Blazing a Trail: Oblica’s New School Fireplaces
As it cools down in Melbourne, we ask Guillaume Roux of Oblica how European design brings a contemporary edge to the age-old appeal of fire.
What is the Oblica origin story?
Roughly eight years ago, we took over a small business that was importing Focus fireplaces. I happened to know that brand because they’re manufactured near the place where I’m from in France, and I thought that those products had amazing potential.
In Australia at that time, there wasn’t much in the way of good-looking fireplaces. What was available were mainly square, ugly boxes – and nothing particularly efficient either. So we tried to find the best in Europe in terms of woodfire, and we built the brand up from there.
When you began to bring these fireplace into Australia, what was the response like?
Oh, we had to do a lot of education about our products. Back then, there was a good 20 year gap in terms of what was available here and what was on the market in Europe.
What is the most common misconception about fireplaces that you come across?
Well, it has a lot to do with the way that houses are built in Australia, with old timber studs – appliances were previously designed not to produce too much heat, so that they could be put next to a wall without setting the house on fire.
Most of the heat was going out of the flu, and they were really inefficient. Which is why most of those basic models have electrical fans. So one of the common questions we had at the beginning was, why don’t your fireplaces have fans? Our response is that they don’t have fans because they actually produce radiant heat without the need of a fan.
How has current design thinking impacted the demand for fireplaces?
We see it changing fast. Building standards are evolving in Australia, there’s more talk of passive buildings, which a lot of our products are compatible with. So I think the knowledge gap is closing, and there’s a lot more public interest in fireplaces from an energy efficient building perspective. Also people are motivated by the cost of electricity. We’re lucky in a sense, because a lot of architects and builders are seeking and specifying our product. They’re looking for objects that can make their project exceptional. I think people look at fireplaces as more of a cool appliance now, rather than a purely utilitarian one. It’s no longer classified in the same category as a washing machine, it’s closer to a TV or a soundsystem.
Since the dawn of time, people have been drawn naturally towards fires and fireplaces. In your opinion, do they exist beyond trends that shape other types of product design?
I think it’s fair to say that the fireplace has moved from something very utilitarian to something more like a showpiece. And that’s a fairly recent shift, only in the last fifteen years, that wood fires have become sexy again. They were kind of overlooked for a while in the 1990s and early 2000s, people had ducted heating and it was seen as something of a chore, to collect the wood.
But it seems now that people are embracing the whole romantic aspect of a fire: the crackle and the smell, and the whole family congregating around it. They do bring an interior to life. Fire is a visual element that’s forever changing and forever moving, and I think the manufacturers in Europe have really mastered their ability to produce truly original, beautiful ways to frame it. Focus is probably one of the most design-driven companies when it comes to fireplace design, and they’ve never veered from their principles. Even today, their designs from the late 60s are some of the most incredible.
What might we expect to see from Oblica at DENFAIR this year?
We’ve decided that Oblica is not just about fire – we want to expand on the idea of luxurious warmth. So we looked at other areas of the house that in our eyes have been neglected, where things are still being approached from a utilitarian perspective, and we’ve developed our own response. We’re going to surprise people at DENFAIR with that.