This swift, dutiful retreat into the home has a distinctly historical feel to it. Suddenly, the refuge of the bars and restaurants of Soho is no longer and our communities have shrunk to Medieval proportions. Of course, we are lucky to be able to keep up with friends and family outside of our own homes with video technology unlike our ancestors, but nonetheless, our worlds are reduced to a couple of people, a series of rooms and a little garden (if we’re even luckier). It is this inwardness, this government approved withdrawal from society, that is ushering us towards a sort of considered degeneration, however contradictory that may be.
I don’t mean this to sound accusatory nor even cautionary. Retreating to our more primitive selves in the face of lockdown is quite wonderful; it is a sort of contemplative regression to simpler ways of living in our homes. Isn’t it true that even the busiest of the city workers are slowing down the pace of their lives, enjoying the resourcefulness required in such extenuating circumstances, cooking from scratch, worshipping the outdoors and keeping eyes and ears on vulnerable neighbours more than ever before?
In fact, I rather feel as if I should be writing this article with a quill by candlelight and drinking some variety of sickly mead. And there’s a thought – fire is having something of an engulfing presence in our lives throughout this lockdown period, and I think this has something to do with our return to the primal comforts afforded to us in this slower, more localised way of life. I can’t say the same for mead.
A gently flickering candle or the roar of a stoked fire has its place in this picture of British cosiness. Kindwood, a sustainable firewood company in the UK, has reported a surge in consumer demand for its kiln-dried logs since the lockdown was put in place. Taylor Gathercole, the company’s founder, says: “Fire has been bringing us together for millions of years, but now, being at home 24/7 is giving us more of a chance to spend quality time together with loved ones in our homes and our gardens and for many, fire is the perfect backdrop for this.”
Gathercole is absolutely right to reference the garden and the popularity of a burning flame outdoors. Moda Furnishings, a British rattan garden furniture company, has reported that its sales of both gas and charcoal firepits are up 88 per cent, compared to figures for May last year. As we make the most of our precious square-footage in more considered and grateful ways, our gardens have become a real extension of our living spaces.
Jonny Brierley, the CEO of Moda Furnishings, says: “The word ‘cosy’ has never been associated with gardens. Historically, they have been purely aesthetic or functional, but now people want to make better and more frequent use of them. Many are doing this through the introduction of firepits. Firelight is said to create a more intimate setting, allowing those surrounding it to relax and talk, letting their guards down at the end of the day. The fire provides a visual, psychological comfort from which you and the entire family will benefit.”
Catharina Bjorkman, lifestyle expert at Swedish woodburning stove manufacturer Contura agrees, telling me: “There are few things as comforting as sitting in front of a fire. Flames induce feelings of relaxation. We can feel absorbed, almost hypnotised, as we watch the fire. The ritual lighting of the stove and sitting together offers up quality time, making us feel part of a group or community, which in turn has many benefits for our wellbeing. In front of the fire, you will feel more connected to your surroundings and more switched off from the busyness of everyday life.”
The tradition of ritual that Bjorkman references surrounding the lighting of a fire is hugely interesting. From the myriad examples of religious pyrodulia (fire worship) from around the world, such as the Olympic flame ceremony, fire has always played a huge part in marking occasions or signifying the passage of time.
For the contemporary #pyrofiles, it is the act of lighting a fire that seals off the day, symbolising the transition from day to evening, from rush to slow. Issy Granger, the founder of her eponymous homewares brand, swaps out her laptop for her candles in decorative candlesticks every evening after work, “so I can allow myself time to switch off and relax”.
“The simple addition of a flickering candle works to instantly change the atmosphere of a room, which is great to signify the end of the working day,” she says. These candlesticks are available to buy online in dreamy coloured glass, with candles coming to the online store soon. Ed Ng, the founder of international architecture and design studio, AB Concept, treats the lighting of his outdoor fire after work as the commencement of a meditative experience: “From stacking the small piles of kindling to lighting the fire, seeing the white smoke and hearing the crackling sound emitted, the outdoors fire is a means for meditation. The sound, the smell and the light draw me into peacefulness.”
This enduring ritual is further evidence to show that the way we use our homes can have positive impacts on our wellbeing and mental health. Katharine Pooley, a London-based interior designer, believes “a lit fire really does make a house a home, and in some basic, elemental way, makes you feel cocooned and protected”.
“Candlelight has the same effect: If you are feeling down or full of tension, as many of us are in these strange times, consider a candlelit bath or perhaps enjoy a supper by candlelight. It is wonderfully relaxing.”
For Jo Littlefair, co-Founder and director of Goddard Littlefair, can also attest to this intersection of design and wellbeing. She says: “I believe there is an age-old connection between our emotional state and the presence of a flickering candle. The gentle nature of a lit flame is so flattering and alluring, so when it comes to designing my clients’ homes, I always include lots of candles and access to fireplaces from as many rooms as possible.”