Sunday 18 November 2007

The focal point to it all

The kitchen is just the start of it. The contemporary versus traditional debate has reared its head in other rooms as well. My boyfriend has become a dedicated fire-place spotter. This is his latest in a long line of instant obsessions thanks to our recent forays into the world of home décor. The lifestyle section of the Sunday newspaper magazine he used to whip over smartly, but now he lingers and admires a mantle here, a fireback there… It is a change from interest rates and sporting highlights for him and perhaps he’s secretly wondering if he has turned into a metrosexual. I assure him he is not because I can’t face all this decorating on my own; I have to keep his interest in it above the bottom line.

In the decorating books I have recently borrowed from the library there is a concept I have had to embrace whole heartedly and that is ‘the focal point’. A focal point is the most important feature in the room – the one that immediately attracts the eye when you walk in. Traditionally it is the fireplace, but in reality it is more often the TV. This has set up a bit of a battle in the décor world. Which one should reign supreme?

The purists would get rid of the TV or somehow disguise it. The tech heads say embrace modernity and build a temple to entertainment because that is what you want to do (you know you do!) The writers of design books say hey – do both, put the TV above the fireplace! Bingo! The paranoids say, but what about the fire danger? Will the TV overheat? It is a real battle ground.
The weirdest part of it is that no one here needs a fire these days because everyone has central heating. So we are left with these redundant fireplaces which we have to build our lounge room lives around because it is the ‘focal point’. This is a romantic view but it has an economic imperative – fireplaces add value. After all this work, some day one day, if you live long enough, you will have to sell and move on.

So, the fireplace dilemma (even before we think about the competing TV dilemma) is to decide what to do with your redundant fireplace – are you lucky enough to have the original fireplace and think that it is beautiful and in perfect nick? Or do you have a 1950s fireplace that looks in the words of a friend who saw it ‘funereal’? It really does look scary – tombstone grey with a design of inlaid vine, it is only missing the words ‘here lies a monument to past décor’.

The front room by contrast has a beautiful Edwardian understated fireplace that looks just fine (similar to the picture above). But upstairs the original fireplaces in there are very ordinary looking. We are keen to keep any original features, but these ones upstairs are nothing special to look at, but like the funereal one in the lounge, the dilemma becomes what do you put in their place?

The choice is threefold – you can eliminate it all together and make something else the ‘focal point’; you can transplant an original or reproduction period fireplace; or you can go contemporary and make a statement. (And I apologise if this is not riveting stuff, it is nevertheless what keeps me awake at night.)

The elimination option is very tempting: if it’s gone, it’s gone, no need to wonder whether to put in real or fake flames with realistic crackling sounds, or to put in glass chips or dried flowers or candles – it’s just gone. Whilst if you go for replacing it with a new fireplace (whether period or not) you are in for major expenditure because this focal point business is very expensive icing on cakes.

Fireplace stores wax lyrical about the importance of the Fireplace Focal Point (or FFP). They use phrases like ‘a passion for warmth’; ‘the perfect atmosphere’; ‘added value and desirability’; and how they ‘hearken back to a time when a crackling fire was the heart of the home’ – back to when they had no alternative fuel options. One fireplace store says people just love staring at flames – so don’t fight it.

But people love staring at TVs too. So, what to do? The tyranny of the ‘focal point’ is weighing on my mind! I can’t think putting a TV in a cabinet is a good idea in order to ‘downplay it’ so it doesn’t compete with the fireplace. I also think the TV under a two-way mirror over the fireplace is not a practical solution. For one thing it would be too high. For another, a two-way mirror? Where do you get one of them? Ask Austen Powers?

But I have to say I am a bit worried about the TV situation. My boyfriend has put TV sockets in every room and he was tempted to put them in the bathrooms too. This is one of those ‘boys toys’ urges that it does no good to resist. But I am worried about the 42” TV in the kitchen and the lounge room and the front room let alone the bedrooms because (whisper it quietly) I am a TV addict and I will never get anything done when the daemon box is so all-seeing in every room.

After saying all that, if I am honest with myself, I know I will in all certainty be spending time in the kitchen watching TV while I cook or at the table, and when I am in the lounge room I will be gazing at the TV more often than the fireplace. Impressions for visitors are one thing, and sure, I do want them to say, ‘wow, nice fireplace’, but in the end it will be our home and we have to enjoy inhabiting that space.

So, there will be a TV in the kitchen and it will no doubt be at least 42” and in the lounge there won’t be anything to obstruct the view of the TV from the sofa. I know we will have to deal with the fireplace focal point some how. The tyranny of the focal point cannot be denied.


At 11 August 2009 at 01:14 , Blogger Pat said...

Hi Karen _ I will introduce myself on my next entry - I am reading through your blog entries and enjoying your writing very much. I don't know when all this house renovation happened - have not connected with a date yet on your site.
If you are still in it there is another factor to consider in the great fireplace debate. You can get a very good dvd of a fire to play on your 42 inch TV in the lounge when you have company or just want to read or work there.
You will save a fortune in natural gas or propane if that is your option and not have to deal with the several other problems that come with a working fireplace.

You are right about not putting the TV over the fireplace. It is usually too high and awkward to look at - especially in small rooms where the viewer is so close to the screen.

Don't know what decision you have made but probably all of your upstairs fireplaces could be closed over and you would be very glad to have the wall space for furniture arrangement.

more later


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