Put the room's centerpiece in the center of the room
Shopping for a new stove or fireplace can be very confusing – with options like fireplace inserts, zero clearance fireplaces, a variety of fireplace fuel costs, difference sizes, and myriad finishing options for different models, the choices can be almost overwhelming. Added to that is the fact that the lines between some terms can be unclear or blurry. Freestanding fireplaces for instance, have much in common with stoves – the main difference is simply in style or presentation. While a stove tends to be made mostly of metal and may or may not have a viewing glass, a fireplace tends to be made with hardened glass covering as much of its surface as possible so as to allow viewing of the flame from whatever angle faces the room. In the case of a free-standing fireplace, all angles face the room, so these units tend to have glass on all sides, allowing a look at the dancing flames from wherever you happen to be standing.
In some cases, a freestanding fireplace, as described by the manufacturer, is actually more of a stove than a fireplace, with a pipe fitting at the back of the unit for a chimney (rather than the top, as most fireplaces are designed) and cast-iron or plate steel obscuring two or more sides. This is one of the situations where the particular terminology is less important than your individual feelings about the device. If you decide that you want a freestanding fireplace, you might find a wood or gas stove that suits your needs. If you're looking for a stove, you might find a freestanding fireplace that heats better, more efficiently, and more stylishly than the iron behemoths which you would otherwise have to drop in the center of your room.
Freestanding fireplaces offer more flexibility than fireplace inserts or other heating systems based on a wall emplacement, because they allow you to see the fireplace from more angles, and potentially from several rooms. Because of this, gas models tend to be popular in bars and restaurants. Since many freestanding fireplaces permit viewing clear through the fire and out the other side, they offer views that cannot be had with a traditional fireplace or fireplace insert, and impart an air of sophistication and modernity to the room in which they are placed.
The downside to a freestanding fireplace is its price. Although a handful of models are available in the low-to-mid $1,500 range (before taxes or installation) most of these units are meant to be designer choices, and their price tags are positioned accordingly, ranging from $2,000 up to as much as $10,000 for some of the more striking and stylish units.
The bottom line is that a freestanding fireplace offers equal parts form and function, with a price tag to match. If your only goal is an effective and efficient supplementary heating system for your home, a fireplace insert might be a better option – but the style and ambience of a freestanding fireplace cannot be beat, particularly if you have plenty of space.