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Though many elements factor into the making of a successful fireplace, one of the most important is the design of the surround. The challenge is to marry the appropriate surround to the fireplace's context. There are essentially two types of surrounds: the hole-in-the-wall treatment and the focal treatment. Each suits a different set of conditions as defined by the room's use and mood. The hole-in-the-wall surround suits a fireplace that is one element among many within a multifaceted wall. It works best as part of an active, multifunctional space. The focal surround befits a fireplace that is a central feature in a quiet, more static room.

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Katie Hutchisonis an architect and owner of Earthlight Design in Salem, Mass.