10th Annual Design Competition…more about our Grand Prize Winner

May 07 | By Spark Modern Fires

Spark Modern Fires would like to congratulate John A. Chipman, AIA the Grand Prize Winner of our 10th Annual Design Competition.

Chipman Design Architecture used a Fire Ribbon Vent Free Vu Thru to create the magnificent focal point in his winning entry a Modernist Woodland Retreat, located in Harbert, Michigan.  Here is their SPARK STORY:

An extraordinary wooded site
Attending an out-of-town wedding in a quiet Michigan lakefront town nearly three years ago, we discovered dramatic wooded acreage and purchased it on a whim. Our breaths were taken away by its siting across a sculpted dune, the dramatic landscape featuring stately 100-year oaks punctuated by smooth, leaning beech trees. As an architect and writer working together for 40 years, this tranquil setting initiated a surprising, unplanned discussion, and we decided to sell our highrise city property and permanently transition to woodland living.

From the beginning, we recognized the need to address the dune’s significant slope from the road entrance back toward the woods. Seamless transitions between indoor and outdoor space would be paramount as was careful specification of glass systems, determined to create the largest spans of continuous glass possible. Our main-level plan sought compelling open interior space; simultaneously, that openness would also need to imbue a sense of calm and contemplative well-being in a woodland theatre of deer, fox and wild turkey.

Hand-sketched spatial studies during early concept stages sought inspiring openness, seeking materials and finishes that were pure, honest and organic. Interior spaces began determining the new home’s physical siting, plays of volume and dramatic views, assuring rapport between the landscape’s natural beauty and our vision as architect/homeowners. Addressing the dune’s slope, the ground-level front entrance transitioned across wide-planked floors through the main level where expansive rear glass sits treehouse-suspended ten-feet above the sweeping dune. Here, we recognized at once, was the moment for a dramatic fireplace to live as the focal point of open living space, flowing into the glass-surrounded library, blurring the lines of indoor-outdoor experience.



Discovering Spark!
Just after purchasing this property, we were working at our West Coast office in 2016 and decided to attend the Dwell on Design show held that year in DTLA. Developing concepts for our new residence were rapidly unfolding, and the Dwell event represented perfect timing. When we came upon the Spark Modern Fires display at the show, it literally stopped us in our tracks. Recognizing Spark from early research online, we were thrilled to discover that the craftsmanship, engineering and creative options were everything we had anticipated. The Fire Ribbon Vent Free 4ft Vu Thru matched not only the modernity of our vision for featured living space, but would act as a window through the space, framing the woods just beyond. Even more importantly, it eliminated the need for a vent pipe that would have literally sliced across glass walls and voluminous open space.

By the time the Spark firebox arrived onsite, materials and finishes for both the exterior and the interiors had created a palette of organic textures and natural, earthen hues. The fireplace surround would be visually significant from a guest’s initial view at the front ground-level entry as well as from the rear exterior elevation where it would sit centered just inside the large glass panels.

Exterior materials had already initiated a quiet blending with the woods, from 100-year-old reclaimed Chicago common brick to an entrance wall of custom, raw Corten-steel panels. Once we stood and absorbed the interior space, it became obvious all at once that a Corten-steel surround would engage the interior and exterior in connected conversation.

We were already working with a local steel fabricator who had just installed our custom-designed railings and floating stairs. He met us on-site and we discussed possibilities for creating this unique custom Corten-steel surround that would float monolithic in the space. We ultimately determined that we would raise the box several inches from the floor, further enhancing its floating quality, and went on to design a puzzle of sorts from a series of bent raw Corten-steel panels that would literally snap into place. The intricacy of those dimensions was a feat that this artisan-installer believed he could achieve.

The nature of aging a raw material that would be completely exposed in an interior setting proved to be the next adventurous step. Once the Corten pieces had been formed, they were set in the outside yard of our fabricator’s steel shop through three months of Michigan’s late summer and early autumn weather, spraying the panels on sunny days to further accelerate the rusting process. After numerous progress-visits to his workshop, the day arrived when we immediately realized the raw hue was perfect. We had already been researching sealants for the Corten-steel to avoid flaking typical to exposed exterior installs. Ultimately, we discovered a satin-clear sealer used in automotive exhaust systems as well as by the aerospace industry in jet engines, heat-resistant to 2,000-degrees F. Several smaller Corten-steel samples, simultaneously aged along with the large fireplace-surround pieces, were tested with the sealant until we achieved the final patina.

This past autumn on a day chilled with approaching snow, the fabricator and his two sons delivered the entire fireplace surround, elegantly blanket-wrapped in the back of their pickup truck. Within an hour, our Spark fireplace stood sentry to the woods beyond, and artful placement of the Beachstones rooted our Corten sculpture to the sinuous stone walkways throughout the property. A click of the sleek remote ignited the fire ribbon, launching the interior space with its glow.

We were finally home. 



Architect: John A. Chipman, AIA / Chipman Design Architecture


Interior Designers: Julie Babcock, Bree Burkett / Chipman Design Architecture


Steel Fabricator: Fab-N-Weld Inc.

Photo: Ballogg Photo





Colleen Gove Healey


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