Gas fireplaces have changed with all these available innovations. With wood-burning, there are different refinements, but it’s much more subtle. Today you can be much more involved with the craft of making and designing a fireplace.


Do you have a fireplace at home?

Jill Neubauer: Funny you should ask. I had a large CMU (concrete masonry unit) modern fireplace since 1999, when we built the house. But I just recently tore it out. I needed a shift, a lightening in my home. I’m now looking at a modern wood stove to lighten the space and offer more efficient heat.

Patricia Giumarra: I have a gas fireplace, but it’s more traditional. I still like that. I’m going to put one in on the other side of the house. It’ll be more linear, more modern. I’m trending as well.


For more information on Jill Neubauer Architects Inc., visit or call 508-548-0909. For Breese Architects Inc.,; 508-693-8272. Vineyard Hearth, Patio, and Spa,; 508-693-5520. South Mountain Co.,; 508-693-4850.


  1. Just know that an outdoor fireplace will never draw. If you use it smoke will go everywhere.Few architects and designers understand stone and masonry. Take their opinions with a grain of salt.

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