What Is a Hearth Room?

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The hearth should match the rest of the house.
The hearth should match the rest of the house. (Image: David Sacks/Lifesize/Getty Images)

Homes built centuries ago were designed to maximize heating efficiency when the kitchen fires were one of the few sources of warmth in an average home. The hearth room was developed to take advantage of this heat during harsh winters. While you may not need a hearth room for staying warm anymore, they do add versatile space to modern homes.

The Facts

A hearth room is a basic living room featuring a full-size hearth or fireplace, according to the Private Communities website. The hearth itself, the stone or brick floor built around the fireplace, gives this room its name. Other names for a hearth room include keeping room or den. Hearth rooms are traditionally attached to or near the kitchen, but modern design allows you to place a room with a fireplace anywhere you'd like in the home.

History

The hearth room developed in colonial times to take advantage of the heat produced by the fires used for cooking in a home kitchen, says Service Magic. Many families cooked on a large open fireplace instead of stoves. Keeping the main fireplace stoked and running took plenty of work and wood, so it was natural to heat the main gathering area of the home with the same fire. The hearth room was usually attached to the kitchen or an extension of the cooking area. Some families even slept in the hearth room in the winter as it was often the only warm room in the house.

Uses

Modern families rarely need a hearth or keeping room for its historical purposes, so it becomes a versatile room that adapts to fit the specific needs of each family. A keeping room may turn into a playroom or family room if you have children, or it can be used as a formal parlor, according to Wilson Kelsey Design. Your home's hearth room also works well as a living room if you plan to use the fireplace decoratively instead of for heating.

Decorating

The style of the fireplace should dictate how the room is decorated, but you should consider replacing the hearth if it clashes with the overall design of the home. For example, if you refinish the rest of the home in a ultra-modern style, a traditional colonial hearth room may be inappropriate. Natural materials such as slate, river rock and neutral colored bricks give you the most flexibility when decorating around a fireplace. Most hearths are composed of concrete covered with a heat- and fire-resistant material, says Ask the Builder, making it relatively easy to refinish.

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