The Case for a Wood-Burning Fireplace

This story originally appeared on the Gents Cafe Newsletter. You can subscribe here.

When looking for a new home, we all have a list of our “must haves”.  For some, it’s an open-concept living room. For others, a kitchen with lots of counterspace or a location that’s a short walk to public transportation, good schools or hip bars and restaurants.

For me – as odd as it may seem for someone who’s lived in large cities all his life – it’s a wood-burning fireplace.

There are few things in this world that match the all-sensory experience of sitting next to a wood-burning fireplace: the sight of the fire dancing against the contents of a room, bringing everything slightly more alive; the sound of the calming snaps, crackles and pops as the fire settles in, a tacit soundtrack for “cozy”; the feel of a roaring fire warming you more thoroughly, deeply and enjoyably than any furnace, radiator or heater ever could; and – most important of all – the unmistakable and infinitely comforting smell of woodsmoke, filling your space with a depth and richness that permeates every corner and lingers long after the fire has died down.

Sure, a wood-burning fireplace is pretty helpful to survive the long, brutal winters in Chicago where I live (and one of the main reasons I never pine for spring and summer the same way other Chicagoans do as I’m in no hurry to leave “fireplace season”). But even in balmier climates like LA, Barcelona and Sydney, cold fronts come in, the temperature dips, and the monotony of daily life can be enhanced and enlivened to the sublime by a wood-burning fire.

A wood-burning fire can be energy-creating – giving greater life to the people, thoughts or conversations that intersect it – or energy-defusing – helping dissolve the chaos and stress of daily life into the beautiful simplicity of the present.

Coffee and the newspaper go from an everyday ritual to one of magisterial serenity. The tinkling of ice and laugher during cocktail hour with friends is transformed into a melody alongside a wood-burning fire’s staccato rhythm and conversations at a dinner party are made more scintillating with the exclamations and exhortations coming from this most-warming of guests. Even watching a movie with a wood-burning fire becomes more pleasurable, a two-dimensional experience enhanced with real-world tangibility.

And while a non-wood-burning gas fireplace is better than nothing, I always find myself missing the all-encompassing intensity of one that burns wood.

Sitting next to my wood-burning fire now, it’s surprising to think I didn’t live in a home with a wood-burning fireplace for the first two and half decades of my life.  It’s been 11 years with one since and it’s safe to say that’s a streak that will continue for the rest of my life.

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