Interior Decorating Information

Go Vintage When Decorating Your Hearth

With the weather cooling, it's time to put on the fireplace. Curling up near a cozy fire is a wonderful winter pastime but you'll need the right tools to tend your fire. Vintage fireplace accessories can add just the right atmosphere to your décor. Here's what you'll need to keep your fire aglow.

Fireplace Tool Sets.

In the 18th and early 19th centuries when a fire was the only source of heating a home, a large fireplace was essential. You may notice that vintage fireplace tool sets can be larger in scale than modern sets. The reason is simple - larger fires required large tools to maintain it. Tool sets for the fire - a shovel, poker, brush and pair of tongs were usually made of brass, bronze or wrought iron. Bronze tools are more valuable than brass or wrought iron. Look for fireplace tool sets to match the décor of your home. Ornate Victorian tools suit more traditional homes. More modern decor lends itself to the simple linear tools reminiscent of the Arts and Crafts period.

Andirons or Fire-dogs.

Andirons are iron supports used to rest burning logs in the fireplace. They were utilitarian and not particularly decorative. However, in the 18th century the French fancied up their andirons with ornate figures such as dogs, lions, fish, mythological creatures or people. These were dubbed fire-dogs. Today, the terms andirons and firedogs are used interchangeably. Now, we hold the burning logs in cast-iron grates. You'll still see andirons in antique shops. Use them to add a striking panache to your hearth.


A fender is three-sided rectangular shaped metal piece that keeps sparks from jumping onto carpets and flooring. They could be very ornamental at times.

Decorative Screens.

There were several styles and purposes for screens - to combat draughts or shield from heat. Some were used to hide the fireplace in summer months. These were called cheval screens. They could be decorative and were made from mahogany, rosewood or satinwood with needlepoint, tapestry or embroidery details. Some were made with unwanted fabric or leather. A pole screen was used when the fire was lit. It was small, light and portable with an adjustable panel that could be square, oval or shield-shaped. It was used to protect the face when you were near the fire - either sitting to be warmed or stoking the fire. Pole and cheval screens are hard to find these days because as central heating became available, screens were often discarded. If you do a cheval screen, you can still use it to hide the fireplace during the warmer months. Mesh screens came along later and served the same purpose as fenders. They held the popping embers in. Look for older mesh screens. They'll have two small rectangular notches at the base that were to allow for the andirons.


A matching set consisting of a fireplace tool set, fender and andirons is more valuable than a mismatched set. It's hard to find a complete fireplace set because over the years the sets were often broken up. If you have one, hang on to it.

Good News.

There are lots of vintage fireplace tools out there. Since they were made of brass, bronze or wrought iron, many have survived over the years. You'll often find vintage fireplace tool sets more affordable than new sets. Plus, vintage sets will have that great patina that newer sets cannot duplicate.

Martin Swinton owns Take-A-Boo Emporium located in Toronto, Canada. He has appeared on a variety of television programs; does furniture restoration; caning and rushing repairs; appraisals and has taught courses on antiques at the Learning Annex. Martin can be reached at

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