Covid-19 and the resulting lockdown and closure of our borders has had an unusual side-effect – desire for fireplaces has risen markedly in New Zealand and Australia.
Dunedin-based top-end fireplace manufacturers Escea, whose sophisticated products are exported to North America and Australia, say they have noticed a definite trend during lockdowns, with Australian sales figures doubling year on year.
Why? Lockdown is one reason and the design lead for Escea, Alex Hodge, says the comfort and security they bring is another reason.
Hodge says the company has noticed a distinct rise in demand since Covid-19's emergence six months ago: "Now travel restrictions are in place, customers have a greater incentive to improve or renovate their homes – both factors have resulted in a surge of interest for our products over the last few months."
Kiwis are also putting more value in New Zealand-made products and businesses, he says, and fireplaces – wood or gas; indoor or outdoor – are an ideal way to add more value to their homes.
There's another reason – the deep-seated, psychological comfort humans draw from flickering flames. Believe it or not, in Norway in 2013, a TV channel ran eight hours of a live fireplace – and 20 per cent of the population (or about 1 million people) tuned in to watch at some point. Some Tesla cars feature a flickering fire option on the car dashboard screen for the same psychological reason.
In the US, anthropology Professor Christopher Lynn performed a study suggesting that fire is an evolutionary fascination ingrained in humans – and explains the relaxation we feel when we sit by an open fire as tracing back to our ancient ancestors who saw flames essential for safety, survival and socialising.
Running an experiment to support his theory, Lynn found that watching fire made people feel more relaxed – the longer participants looked at footage of flames, the more their blood pressure would decrease and the more sociable they would become.
"It's why you see so many people staring into the flames of the fire," says Hodge. "It's an ancient pastime, a time for contemplation in an environment of safety and sociability."
Founded in 2002, Escea specialises in beautifully designed, ultra-efficient gas fireplaces. They are one of the biggest fireplace manufacturers in New Zealand, with over 100 staff, and are constantly "pushing the envelope" when it comes to high-end heating solutions. With spring now on the way, Hodge says the focus of many homeowners is turning to outdoor fires.
Their latest innovation, the EP 1350 Outdoor Fire Table, is a prime example. It's a round table with a fire in the middle – inspired by the classic campfire, it is made for gathering, cooking and sharing. People sit around the flame for warmth, socialising and/or cooking.
It enables the cook to be part of the party as opposed to being isolated over a smokey barbecue. In fact, there can be more than one cook – the three cooking modes to choose from are an inner stainless steel ring for consistent medium heat, a removable kebab holder, and a grill for tapas – each person can cook their food just the way they like it.
Hodge says the best thing about the fire table is the smoke – there isn't any. It features "flame vortex technology" that can make flames shoot high into the air, with dramatic effect. The fire's impressive height is achieved through a series of vents on the side of the fire. Air is circulated through multiple metal spirals, creating a "tornado" effect, which forces the air – and the fire – upwards.
"It's great because unlike fire pits, it emits no smoke. So, you don't get some poor person with all the smoke in their face," he says. The outer edges of the table are completely cool, so drinks, plates (and elbows) can be placed on the surface with no threat of burning.
The mainstays of Escea's product range, however, are their handcrafted gas fireplaces – ideal for New Zealand's style of buildings and changeable weather, a real point of difference: "They are designed to work in New Zealand timber-framed homes," says Hodge. "Overseas manufacturers are typically designed for masonry or brick chimneys, where it's okay for some of the generated heat to escape the fireplace into the chimney.
"By putting all our heat into the room, we are suitable for both types of home construction (new builds and renovations) and more efficient too," says Hodge. "Escea fireplaces look great and are extremely efficient at heating homes."
The DF series is popular in renovations; for people who already have a fireplace but want to convert from wood to gas. These fires are smaller which mean they can be easily incorporated into an existing space – but are still efficient heating.
The DS series is ideal for new builds where people are looking for the "wow" factor. These frameless fireplaces fit seamlessly into wall spaces, creating a stunning design element that also effectively warms the home.