Places That Work: Hearths

Even in our high tech age, hearths continue to enhance our experience of the rooms where they appear. The psychological power of a glowing, cracking fire safely tucked into a generous niche endures even though we no longer depend on its heat and light.

When the fire is out, fireplaces can still provide a psychological boost. Their very presence in a room evokes positive associations. Even in the tropics or in rooms with central heating, nothing seems to communicate “security” and “comfort” as quickly or as reliably as a hearth. This is why they’re found in hotel lobbies, sidewalk cafés, and other public spaces that are trying to communicate feelings of “welcome” and “hospitality”.


When the fireplaces we encounter glow with fire, watching the gyrating flames can help us restock our mental energies. This is why we find time spent by a fire after a long day of working so restorative.

You think a fireplace in a lobby or great room is a cliché? I think not. I think design formulas persevere because they support how people like to use interior spaces–and hearths do just that in an enduring fashion.

Sally Augustin, PhD, is a principal at Design with Science . She is also the editor of Research Design Connectionsand the author of Place Advantage: Applied Psychology for Interior Architecture (Wiley, 2009). She can be reached at

Series Posts: Places that Work

Categories: Design