Q: I love our gas fireplace, but it has a big brick hearth that sticks out into our family room like a bench and is situated in the middle of a built-in bookcase. Whenever I walk by, I hit my shin on the corner or I stub my toe. Is it possible to get rid of the hearth or move the fireplace? - J.L.
A: Whether in or out of use, a fireplace is one of the best focal points of a room, indoors or out. And gas fireplaces add a warm, inviting atmosphere without the hassle of burning wood.
Whether your fireplace or hearth can be moved depends on a lot of factors, including your budget, local building codes, and how your house was built. Did the fireplace start out as a wood-burner? They require a lot of structure and brick to support the firebox and chimney. If that's not the case, your hearth may be easier to change. Ask a licensed contractor if you're not sure.
The simplest hearth is a row of tile or stone slab at the floor level. Raised hearths, like you have, bring the fireplace itself higher on the wall to create a stronger design statement. The idea with a hearth is to protect flammable finishes and flooring like carpet or wood from catching fire if a spark jumps out of the fireplace. A gas insert can still get hot, although it likely won't have sparks flying out.
If you can't lower the hearth, you might be able to change its shape. If you make the hearth bigger by extending it to the width of your bookcase, you may hit your shins less frequently - and your entire wall will look more dramatic. You could also soften the corners with a stepped-back or curved design.
Let me know what option ends up working for you, and send in a photo.
Jennifer Adams is a designer, author, and TV personality.