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There’s something magical about sitting by a blazing fireplace—so cozy, peaceful and inviting, even here in Florida, where we can hope for cooler weather at least by New Year’s.

The Mark Dixon Dodd-designed fireplace in the Jimenez/Freeman home. Photo by James Ostrand.

Carla Jimenez and Jim Freeman live in a 1938 “Storybook”-style home designed by artist Mark Dixon Dodd, whose picturesque domiciles help give St. Petersburg’s Driftwood neighborhood its unique character. Dodd’s creative touches are everywhere, especially on the floor-to-ceiling wood-burning white plaster fireplace in the couple’s living room. Above the mantel is a decorative inset by Dodd featuring a woodland scene of a deer, fish leaping and a babbling brook.

“Years ago, it was painted over, but if you look closely you can see the detail,” says Carla. “Rumor has it that the artwork was once in color.”

Detail: The relief above the mantel in the Driftwood home. Photo by James Ostrand.

Although Carla confesses the fireplace isn’t used that often, she can’t imagine the home without it.

“It’s beautiful. I love the structure of it, and it adds so much to the room,” says Carla, the former co-owner of Tampa’s Inkwood Books. “Santa certainly thinks of it as a necessity… and besides, where else would you hang a Christmas stocking?”

An ingenious spot for an antique mantel in a Belleair

Beach home. Photo by James Ostrand.

Belleair Beach homeowner Nancy (we’re using only her first name at her request) has taken a family heirloom fireplace mantel and given it new life. Her ingenious solution: placing the mantel against the bathroom wall behind her freestanding tub.

“The mantel is well over 100 years old; it was my husband’s grandmother’s and we’ve taken it with us to every home we’ve lived in,” says Nancy. “I knew I wanted to put it somewhere special. This was the perfect location. Last year, I decorated the mantel and put a white Christmas tree on top.”

An outdoor hearth in Belleair Beach. Photo by James Ostrand.

Nancy also has a large outdoor wood-burning fireplace. There’s a large-screen TV above the mantel so no one has to miss their favorite show or game. “It’s just fun to have a nice fire and sit out there when it’s cool,” says Nancy.

“One year we had a big Super Bowl party and several of us ended up outside next to the fireplace. It was the best spot ever.”

Thanks to technology and a trend toward artistic designs, there are more choices than ever to create the perfect fireplace for your home, from a traditional wood-burner with a big hearth to a sleek, contemporary gas or electric look that offers all the ambience, but not the heat — or the work.

Don O’Connor, of Fireplace World, is definitely seeing demand from customers for contemporary linear electric or gas fireplaces.

A contemporary linear fireplace from Modern Flames, a vendor used by Tampa’s Kugel & Sons and St. Petersburg’s Fireplace World.

“They’re easy to install and they don’t produce as much heat, so there is no danger of damage to the TV,” says Don.

The trend is also to choose beautiful glass stones over logs. Clear and Caribbean blue are popular colors, he says. In addition, stacked stone painted white or off-white is a popular facing for the fireplace, he says. It’s a look that adds nice structural texture for a dramatic focal point.

Stacked stone is also a popular fireplace trend. Photo: Modern Flames.

Mike Kugel of Kugel & Sons Fireplaces feels that a great fireplace is like a work of art. His many custom projects range from electric and wood-burning fireplace installations to outdoor fire bowls, and even outdoor pizza ovens. He agrees that the addition of fire features can transform a typical outdoor space into a beautiful backyard oasis.

Diana Matlack and Jeff Cave of Dynamic Outdoor Spaces also enjoy crafting the entire outdoor living environment, and they say a fire feature is a must-have. That could be a traditional fireplace with hearth or a dramatic accent, such as a fire kettle, incorporated into a pool and spa area. The couple is also focused on environmentally friendly “green” products when designing an outdoor fire feature. That includes using propane, natural gas or one of the newest options, bioethanol, a renewable liquid fuel produced from agricultural byproducts.

“The options available to homeowners, from how to fuel the fire to how to create the design, have really grown in recent years,” says Diana. “The sky’s the limit. We can integrate stone, metals, stucco and even brick. Even with a more traditional fireplace, we can help the client achieve a clean contemporary line to give it a modern twist.”

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