Dream of wasted space
Here’s something I came across recently, from a stove and fireplace retailer.
It’d be silly to harp too much on what I think are poor ideas represented here, but I’m interested in what about this showroom setup appeals to people — as the comments that accompany it where I saw it (if nothing else) demonstrate it does. Not many ordinary folks out there, surely, are actually going to be enticed to give up a big chunk of their cabinet & counter real estate to a compact gas fireplace. A lot of folks would love to have the excess of space that would let them put a gratuitous fireplace in an unexpected spot in the house, especially a spot with high social significance, on the other hand. Why, though? (And why a fireplace you turn on with a switch on the wall by the toaster oven?)
Naturally there are a variety of answers, and none is going to be true of everyone attracted to this image. To many, for instance, pure novelty is bound to be an element in the initial attraction. But fireplaces and kitchen fires call up for us something considerably more rooted and substantial than mere delight in the novel — something associated with family intimacy, among other emotionally weighted ideas, and belonging to a bygone, generally harder way of life than we know or mostly care to know now. Of course there are those who really relish the thought of that bygone life; and they don’t go in for gas fireplaces. They’re after authenticity and the hard-won habits for sustaining life that most of us are content to leave to characters in period movies on PBS. But a lot of us like to have a pleasurable, atmospheric piece of that bygone-ness, if we can afford it, and are not all that picky about how it gets incorporated in our houses and patterns of living.
What’s odd and problematic, I think, is our tendency to muddle our impulse toward traditional life and our impulse toward a typically American, accumulative affluence. It’s all too easy for us, somehow, to move from the wish for cozier, more familial home life to the wish for a bigger room, a bigger place — where warmer wood tones and darker walls won’t feel confining and we have space to give up to an extra fireplace. There’s a good chance, however, that the more sensible way to pursue that dream of the richer home life is to make better use of the space we already have, to remove rather than add stuff (especially stuff like gas fireplaces, which have mainly a sort of symbolic, not actual, connection to the hearth-fires of a vaguely remembered past), and in general to let the reality of our habits and the costs of living the way we do ‘come home’ to us and clarify what our houses should be to serve the life we genuinely want.