Artists starved in their garrets beside them, they kept cowboys full of piping-hot coffee, warmed countless teachers' posteriors while the pupils froze and made Downstairs bearable while Upstairs luxuriated in front of grand fireplaces; in the Fifties and Sixties we ripped them out but now we're racing to put them back in. Ladies and gentlemen, put your chilly hands together for the return of the stove.
But the Nineties' stove is no grimy pot-boiler, nor does it rely solely on troublesome wood or dirty coal. Solid fuels may be fine for traditionalists, but those who don't want to warm up with axe or coal-shovel in hand may prefer to choose from the increasing number of models that run on gas or oil. Best of all, though, the new stoves are incredibly heat-efficient. Where a conventional fireplace may look nice, it is actually a very bad way to warm up a room. Up to 90 per cent of the heat generated shoots straight up the chimney - nice for the pigeons on the roof, but not much good for you. A cast-iron stove, however, delivers in heat as much as 70 per cent of the energy it consumes. Situated away from the wall, or even in the middle of the room, it continues to give off a rosy glow long after the flames have died down. Placed against a wall or within a fire surround, it can meet all your hot water and central heating requirements.
Yet efficiency alone does not account for the stove's comeback. Where in the Eighties home-owners strove to reproduce period interiors in small Victorian villas, the trend-setters are now the designer loft-set, with their appetite for minimalist decor. Nor are they buying them only for the winter. "We sell stoves all year round, says Mandy Blake, of solid fuel heating specialist John A Opie in Hatfield Peverel, near Chelmsford, Essex. "People like them because they provide a good focal point.
"They are now so popular that people even buy them if they already have central heating. The multi-fuel models are very popular at the moment because you can burn wood and oil at the same time. The gas ones are liked because you can set them up easily by using the house's existing gas supply." If you've decided that there is a place in your life for a stove, there are two options. First, you could buy second-hand. In the past few years, architectural salvage yards and auction houses have begun to sell old stoves. Cleaned, scrubbed, checked for cracks in the iron and, ideally, tested for safety by a solid fuel installation expert, they usually sell for between pounds 50 and pounds 300. Among the finest examples are the fin-de-siecle pieces imported from France. Gloriously decadent in dark blue or green enamel, and decorated with art nouveau motifs, they instantly turn a room into a Montmartre artist's studio circa 1900.
Of course, you can always buy new. The range available has expanded dramatically in recent years, and now includes styles from Victorian and Edwardian through to the stark, functional black-and-chrome designer look. Prices start from around pounds 450.
Additional reporting by Ian Mobe.
Safety first. A non-combustible hearth is essential. This can be the old, tiled base of an existing fireplace. If you want to install a stove away from the wall, a base of stone, concrete or solid brick will have to be constructed.
WHERE THE SMOKE GOES
If possible. an existing chimney is ideal. However, if it is over 20 years old it may require the installation of a stainless steel liner to prevent any smoke leakage. This can be very expensive - liners cost around pounds 40 a metre so just imagine the bill if you're in the basement flat of a five-storey building! If the stove is to sit in, say, the middle of the floor, a steel chimney-pipe can be installed to take the smoke out through the wall and up to the highest point of the building and away. Again, this is not cheap. Expect to pay between pounds 1,000 and pounds 1,500. The good news is that these "internal chimneys" are removable - something that might help if you have to apply to your local authority for planning permission.
HOW MUCH IT COSTS
For a straight-forward installation, with no additional work, the cost is pounds 150-pounds 200. However, it is a lucky person who happens to have both a young chimney and a section of stone floor going spare.
WHAT CAN I BURN?
Many city areas now have smokeless zones, and gas or oil-driven systems may be the only option. However, a new generation of clean-burn stoves are beginning to appear. Developed for use in the US and Scandinavia, they can burn wood with virtually no emissions. Add approximately pounds 150 to the cost of your stove. Remember, wood only smokes if it is wet.
The National Fireplace Association can point you in the direction of a local installer. For enquiries 0121 200 1310. The association also publishes a useful information leaflet, price pounds 2, available from: The NFA, 6th floor, The McLaren Building, 35 Dale End, Birmingham B4 7LN.Reuse content