Fireplace season is underway, and I’d be lying if I told you that I don’t love curling up next to a warm cracking fire in my own home. Although I haven’t had a functional fireplace anywhere I’ve lived since the house I grew up in, my memories of it punctuate much of my childhood. I would sit with my back to the glass doors until I couldn’t take it anymore. The dogs would often be panting in the middle of the living room floor long before I’d surrender myself.
I’ve always wanted a functional fireplace as an adult, but it just never came to be in any of my rentals. I now live in the first home I’ve ever owned in Portland, Oregon, and I was excited that it had not only one, but two (!) fireplaces. Enter: the question of functionality. I bought a house with two fireplaces, but can I use them?
The answer is yes and no. The downstairs has a gas fireplace built into it already, and as shoddy and suspicious as that contraption can sometimes seem, it’s already there at the push of a button and I’m not about to say no to that. The upstairs fireplace has literally never been used since this house was built in 1976. To green-light it for use would require an inspection and sweep that would cost me several hundreds of dollars. It’s never been an urgent issue and I have so many things I’d rather spend my “fun” money on (like dozens of trips to thrift stores to furnish this house with hard-earned treasures and guitar pedals).
So what I’ve done with the upstairs fireplace is something design-f0rward New Yorkers taught me to do: I’ve turned it into a candle zone—an intentionally haphazard hearth, if you will. NYC residents often find themselves in apartments that are old and have been zoned and rezoned, built on, over, under, and expanded. This often means that visible fireplaces aren’t cleared for use. However, it was thanks to these city apartments—which looked straight out of magazines—that I learned this trick of using your fireplace (functional or not) for candles instead.
Of course a real fireplace is lovely, and of course it looks lovely, too. But it isn’t always doable or practical and beyond that, a cluster of candles is a glorious (and also cozy!) sight as well. Here are a few good reasons why you should give it a try.
1. No wood necessary
Yes, I know this is part of the charm, but it’s also a pain. If you want a cozy fire-accompanied evening but don’t have firewood around, you’re out of luck with a traditional fireplace. And if you do have the firewood, you have to deal with chopping, splinters, lighting, and so much mess.
2. Candles are soot-free
On the note of the mess: Have you ever stained things with soot? Because it’s a legit problem. I didn’t scrape together all of this spare time, money, and creative brain juice on making this house feel aesthetically pleasing just to get soot on my fresh paint job.
3. Reduced risk of fire
This should go without saying, but fire does have its inherent risks. And while candles are one of the top causes of house fires, candles that live within a fireplace are much safer than candles randomly placed throughout the home. “Placing candles in sturdy holders in a clean fireplace is a safe way to light up your home rather than candles spread throughout the house which can be knocked over or forgotten,” the National Fire Protection Association commented via email.
4. Fewer smoke dangers
Where there’s more fire, there’s more smoke, and smoke is not good for us. Wood smoke contains particles and gases that are bad for our lungs or general indoor air quality. Check out this piece from Cleveland Clinic to learn more.
5. More varied decor options
Finally, let’s talk decor. A candle-laden fireplace gives you the chance to constantly change up your decor if you’d like. Taper, pillar, tea light, and other candle types can complement one another. If you take my approach, you might also integrate vintage candleholders, plates, trays, and maybe some Palo Santo and sage for good measure.