A house is not a home unless it contains food and fire for the mind as well as the body.” Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)
A pleasure of the lockdown in Vancouver this winter is turning on our gas fireplace. Although we didn’t list a fireplace as an essential when buying our homes here or in Scottsdale, we should have. It’s a prized inclusion. There’s something entirely ‘warm’ about heating a place in a kinda old fashioned way. As good luck has it, both our homes feature one.
In addition to heat, a fireplace turns an ordinary room or space into an inviting oasis. As we gaze at the flames of a fire, their hypnotic effect empties our minds a little. Stresses or upsets of the day lighten, and a sense of repose settles upon us. Some studies show fires even help lower our blood pressure.
While wood-burning and gas hearths are popular, an electric fireplace, which doesn’t require a chimney, can also be installed. The electric fire was invented in 1912 as a set prop in theatres (a good question for Trivial Pursuit perhaps?). However, it was expensive and didn’t look realistic. Architects began experimenting with the concept in the 1950s as “part of an active endeavour to show the brilliance and individuality of America and the ‘Free World’ in the Cold War.” In 1981 electrical ‘flame effects’ came to be, and in 1995 Dimplex patented an electric fireplace that closely resembles a wood-burning one. These units now appear in homes to reproduce the benefits of fires.
Outdoor fires (though not raging wild ones) also evoke favourable feelings. Since giving up camping, I miss most of all the wood fires: the flames, the crackle, the roasted marshmallows (guilty), and the camaraderie of family and friends by the blaze. To replicate this ritual, some people add outdoor hearths or fire pits to their yards — to host parties even with snow on the ground. Such additions are proving useful during the pandemic where/when restrictions allow for small, physically distanced gatherings.
For example, Calgary’s 33 fire pits in public parks attracted such high demand the city is adding another 70 for individuals to reserve. “Getting people outside is the best medicine right now, from a mental health perspective,” says the city’s acting manager of arts and culture.
Inside the flames and warmth of our fireplace subdue my gloomy thoughts of COVID and put frisky Flair to sleep. That calms my mind and body too. •
P.S. Most conversations about fires (even raging wild ones) mention the environment. I won’t address this burning issue. But suffice to say we can enjoy hearths and pits in reasonably friendly, efficient ways.
P.P.S. Benjamin Franklin invented a safe, albeit somewhat flawed, indoor wood stove in 1742. He did not patent the Franklin Stove as he wanted other inventors to improve on his work. Which they’ve done.