Article No: 260

2009-07-29 13:11:07
Cheng Design Shares its Latest Fireplace Creation in Ketchum, Idaho
By: Fu-Tung Cheng

                                                                                Photo By Bill Scull
Connecting Contemporary to Country
This fireplace is part of a complete interior renovation for a city client with a snow country vacation home. In this mountain setting where rustic style is the vogue, the design goal for this fireplace was to remain loyal to this sentiment, while simultaneously modernizing it. We wanted to create a touchstone connecting contemporary with country.

The 12-foot by 4-foot master bedroom fireplace is made up of several components. The hearth was cast onsite using the traditional wet-cast method. The surround is made with glass fiber reinforced concrete (GFRC) and was molded at our shop. Natural slate tiles line the sides of the “firebox.” The actual flame itself is alcohol-based, creating the ambience of fire, without an actual wood-burning fireplace.

The original idea for this fireplace was to be all tile. When we decided that would be too bland, we turned to board-formed concrete with a modern touch.

Board-forming is often used for concrete walls. The grain and paneling of each board is cast into the concrete, giving it a warmer, more organic texture. Very basic board-forming follows three conventions. 1. The boards are usually the same type of wood and the same size. 2. The boards are laid out flat in the mold. 3. The boards run parallel to each other.

In order to achieve a more contemporary composition, we added several complexities to the basic board-forming technique. 1. The boards consist of many different materials including plastic, Lexan and different types of plywood. They are very humble materials and, in many cases, were simply shop scraps. We also added a cast rubber mold detail.
This mixing of materials allowed us to marry the smooth with the textured. 2. The boards are laid out on multiple planes, creating a three-dimensional look that gives the fireplace a more modern, sculptural quality. This juxtaposition of foreground and background also contributes to the sense that the surround has a lot of mass. It appears as if it’s fairly thick, when in fact, it’s really only a 2-inch deep GFRC veneer. 3. The boards run in both the horizontal and vertical direction, creating added opportunity for compositional play.

The look was purposefully composed to appear random. The proportions of the breaks and the direction of the lines were all laid out and repositioned many times. It is this attention to composition that gives the fireplace its gracefully kinetic effect.


Of course we could have taken this even further, exposing sections of aggregate, adding high-gloss pieces next to matte sections and playing with color. This is where editing comes in. “When in doubt, leave it out.” Having advanced techniques at your fingertips is only one part of the equation for a successful creation. What the skilled concrete artisan brings to the table is not only his knowledge of and ability to execute techniques, but perhaps more importantly, his sense of restraint. This fireplace creates a feeling of movement, yet feels restful to the eye, and visually appealing without being frenetic.