PARIS – Say you have always been dreaming of your own place in the centre of Paris. And let us say that fortune is kind with you, and you find yourself standing on the parquet flooring, with light coming in through the high windows from the boulevard outside. Happiness. You look around to see the decorated ceiling, wood paneled walls and the fireplace. Ah, the fireplace. Doesn’t that make you feel at home straight away? But there is something strange going on with the fireplace.
Although they are no longer used for heating, most of the apartments you will have seen in the city will have them. And not just one of them, but perhaps even one in every room. It looks great, of course, but do you need it? If you are wondering why this question even needs answering, you are probably not paying rent in Paris. Say your apartment covers 55 square meters, subdivided into 3 rooms – the Parisian average. You will presumably be moving in there with your girl(/boy)friend and perhaps a baby (2.2 average household size), or perhaps a friend who still can’t find his own place. This makes the apartment relatively small. So that fireplace, which admittedly looks great in the bedroom, is now actually taking the place of a cupboard or a side table. This may make you wish it away, but grant me a few moments to delve into the archeology of the matter, to see if I can make you see it differently.
Let us start by establishing that the fireplace, anywhere other than the living room (and even there!), is indeed in the way. You do not need it, and the precious space could have been used for more useful purposes in your day-to-day life. But try to think of it differently. The fireplace is a relic of the past. Of a past when there was no central heating. Of a past when life was different for whoever was living in the place. It is a link between your existence and other people who lived there before you. Same place, but another time and life. In the other direction this works too, as one day, you will no longer be living in that apartment, and someone else will be there. Accepting to live with a relic in your midst is accepting a place, or your role, in the development of your culture. You take care of something that was passed on to you, and which you in your turn will pass on to the next. Someone you may or may not even know.
If this all sounds like a lot of thought emanating from a fireplace, I am convinced that it does have that effect. It works because the fireplace no longer serves its purpose. A huge block of marble to support the cards your friends sent you is clearly not an optimal use of your precious space. That is exactly why it can remind you that the world is not completely moulded around you, to suit your needs. The fireplace, as the city, was already there before you and still has its own future independently of you. It increases your consciousness of your place. Conscious about your role in life, your relation to others, and your relationship to the world around you. It helps to make you a better person, to take better decisions. To be happier person. To feel at home. And surely that’s what you wanted, when you dreamt of your own place. And as an added bonus, you might even light that fireplace one day.