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Fernand Léger: Les Fumeurs [The Smokers] (1911–1912)
" … a naked Hearth can no more stand than can a naked heart."

Determining the center of anything can pose a difficult dilemma. Like determining best, insufficient information often exists to declare any definitive answer.—(Huh? How could insufficient information exist? Sufficient information doesn't exist. A surfeit of insufficient information couldn't exist, but then it's a negative quantity, so I guess it gets counted differently.)—Further, one might declare centers for a variety of attributes or elements. An emotional center need not resemble a physical or intellectual one. At some level, I suspect that every element might be reasonably declared the center of something, if only a temporary center of attention before consideration passes. I bring up this question because it's come up within our Grand Refurbishment. Our color palette first held central attention. Then, door and window trims. The banister rightfully held that space for a spell. So did the stairs. Now, the living room windows and the cleverly designed library wall, but each foci in turn slipped back into an other than central position as the refurbishing machine rolled on. As it nears its destination, one glaring element remains unaddressed, though not unconsidered: The Hearth.

If any element of any house can rightfully be considered its center, I suspect that the Hearth usually holds that position, if only due to the sense that Hearth IS home and thereby irreducible.
It's the source of warmth through long, damp winters, and seems to embody welcoming. Ours has long been a source of embarrassment for us because some prior owner had faced it with mid-century modern brickwork and an incongruent mantel. Combined, these two aspects projected a clumsy inauthenticity. One could not properly tell by gazing upon it whether they were in a Craftsman or a split-level rancher. We organized the room, attempting to draw attention away from its natural center. It has been the elephant in the living room since we bought the place, and every bit as massive. As The Grand Refurbishment rolls forward, our Hearth has become increasingly prominent, its incongruence expanding as surrounding windows and walls fall back into more like their original fashion. Our Hearth remains a curious uncle, unchanged in his ways in spite of the changing context. His stance cannot stand.

It's one thing to sense dissatisfaction and quite another to propose anything better in response. The old adage that one should offer a solution whenever reporting a problem presumes too much wisdom on the part of the complaintant. For many things, the complaining resolves the offense. One simply wants to go on record as a dissenter, in opposition to the offending element, but has no stomach or ability to propose anything better. Some adopt a lifestyle centered on honing their skill as a complainer, and find adequate satisfaction in surrounding themselves with all that's just wrong, as if their complaining levitated them slightly above their otherwise demeaning surroundings. Others feel compelled to act, to initiate what they hope will prove to be sustaining improvement. For them, the wrong cannot be allowed to persist but simply must be reformed. Their sense of outrage which spurs them into action doesn't necessarily always provide adequate inspiration to actually improve any situation, but they inflict change, for ill or better. Dissatisfaction maintains a minefield around itself.

I, as other husbands have before me, quietly cede design decisions to my spouse, The Muse. She fancies herself somewhat of an architect, if only because in her youth she aspired to become an architect, but that's an adequate credential in this family. I prefer her to hold the responsibility for deciding some consequential questions. She took choosing the refurbishment's color palette seriously and she succeeded. She chose the period wallpaper in the entry hall. She, and she alone, chose the dining room, entry hall, and upstairs hallway light fixtures. She dictated the form of the window trims. It seemed only right and proper that she also assume responsibility for designing the Hearth, though I have my own druthers on that decision, just as anyone might when considering the very heart of their home. I invited her to visit the tile shop when we last visited Portland. There, we discovered some period-appropriate matte-glazed tiles which might utterly transform the heart or Hearth of the place. Yesterday, we disassembled the incongruent mantel and carted it off to a friend who lives in a mid-century rancher better suited to it. Now our Hearth stands naked, not even an incongruent modesty mantel covering anything. This alone should spur consequential decisions, for a naked Hearth can no more stand than can a naked heart.

©2021 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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