Fireplaces have been a staple in the home for centuries. From practical uses like providing warmth to being an aesthetic focal point in the living room, many people agree that a fireplace can make a house feel like a home.  

Throughout history, fireplace design and function have evolved to meet the changing needs of homeowners. But how much have they changed exactly? You might be surprised to find out how different they used to be.

Keep reading to learn more about how fireplaces have changed and how much heating technology has advanced.  

Ancient times – the first fireplaces

The earliest fireplaces recorded were simple holes in the ground. Back then, they were used for cooking food and keeping warm. They were usually constructed in the centre of a dwelling, with no chimney or ventilation system.  

As a result, smoke would fill the entire space when the fireplace was lit. You can probably imagine this smoke created a hazard, making it difficult to see or breathe.  

As civilisation developed, the fireplaces, too, became more sophisticated. The Romans were among the first to create a chimney system to vent smoke out of the home and solve the problem.  

The hypocaust system, which used a series of underfloor pipes to circulate hot air through the building, was one of the most sophisticated heating systems of its time.  

Middle Ages – the introduction of chimneys

Fireplaces became more prominent and ornate throughout the Middle Ages. They would often be large enough to cover an entire wall in the Great Hall of a manor or castle.  

Like the rudimentary fireplaces before them, they were mainly used for cooking and warmth. Communities would gather around them to eat and get together.  

These were among the first fireplaces to offer more than just a functional purpose. Their creators would often decorate them with intricate carvings and artwork.  

A hood above the fireplace vented the smoke while serving as a warming shelf. People would place their food on the rack or put their hands over it to warm them up.  

The fireplace was essential for winter survival during the Middle Ages. Besides being the primary way to stay warm, people would also use the fire to smoke meat, fish, and cheeses to preserve food for the winter.  

Victorian Era – fireplaces for aesthetics and heat

During the Victorian Era, fireplaces became more ornate and were now a crucial part of home décor rather than simply being a functional part of the property.  

The Victorians were known for their love of intricate, ornate designs, which was reflected in their fireplaces. Besides being more extensive and decorative, Victorian fireplaces offered a step up in efficiency compared to the past.  

Victorian fireplaces brought about a major change in the fuel used. Coal was introduced and widely utilised as a fuel source during Victorian times, allowing fireplaces to become even more oversized.  

As the focal point of the rooms they were placed in, Victorian fireplaces were often very grand, with tiles, carvings, and intricate designs.  

Victorian-style fire surrounds are still a stylish option today despite being first fashionable so many years ago. Some of our favourites are: 

Gallery Nottage Cast Iron Combination Fireplace

Gallery Nottage Cast Iron Combination Fireplace

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This stunning, petite fireplace will add a touch of Victorian charm to your home and transport you throughout history. A design that would have been a staple for keeping bedrooms warm throughout Victorian times, this fireplace looks fantastic in any home. It's the perfect choice for a smaller room, offering a focal point that definitely turns heads without being too overwhelming.  

It's available as a purely decorative fire, or you can heat a room with a gas or solid fuel option.  

Carron Valentine Cast Iron Combination Fireplace

Carron Valentine Cast Iron Combination Fireplace

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The symmetrical pomegranate design extending from the centre and flowing down each side of the legs makes the Art Nouveau Valentine cast iron combination fireplace an attractive choice for anybody looking to add Victorian charm to their home. Add colour and style to your fireplace with the option to choose accompanying tiles. 

You can use the Carron Valentine as a gas or solid fuel fire in a gorgeous Black finish.  

Cast Tec Flat Victorian Limestone Fire Surround

Cast Tec Flat Victorian Limestone Fire Surround

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The Flat Victorian Carrara Marble fire surround from Cast Tec is a versatile, stunning option that looks amazing in any home. It's tall and imposing but remains elegant and understated due to the clean lines and simple design. Simple and sleek, you can pair it with a traditional cast iron Victorian fireplace insert or create a different look with another fire style. Perfect for a traditionally decorated home or to bring some timeless style to your modern aesthetic.  

20th Century – the introduction of gas and electric fires

Fireplaces took on a more modern aesthetic throughout the 20th Century. The advent of electricity and gas fireplaces allowed for more design flexibility, placement options, and easier use.  

In the early 20th Century, gas fireplaces were at the height of their popularity. They were considered a more convenient option because they did not require the same level of attention, upkeep and maintenance as a traditional wood or coal fireplace.  

More recently, gas fires have seen a resurgence. They're now more modern and available in high-efficiency models. We recommend: 

Kinder Oasis Plus Gas Fire with Signature Fascia

Kinder Oasis Plus Gas Fire with Signature Fascia

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Boasting a simple and sleek design, the Kinder Oasis is simple and elegant. You get all the authenticity of a natural, open-coal fire and all the convenience of a gas fire. The extra wide fuel bed and incredible flame picture create a fantastic ambience in the home. Choose from five colour options with something to suit every living room.  

Flare Design Fascia Deepline High-Efficiency Gas Fire

Flare Design Fascia Deepline High-Efficiency Gas Fire

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Modern and sleek, the Fascia Deepline high-efficiency gas fire from Flare Design couldn't be any more unlike old, bulky gas fires of the past. It's super-easy to control, and with a high efficiency of 87.2%, you can't go wrong. Available in various finishes to suit every décor choice, it offers a stunning flame picture and instantly makes a room feel warm and cosy.  

Elgin & Hall Deepline HE Inset Gas Fire with Cast Stove Fascia

Elgin & Hall Deepline HE Inset Gas Fire with Cast Stove Fascia

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With a traditional cast-iron trim and legs, this gas fire provides a wood burner's timeless, elegant look while running on gas. Sleek and simple, it'll look perfect in any fireplace. The maximum heat output of 5.3kW means it'll easily keep any room warm and toasty. At the same time, a high energy efficiency of 87% makes it affordable to run.  

Electric fires in the 20th Century

The 20th Century also saw the rise of electric fireplaces. These were also a very convenient heating option; people liked them because they could place them anywhere near a plug socket.  

Today – media walls and smart fires 

Thanks to the media wall trend, sleek and elegant electric fireplaces have become one of the top options today. Our favourite media wall fireplaces are: 

Evonic Creative 2400 Built-In Electric Fire

Evonic Creative 2400 Built-In Electric Fire

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The Evonic Creative 2400 is a fire that turns heads. If media walls are your thing, you can't go wrong with this gorgeous electric fire. It's the perfect size for placing under your large-screen TV. And with two heat settings, a light-only feature, different colour options and remote control, you'll get many impressive features that make getting the most from your fire more straightforward.  

Vision Futura 1800 Electric Inset Wall Fire

Vision Futura 1800 Electric Inset Wall Fire

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This modern and versatile show-stopper from Vision Futura will elevate your media wall. With several installation options to suit any style, this fire will fit perfectly no matter what you want from your final look. Plus, it's packed with incredible features such as 'favourite' mode so you can switch it straight to your preferred combination of heat output, flame effect and colour. Thanks to adaptive smart heating and open window detection, you can save money on energy bills.  

Flamerite Gotham 750 Short Hole In The Wall Electric Fire

Flamerite Gotham 750 Short Hole In The Wall Electric Fire

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A stunning, minimalistic fire that looks amazing in any room, the Flamerite Gotham 750 is packed with modern features. Choose from either the Radia or Nitra setting to control the flame and heat output with five pre-set scrolling animations. More importantly, you can do it all without getting up off the sofa – download the smartphone app to access and control your fire settings from anywhere.  

OER Icon Electric Fireplace Suite

OER Icon Electric Fireplace Suite

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A gorgeous free-standing fireplace offering minimal assembly and installation, the OER Icon is perfect for almost any home. This suite will elevate any room in minutes with a massive display, realistic fuel bed and a log store feature to look like a real fire. And with the option to control it all from your smartphone, you can choose the perfect ambience while relaxing on the sofa or switch your fire on to warm the room up before you arrive home.  

Fireplaces: Then and now

Modern fireplaces allow you more control over heat output and energy consumption. They can help homeowners and renters alike save money on their energy bills.  

Alternative fuels, such as bioethanol, have also risen in popularity throughout the 21st Century. Bioethanol fireplaces do not produce emissions and are a great eco-friendly option since they only give off heat and light.  

Today, fireplaces are available in a wide range of styles and designs, with something to suit everybody's décor and personal tastes. Every home has a perfect fireplace style, from sleek and contemporary to traditional and rustic. We've come a long way from rudimentary holes in the floor to ornate designs to sleek and modern fires you can control with your smartphone!  

Whether you want to be transported back in time with a Victorian fire surround or retro gas fire, or enjoy the best in modern technology with a stunning and innovative media wall electric fire, we've got something for everybody at Direct Fireplaces.

What's more, we offer free delivery to the UK mainland, 14-day no-hassle returns, and a range of finance options to help you spread the cost of your new fire.

If you've got a question, our friendly team are always happy to help. You can contact them at 0161 376 4181 or email: [email protected].

Do you need somebody you can trust to install your new fireplace? Our trusted installation partners at Direct Heating Services are always happy to help. Email them at [email protected] or call 079469 792452.

Shop fireplaces and surrounds at Direct Fireplaces now

For more fireplace buying guides, advice and information, read the Direct Fireplaces blog

How to Choose the Right Fireplace for Your Home's Decor | Maintenance Tips for Your Limestone FIreplace Surround | Making a Statement: The Top Fireplace Trends to Watch in 2023

  

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