The Fireplace

There's a fireplace in my house.  A wood burning fireplace.  It's not particularly grand.   It sits toward the corner of the living room.  An important piece to the feel of the room, but not exactly the focal point.

I use it often in the winter – at night while we hang out in the living room on a cold night, or in the afternoon while I sit and read a book.

At our last house, there was a gas fireplace.  You flipped a switch and you had fire.

It was easy to use.  It was reliable.  It was more effective at heating the room – utilizing a built-in blower to push warm air out into the room. It was safer.  No sparks or flaming embers could hop out of the flames and onto the carpet, as it was completely enclosed. It was cleaner too.  There was no possibility of getting soot from a fire poker on the carpet, or my pants.  There was no ash to carelessly knock out.

The gas fireplace was a better product by every measure.

And yet, we rarely used it.

A gas fire burns the same way every time.  It never changes.  Its reliability – in theory a great advantage – was the thing it got the most wrong. 

Apparently I don't want a fireplace as a way to heat a room.  The furnace heats the house just fine.  It seems I also don't want a fireplace to set the ambiance of a room – thoughtful lighting and interior design can do a fine job of that.

The value of the wood burning fireplace is in all the things that it gets wrong as a useful household appliance.  It is the opposite of sterile, reliable, or predictable.  I watch logs smoke, light, burn, and turn to ash in ways that I didn't precisely plan out, that may require my attention or intervention.  It revels in change, in ephemerality.  And I enjoy that.

The utility we find in products, experiences, relationships is often completely unrelated to what is advertised or assumed.  It's easy to assume then, at a glance, that there is no utility.

2 thoughts on “The Fireplace

  1. I totally agree with you about how the unpredictability of a real fireplace is much preferable to the consistency of a gas fireplace. Still, I am hoping that if we install a gas fireplace, it will get more use than the firepit we made outside because it will be easier to use…. We recently booked a hotel room in part because it had a fireplace. It turned out it emitted light but no heat! Can’t get much crappier than that.

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