SAVANNAH Georgia — When history meets hospitality, Georgia entrepreneurs prosper. Just ask Jennifer Salandi in Savannah and Mary Craven in Washington. One runs a luxury bed-and-breakfast inn (that’s Jennifer) and one runs a small company that hand-assembles gas-powered fireplace grates (that being Mary).
Jennifer discovered Grate Fires, Mary’s company, when she went looking for a way to outfit the rooms at the Ballastone Inn (circa 1838) with authentic-looking working fireplaces. Natural gas was clearly the fuel of choice, but Jennifer – a stickler for detail – wanted her fireplaces to look both great and authentic.
The innkeeper believes in buying local, so she was delighted to discover the first American company to make gas-powered coal grates for fireplaces was right here in Georgia, in the historic town of Washington, midway between Athens and Augusta.
“When people stay at the Ballastone, they expect to enjoy luxury and comfort in an historic setting. A working fireplace dramatically ups the romance in a room, and I was determined to offer that to my guests,” Jennifer said.
The Ballastone has more working fireplaces than any inn/hotel in Savannah, the owner pointed out. They’re even available in the courtyard level rooms, which are some of the best priced for guests. Most lodgings reserve this favorite amenity for their most expensive rooms only.
The mansion that is now the Ballastone Inn probably was heated in its earliest decades with wood burned in the fireplaces, Jennifer acknowledges. But as the 1800s neared their end, coal became a popular fuel, and many homes would have retrofit their fireplaces to take advantage of it, she said.
In other words, when guests use the remote control to trigger their fireplace and the gas flames warm the sculpted “coal” into a toasty glow, it closely mirrors what might have actually been going on in that fireplace over 100 years ago. Minus the backbreaking labor of hauling coal scuttles, of course.
Mary and her husband, the late Gary Craven, were inspired to start their company by their experiences on a vacation to England during the early 1990s. They noticed that cities and towns were busily cleaning soot and dust from historic building facades. Yet, when they went into hotel lobbies and pubs, the Cravens noticed what they took for coal fires and they wondered why these were still allowed as the area cleaned up soot stains. On closer inspection of such a fire in the Crescent area of Bath, they learned they had been fooled by the ultra-realistic gas-powered coal grates the businesses were equipped with.
“We had just bought an old house in Athens, and it had something like eight fireplaces in it,” Mary said. “We decided we wanted the coal grates there, but we discovered nobody in the U.S. had them.”
The couple imported some of the grates from British sources, but soon learned the devices didn’t meet the more stringent safety requirements in place in the United States and Canada.
Figuring there might be a market for a product they themselves wanted, the Cravens launched Grate Fires. Working with cast-iron replicas of antique fireplace grates, the company assembles the intricate burners and other components that add up to a realistic “coal” fire. All of their devices meet the stringent CSA certification standards required in the U.S. and Canada. (CSA is the natural gas industry safety standard, the equivalent of a UL listing for electrical appliances.)
“We were the first company to introduce the gas coal fire to the United States and Canada,” Mary says with pride. “Others have copied us, but we were the first.”
“Bed and breakfasts, inns and hotels are big customers,” she noted. Nor is the business all one-way. She sells grates to the Ballastone, for instance, and periodically a guest who loved the effect gets in touch to buy one for his own home.
Grate Fires sells its products all over the United States and Canada. But perhaps they are nowhere more perfectly displayed than in Savannah’s Ballastone Inn. The stately mansion features them in the elegant common rooms on its parlor floor, as well as in most rooms throughout the four-story inn.
The fires are reflected from polished wood of beautiful furniture, the antique bar and the pieces of Jennifer’s silver collection that are in use throughout the parlor, bar and reception areas. While Savannah’s climate is semi-tropical, the area does have a brief winter that makes the fires a cozy place to warm your hands, even on chilly spring mornings or crisp fall evenings. Most days, of course, they are admired for the looks more than for their practicality.
You can see Grate Fires’ products at work in the Ballastone at www.ballastone.com, where you will also have the opportunity to view the lavishly appointed rooms and make reservations for your own Savannah sojourn. The full line of Grate Fires products, including its ventless line, can be seen – and ordered – at www.gratefires.com.
About … Ballastone Inn.
The Ballastone Inn pioneered the concept of the elegant bed-and-breakfast in Savannah, Georgia. Housed in an Italianate mansion (circa 1838), this luxury inn holds the AAA Four Diamond Award, and has received awards from the Historic Savannah Foundation and the National Trust. Ballastone is located in the Landmark Savannah Historic District and is owned by Jennifer Salandi. Telephone 912/236-1484.
About … Grate Fires.
Grate Fires was established in1993 in historic Washington, Georgia by Gary and Mary Craven. Unable to import the gas-fired replica fireplace grates they admired in England because of the more stringent safety requirements in the U.S. and Canada, the couple began to produce them in Washington using imported cast iron grates and components hand-assembled in their factory. Telephone Mary Craven, 706/678-5459.
Note: Professional high resolution photos available on request to firstname.lastname@example.org. Download Georgia fireplace story PDF here: Ballastone Inn and Grate Fires – Two Great Georgia Businesses 2012. To download PDF, click on link just above, then immediately under blog psot DATE is a file name to click LEFT to open. (We’ll tell our programmers it’s really obscure.)