Victorian false fireplaces?

jlc102482January 16, 2012

Can anyone tell me more about Victorian false fireplaces and/or share photos of one? I am trying to do some research on these but have been very unsuccessful thus far. I'm interested in knowing how common they were, under what circumstances they were installed, what type of people/class of people would have installed them, and would especially love to see what they looked like.

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Well, I had a fake fireplace in my former house but it was a 1923 working class bungalow and not a Victorian. It was never even meant to be coal burning, as no chimney was installed. When I moved in it still sported the original fake logs lit by a red lightbulb. I had a vented gas unit inserted that looked something like an old fashioned coal hob and was very happy with it.

    Bookmark   January 17, 2012 at 8:01AM
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What a gorgeous living room, it's so cozy! I love your stained glass windows, too. I didn't realize false fireplaces extended past the Victorian era - that is good to know. Thanks for sharing!

    Bookmark   January 17, 2012 at 8:17AM
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I was curious myself and found out that it was actually rather common in the era here in the upper midwest (MN)--people wanted the "home and hearth" arts and crafts bungalow look but didn't have the money for the real thing. BTW, I added the stained glass to the piano windows--it wasn't there originally.

    Bookmark   January 17, 2012 at 11:37AM
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I lived in a Foursquare rental house that had a similar fake fireplace but without the wood mantle.

    Bookmark   January 17, 2012 at 12:50PM
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When I used to reno homes built from the 1880s-1920 or so in Toronto I often found what appeared to be coal-burning fireplaces, but they actually had electric coils. No flame effects! After 40-years of downtown renovation/demolition, I wonder if any survive.

    Bookmark   January 17, 2012 at 8:40PM
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I've wondered about the prevalence of mock fireplaces in homes as well and have spoken with others about this issue. I live in a 1919 one-story bungalow that has a textured rug brick fireplace. I make a note on the brick because it's an unusal brick that our house is made out of. There no other houses in the neighborhood (or city that I've seen) that use this brick. The fireplace brick perfectly matches the house brick suggesting that the fireplace is original to the house.

The house was originally a coal-burning house with a furnace in the basement and a corresponding chimney (that goes up through the kitchen). There is no chimney nor evidence of a chimney on the side of the house with the fireplace. A gas line was added at some point, but since it was never vented, the gas fireplace is non-functional. I'm glad to see that this isn't the only house with this unexplainable fireplace, but I have to wonder: in homes that were so functional and practical, why would you bother to put in such an ornate feature that doesn't serve a purpose?

Here's a picture of our living room. I don't have a close up picture of the fireplace itself, but I think you can see it fairly well.

Here is a link that might be useful: Living Room

    Bookmark   February 1, 2012 at 11:36PM
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Roger, my guess is that those who put fake fireplaces in bungalows wanted the bungalow/arts and crafts aesthetic that emphasized "home and hearth" and was so trendy at the time but could not afford more than the facade. Or perhaps it was just individual choice. I had a grandmother with a beautiful bungalow with a real fireplace but she was so deathly afraid of fire that she never once used it in all the years she lived in that house. If she had built a house she would certainly have opted for a fake or none at all.

    Bookmark   February 2, 2012 at 4:57PM
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I did work on a "Victorian" in the 80's. It had been in the same family for 80 yrs. The explanation I got from the granddaughter who was an architect was basically "It's a mantel stuck in a room". The house was built w/ central heat, I suppose it was there to provide a familiarity for a generation that expected this accoutrement.Who knows

    Bookmark   February 2, 2012 at 7:24PM
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marita, it might have been that they couldn't afford it. The house is different than any other house in the neighborhood in that there was only a basement and a first floor with no upstairs. I've always assumed it was an elderly couple that opted to not have an upstairs, but it may have been a cheaper option to not get the top floor. My issue with that idea is this: with the lack of top floor, they redesigned the front of the house and didn't put in a staircase to the attic (just an access hole in the ceiling). I would assume that means considerable re-designing, but maybe it was indeed an option for those with less sufficient funds. I admit that I hadn't thought of that as a possibility before.

    Bookmark   February 3, 2012 at 10:45AM
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When I was a kid in N.E. Ohio those false fireplace fronts were very common in older homes.

Quite often they were a large Wood framed fireplace front with a mantel but the face of the fireplace was marble or some other stone material and they had a short stone heart that extended out about 20" from the wall. The functional purpose was to provide a fire retardent wall behind an open gas log heater.

Many of the homes which had those false fireplaces also still had the remnants of the old gas lights.

The house I lived in when I was in high school still has working gas lights, even though the house had been wired for electric in the late 1920's.

    Bookmark   February 3, 2012 at 5:40PM
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I live in a 1920 condo building in the Chicago area. My unit is on the top floor, and I have an actual working fireplace. However,the folks in the units below me have fake ones, and there is a false one in the lobby, too. False brick fireplaces are quite common in the apartment buildings from this era, at least in the Chicago area.

    Bookmark   February 4, 2012 at 12:56AM
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