The birth of our hearth

Guest article // Milla Alftan

It was clear to us from the start that our future house would be adorned with a striking heat source, meaning a heat-storing fireplace.

For two years, hard work has been ongoing on a lakefront lot in a beautiful forest location. The construction project began on a rainy and dreary Saturday morning in 2019. Exactly a week before, at my husband’s 50th birthday party, I had used a PowerPoint presentation to reveal a surprise that had been in the works for quite some time. We would start building the second home of our dreams! A preliminary agreement with Kontio to build a holiday home was already in place and everything had been arranged (save for the lot) for construction to begin. The launch of the project was a total surprise to my husband, and now we could begin realising this shared dream together, filled with enthusiasm!

The week after the festivities, we were already frenetically searching for lots, and both of us were absolutely bursting with enthusiasm! Even to our own surprise, we found the lot of our dreams exactly one week from the surprise reveal. Or maybe we should say the lot found us! That was love at first sight on both sides, and that same evening we even made a verbal agreement to buy the lot! That was the start of our construction journey, which has been driving our lives for two years now. Gradually, step by step, the dream has turned into reality. So, let me tell you a more detailed story about the birth of the real heart of our house, the fireplace that warms the house with its presence and fire.

The dream was a striking fireplace combining tradition with modernity. The clean burning NunnaUuni fireplace complements the home decor, serves as a heat source as well as a place for cooking.

It was clear to us from the beginning that our future house would be adorned with a striking heat source, meaning a heat-storing fireplace. We particularly liked the idea that we were sort of returning to the roots of fireplaces. Our minds went back to those days when fireplaces were used for both heating the house and cooking. That meant finding a fireplace that both stores and releases heat, with a braising oven included for cooking. And so the hunt began!

My vision was to bring these primitive elements to the present day, combining them with timeless and stylish design and decor. Of course, when you’re an interior designer, you naturally have high standards, and we were also on the lookout for a fireplace that would serve us for the rest of our lives.  So, I started developing this idea in my head about cooperation with a party that had as much experience with traditional fireplaces as possible. I thought we could put our heads together and develop something new and interesting for the fireplace market, bringing the traditional elements to the present day! 

I started taking stock of all Finnish fireplace manufacturers on the market, and as I was doing my sleuthing, I got the strong feeling that NunnaUuni, known for their traditional and beautiful fireplaces, could perhaps provide the right solution that would fulfil our dreams. After all, their home of Nunnanlahti had a history of building fireplaces for an incredible 100 years and counting. With that history, their expertise must be at a fundamental level. So, I started asking whether they might be interested in hearing more about my ideas and, perhaps, considering more extensive collaboration. A tentative green light was given right away, and that’s where our collaboration truly got underway!

A collaborative brainstorming session began and I outlined a fireplace whose dimensions would be an exact fit for the plans of our future house, and which would stand proud in the best spot of the house. The large fireplace door would be positioned towards the dining area and living room, letting the beautiful flame of the gentle fire set the mood for the area we spend time in. The baking oven to the side of the fireplace, on the other hand, would be handily located next to the kitchen, where it would serve cooking purposes perfectly. (And it has certainly served well!)

Our goal was to create a clean, low-maintenance, and seamless surface, so I decided the surface material should be large ceramic tiles with a surface resembling a distinctively beautiful fabric.

Next, we needed the perfect ceramic tile for the surface of the fireplace, in effect serving as beautiful formal wear for the soapstone that so perfectly stores heat within. We ended up partnering with a lovely Finnish family business named ABL-Laatat, whose wonderful selection of tiles I could peruse to find the best option for our fireplace.

Our goal was to create a clean, low-maintenance, and seamless surface, so I decided the surface material should be large ceramic tiles with a surface resembling a distinctively beautiful fabric. These particular tiles also suited our decor perfectly, but there are more options for the wider market.

When building the house to accommodate the fireplace, the foundations had to be measured because a full soapstone fireplace would weigh a tremendous amount. That’s why the fireplace measurements had to be known whilst the house’s interior design solutions were still in the planning phase. You must take plenty of things into account in the house-building process, and this was one of the most important ones to get right so we could realise our wish for the fireplace of our dreams.

With all the basic matters sorted, the order was sent to the NunnaUuni factory. That is where the best possible soapstones would be chosen for the fireplace, the ones that would store heat in themselves and gradually release it into the surrounding air of the room.

With the fireplace ordered, construction at the lot continued at a rapid pace. Earthmovers were moving enormous rocks found underground, and new soil was brought in by the truckload to replace the old. The foundations were laid firm on the prime spot of the lot, and so the house began to rise proudly above them.

Finally, the day came for the house to be ready to receive the fireplace tailor-made for it. This was a particularly huge event because it also meant we’d be able to get some heat in the house with the fireplace. Up until that point, the underfloor heating in the floor cast was kept at minimum temperature. It was October at the time, and that atmospheric warmth that fills you to the bone would bring the house to life, as it were. It was also the very first interior design element installed in this house. None of the surface materials had been installed at this stage, so this already felt like an extremely tangible step towards a homey end result. The entire process, from ordering to finished installation, went without any hassle with NunnaUuni.

Naturally, before you can light a fire in the fireplace, a flue and chimney must be installed. We went for the domestic and eco-friendly approach again, so we chose the stylish, pre-heating Air IN supply air chimney from the Finnish Härmä Air.

The first fires were lit when the hearth was still soapstone-surfaced. As all the studies say, Mammutti soapstone is a unique fireplace material that can withstand severe heat and conduct heat well. Before the fireplace got properly dressed up, we enjoyed its warmth in its soapstone-surfaced state for the winter and spring.

The moment the soapstone-surfaced fireplace and chimney were in place, we were already emotional to the point of tears. It felt so wonderful to have taken our first big step towards more complete decor. We had a happy toast to the first fire in the fireplace, and a lovely, cosy, and warm atmosphere spread through the house!

This is where the existence of the baking oven turned out to be invaluable. We’d certainly use it plenty in the future, but with the construction in this state, I couldn’t even dream of anything more wonderful than food basically preparing itself whilst the flames burned in the fireplace. Of course, the baking oven heats up when there is a fire in the fireplace. At this point, we didn’t have any proper cooking facilities save for the outdoor grill, and the idea of outdoor cooking in the chilly October air wasn’t particularly appealing. So, full of enthusiasm, we put the ingredients for Jansson’s temptation into a tin, put that in the oven, and went to the beach sauna. When we came back to the house, we were swiftly greeted by the delicious scent of warm food. Now that’s what I call luxury! I will remember this moment forever as one of the highlights of the construction project.

The Golden Fire grate in NunnaUuni fireplaces has adhered to the 2022 EcoDesign emission limits for the entire 2000s. Clean burning conserves not only the environment, but firewood as well.

For the first winter and spring, we kept the fireplace’s soapstone surface, but once the surface material installation of the decor was done, late summer was finally when the moment came for the fireplace to be dressed in its formal wear. That’s when the beautiful large tiles were installed on the surface of the fireplace, and visually it was a perfect match for our decor!

The finished fireplace is like a work of art. We are more than satisfied with the end result. Wonderful warmth-creating features, fire burning cleanly on the Golden Fire grate, and an absolutely stunning visual in one package!

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