antique English chimney pots
Photo: Kenneth Chen
Chimney pots, like these antique English ones at Recycling the Past in Barnegat, New Jersey, range in height from about 2 to 4 feet. Prices start at $250 for an intact pot that can be reinstalled on a chimney. Cracked ones can be used for decorative purposes, indoors or in the yard.
A chimney cap—I understand that. But a chimney pot, well, that sounds like some sort of medieval cauldron for boiling the squirrels that try to sneak down your stack. Don't get me wrong; I love those twitchy-tailed critters. It's just that the name "chimney pot" does little to explain what the device actually does or how it looks.

Shaped more like a rook in a chess set with a tapered body and a vented, crownlike top, chimney pots have protruded from European rooftops for centuries. You might recall that Mary Poppins—held aloft by her umbrella—famously glided among London's antique pots. In America, they were mainly used from the late 1800s to the early 1900s when people burned coal to heat their homes. Mortared to the top of a masonry chimney, the terra-cotta pots were an inexpensive way to extend the stack height and increase draw, reducing the amount of soot and fumes that entered into living spaces, says Ola Lessard of Chimneypot.com, a shop near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, that sells vintage and new pots.

Chimney pots were also used to accentuate the architecture of houses. Nearly every design in Andrew Jackson Downing's influential 1850 pattern book, The Architecture of Country Houses, is crowned by at least one. Piercing the apex of the front gabled roof of his "laborer's cottage," a chimney pot makes the modest place look almost regal. And perched high above either side of the entry to an ornate Gothic Revival villa, two pairs of towering pots add symmetry to the facade.

Today, you can put a smile on the face of old Mr. Downing by replacing the ugly metal cap shaped like an upside-down pie plate that's currently sticking out of your chimney with a stylish, salvaged pot. If you don't have a chimney, then repurpose a pot inside as a base for a rustic dining table, or fashion it into a planter for the garden.
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