Date30 Apr 2020
As the days shorten, one thing I’m thankful for is a small ‘Studio’ fireplace, designed by Peter Haythornthwaite and released for sale way back in 1991. It’s sometimes described as a stove, although when there was a blackout last year I tried to boil a pot of water on it – without success. (It was either wet wood or operator error.)
I recently stumbled across an article in Smithsonian Magazine that described the way that humans, wherever they have gone in the world, have carried two things with them, fire and language. It’s an interesting idea, especially as we move into an age, if we’re not there already, when burning wood for warmth will be a memory of a primitive past. But still, comfort and warmth are great drawcards for a family, and come winter, this is most likely where you’ll find us, hanging out in front of our fireplace, chatting – preferably not in lockdown, but whatever needs must.
I remember interviewing Peter for the catalogue that accompanied the Objectspace exhibition, Design Generation, a year or two ago. I said to him, with a small amount of satisfaction, that I had one of these things. To which he responded, ‘You should have got in touch, I could have arranged a discount’. Nice guy, Peter. Still, it was worth every cent. It’s robust, heavy and massively efficient. Everything you want in a fire. As I just reread in New Zealand by Design, Peter self-initiated the Studio fire project after the 1987 share market crash to keep his staff working. It was time well spent. I guess we can expect to see a few more self-initiated projects popping up over the next few months, which will be good and bad – in the sense that self-driven projects can take ideas further than client-driven projects, but don’t always help pay the rent.
While I’m not really planning to be in the market for a fire again, if I were, I might opt for the ‘Ooh-Ah’ version, which has two air inlet dials rather than one. They look like ‘eyes’ above the round window, which creates a surprised expression. It’s a stove-sized emoji, super quirky, but with a kind of playful post-modern personality, which I find appealing.
Michael Barrett is a writer at Alt Group. He has written about design and architecture for several years and was, until last year, a communications consultant at Te Kāhui Whaihanga The New Zealand Institute of Architects.