Mid Mod freestanding fireplaces are iconic. Their bright hues are not nearly as eye catching as their funky shapes—conical, circular, floating and more—they are a symbol of innovative design. The name most commonly associated with these retro beauties is Malm Fireplaces, Inc. In 1960, they began producing freestanding wood-burning fireplaces, as well as gas appliances, and they haven’t stopped since. However, in the world of funky fireplaces, the Malm fireplace isn’t the only name that should come to mind.
Donna Gunther, the design consultant, co-owner and founder of Surfing Cowboys—a lifestyle and design company in Los Angeles that has an enviable collection of fireplaces, Hawaiiana, retro surf collectables and other midcentury treasures—says that the credit of the iconic silhouette and the first created mid mod fireplace belongs to Wendell Lovett.
“His black metal fireplace merged the wrought iron stove traditionally used for heat with the open-hearth fireplace appreciated as a source of decoration, heat, entertainment, and a place for friends and family to gather,” she says.
“The rise of these commercially produced fireplaces during the midcentury era coincided with both the construction of mass produced prefab housing and the heavily marketed design trend of indoor/outdoor living,” Donna explains. “As the enthusiasm for manufactured fireplaces grew, companies introduced color choices to complement the pop art vibrancy and interior décor color trends of the era.”
These colorful finishes are exactly what draws many modern collectors. For those on the hunt for a specific color, Donna suggests holding out for the perfect find rather than refinishing. While repainting is possible with specially formulated high-heat paint, it can be both pricey and difficult.
“The majority of vintage midcentury fireplaces on the market have a baked enamel finish that is not easily repainted or resurfaced,” she says. “When considering the purchase of an enamel-coated fireplace, I usually advise my customers to purchase a color that they are happy with.”
No matter the hue or maker, freestanding mid mod fireplaces are iconic—and if you’re lucky enough to have one, we’ve gathered up some helpful care and keeping tips.
Cleaning A Malm
Straight from the manufacturer, these are the tips you need to read before starting up your first fire.
- Clear the area. Keep a 4-foot clearance around your fireplace—this includes wood, kindling and furniture.
- Check for leaks. With a chimney system that involves multiple parts and connectors, it is important to check for damage, wear and loose connections. Repair immediately.
- Remove creosote. When tar, vapors and moisture combine, creosote is formed—which accumulates in the flue and can subsequently increase the heat of the next fire and risk a chimney fire. Use brushes, call a chimney sweep and add commercial cleaners to the fire to inhibit future buildup.
After Aletha VanderMaas of True Home Restorations found a vintage Malm fireplace on Craigslist, she got to work reviving its long-hidden and colorful past. Prior to purchasing, the seller pointed out orange scratches on the black finish, and she knew something wonderful was waiting underneath what was obviously not the original hue. Aletha stripped away black paint to reveal the fireplace’s original vibrant orange finish.
“I used a generic can of paint thinner on a soft rag and literally just rubbed the thin coat of black paint away,” Aletha says. After just a couple of hours’ work, the black paint had disappeared.
Fortunately for Aletha, she did not have to do anything to restore the condition of the original color underneath. “The orange enamel was directly under the black paint and in amazing condition,” she says.