What is a Kiva Fireplace?

Kiva fireplace in the Adobe Oasis master bedroom (Photo: Peter Ogilvie)

Kiva fireplace in the Adobe Oasis master bedroom (Photo: Peter Ogilvie)

What is a kiva fireplace (aka “beehive fireplace”, “pueblo fireplace”, etc.) and why is it unique?

In my twenties I found something exotic and slightly intoxicating about all of the differences I encountered when I moved to Santa Fe from the Northeast. Adobe everything. Sunlight everyday. Food bliss. Ski bliss. Some of the most unusual, most interesting and most friendly people I’ve ever encountered… And lots of new words!

Vigas, Bancos, Nichos and Kiva Fireplaces

Living in Santa Fe, Spanish is part of every day life. (And Spanglish. Check out the entertaining “Growing Up Spanglish” series for a look at the incredibly common New Mexican mixing of English and Spanish.) But not just Spanish. For the first time in my life I began hearing native languages like Navajo being used on a regular basis. While that was exotic in and of itself, it was cross-language vocabulary borrowing that most fascinated me most. Mañana, arroyo, banco, chile, lunchear, vigas, penitentes, parquear, nicho, pueblo,..

One of the new words I discovered was kiva.

  • Origin The word kiva originally referred to a round underground meeting place used for religious rituals, spiritual ceremonies and other gatherings by male Pueblo Indians of the southwest… Kiva fireplaces trace their long history back to the 8th century. Kiva fireplaces were first used in the underground sacred chambers… These characteristically Southwestern home fixtures have evolved from simple holes in the ground to full-featured fireplaces, often known as “beehive fireplaces” due to their distinctive shape. (adapted/paraphrased from eHow)
  • Features The characteristic broad base of a kiva fireplace allows more heat to radiate around the bottom, making it more energy efficient. The narrow top allows fumes to exit out the upper flume opening. Conventional features of the kiva fireplace include nichos and bancos. A nicho is a recessed shelf cut out of an adobe wall. Small art objects, pictures or other decorative items can be displayed here. A banco is a bench built on one or both sides of the kiva fireplace. (eHow)

So there you have it. The kiva fireplace has become a signature design element in southwestern architecture. And while the iterations are diverse, form the most organic, flowing adobe mounds to the most geometric, modern reinterpretations, it quickly becomes easy to identify a kiva fireplace.

Known for its beehive appearance… Originally crafted from adobe, a Spanish term meaning mud bricks… Conventionally placed in the corner, a kiva’s adobe walls radiate heat and provide cozy warmth to a room. (eHow)

You can see in the photograph above of the master bedroom at Adobe Oasis that the corner situated kiva fireplace is clean and minimalist, offering a contemporary twist on the timeless tradition. A small, curved banco serves as hearth, and a smaller similarly curved shelf or “mantel” provides storage space while aeshteicially balancing the banco. This stepped design vernacular reappears throughout pueblo-inspired architecture.

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