Electric fires have come a long way since my 1970s childhood, when our “hearth” consisted of a moulded grey impression of a pile of coals, underlit by two temperamental red bulbs, crudely animated by a whirling disc. Even as a six-year-old, I knew it was rubbish. Fast forward to 2015, and I’ve having a “here be dragons” moment watching a demonstration of the Opti-myst 1000 cassette, the latest in realistic electric fire technology. It’s a freestanding strip of what appears to be burning logs, but isn’t. LED lights provide the glow, water vapour rises up like smoke, and the sound of crackling wood is piped in by little speakers. You can fiddle around with the settings using a remote control.
This is the latest effort to entrance customers looking for the most realistic living flame effect possible, without the messy business of actually burning anything solid. Woodburning stoves are gaining popularity as gas and electric prices creep up, however many of us have no chimney or flue but still want that calming focal point to gaze into of an evening. In this situation, the options are electric, flueless gas fires, or eco-friendly bioethanol [see box].
Aesthetically, all three types fall broadly into two camps: traditional style and clean contemporary lines – the former creating good vibes of country kitchens and the latter veering off into super-slick, MTV cribs territory. Some of them look like giant TVs, offering an alternative unifying altar in households where screen use has fragmented across the generations. You can choose your ‘‘fuel bed’’ to resemble anything from coals to glowing logs to grey pebbles, or just a pure flame hovering in thin air.
Fires, generally, used to live in fireplaces, but generation rent is less inclined to invest so much in permanent surrounds that become part of the house. This is driving a trend towards movable stoves and freestanding fires that can be placed wherever you want – and come with you when you move house. So, as well as fires in recesses, you can find wall-mounted fires that hang like pieces of art or sit on pedestals and in various 3D structures. These function like burning sculptures, adding drama and warmth to the room. But the idea and illusion of warmth is as important as the heat kicked out by many modern fires. In a centrally-heated world, it has become a plus point for some electric fires to have an on/off switch for the heat, making them more of a focal point, or even a meditation device.
The question is, how fake will you go? Fans of the living flame will say there is no substitute for the real thing, and go for gas or biofuel. If you just want to look at something that evokes a fire, you can get a wall-hung LCD display that gives you the option of five fiery scenes, with rustic sound effects from burning logs to twittering birds (Focal Point Evoke, available at B&Q).
Hey, if it works for you…
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