Changing Perception of the Fireplace. Part 1: 1983 – 1995

In 1983, the design and fireplace industries were heading in opposite directions. Designers and architects were increasingly determined to put traditionalism behind them and create contemporary spaces of simplicity shorn of unnecessary adornment. The fireplace industry, on the other hand, could not help looking backwards, promoting products that hardly changed over decades: Victorian style fire surrounds, free-standing or built in cast iron grates and even fire guards and tenders for gas-fuelled fires! The introduction of gas as the primary fuel form made little or no change to this entrenched position.

Geolog Fire

At the same time, contemporary stylists were doing what they could to banish fireplaces altogether from their interiors, whether residential or commercial. The TV had long taken over as the central focal point of the living space. Where chimney breasts remained, the empty apertures were either bricked up or filled with decorative dried flower displays or the like. For decades these forlorn spaces with their negative solutions were paraded triumphantly on the front pages of home interior magazines. The world had moved on. Or had it?

As a young, practising architect, an American client in the early 80’s insisted on installing a fireplace in the contemporary interior I had designed for him. Reluctantly, after researching and rejecting everything available on the marketplace as unsuitable. Instead I designed a gridded chrome-finished fire basket. Instead of the ubiquitous fake logs and coals, I created cast geometric shapes based on the Platonic Solids: sphere, cube, tetrahedron, pyramid, cylinder and rectangular prism. This formed an unconventional centrepiece to the flat, which was published in the World of Interiors in October 1984, and created a ripple of interest among contemporary designers. Thus was the Platonic Fireplace Company born, and I began to take orders for what I now termed the Geolog Fire. The fireplace industry ploughed on, oblivious of change. Around this time, the editor of the House and Garden magazine commissioned me to ‘decorate’ a traditional fire grate using Platonic fuel forms. I produced sets of miniature geometrics, called Geocoals, which gave a stunning and original look to the fire grate.

A couple of years later, while musing on alternative fuel forms, while skipping stones into the waves opposite Durdle Dor in Dorset, I had another revelation. Why not use beach pebbles as an alternative fuel form to fake coals? Not only were coals ugly, they looked messy and unappealing. I also experimented with architectural forms, such as standing stones, ionic and Corinthian column fragments, but these were too idiosyncratic to appeal to more than a few isolated clients. The sea pebbles, or as I renamed them, Fire Pebbles, did catch on, with their attractiveness and random qualities.By the end of the 1990’s I had begun to dispense entirely with fire grates, as these no longer served a practical purpose. Out of these experiments came the simple hole-in-the-wall fireplace, raised above the floor to sitting level, and with little elaboration, other than a stone surround. This concept became as ubiquitous as the Geolog Fire in design circles. The fireplace was being restored successfully to its original role as the centrepiece of the contemporary domestic interior. Of course, this did not apply to the rest of the country, where traditional fireplace styles continued, oblivious to the experimentation in the South-East of England.

Platonic Fireplaces Fire Pebbles
Fire Pebbles
Platonic Fireplaces Shelf Fire
Shelf Fire

But with the 1990-93 recession, which affected the fireplace industry throughout the country, interest in experimental fireplace ideas disappeared like the dying embers of an untended open fire.

A new magazine focusing on contemporary domestic design, Metropolitan Home, flourished for a few years and helped to disseminate the idea of re-positioning the fireplace at the centre of the modern home, but by the mid 1990’s the magazine had gone into liquidation.

Enquiries for bespoke contemporary fireplaces continued to come in, however, and in 1996, I arrived at the idea of a simple suspended granite shelf featuring a circular burner. On this were deployed a group of Geologs, and the first contemporary gas Shelf Fire was now in existence. This was also featured in World of Interiors.

Innovative ideas can take a long time to filter into the mainstream, but when they do, sometimes they can have a far-reaching effect on an industry, and change perceptions forever. This idea was one example. Unbeknown to me, this idea was picked up from a small brochure that Platonic produced in the early ‘90’s. A hitherto unsuccessful manufacturer adapted the idea to produce a range of fires that sold in great quantities. Ironically, we only found this out when another manufacturer who was being sued for copyright infringement contacted us to help protect them as we had prior art rights. We did so successfully, but it was a bitter lesson in the underhand practices of a cynical industry, and not the last one we learned.