THE INITIAL SPARK for this special Fall Home Design issue flared during the blazing peak of one of those extreme summer days when spontaneous combustion seemed the only practical escape.

Pulling out highly unscientific coping strategy No. 180, I told myself this hellish heat wouldn’t, couldn’t, last forever. (Unless, of course, I did burst into eternal flame.) I visualized our impending chilly season — now showing near you, climate change permitting — when I’d voluntarily, even eagerly, inch ever closer to my boxy, modest, gas fireplace, wriggling my fuzzy-socked feetsies toward its fakely embered “logs.”

Yeah. That didn’t really help.   

It did, though, maybe oddly, kindle a whole burning line of inquiry: How weird is it that we still, after all these centuries, enjoy a literal fire inside our homes? What is it, exactly, about the lure of a fireplace? Togetherness? Coziness? Emotional and/or physical warmth? Why have fireplaces remained so integral to the function and feel and flow of residential design? (“Hearth and home” is a thing for a reason.)

And then: Hmm … why not pose all those inquiries to actual architects who have created some awfully cool fireplaces in some awfully cool homes?

I love it when questions answer themselves (and when architects run with them).

So for this issue, with our latest scorching summer leaving those miragelike heat waves in the rearview (here’s hoping, anyway; I’m typing as another stretch of sweltering melting hangs off the coast), we’re jumping into that ancient place of fire to explore its modern role and relevance through innovative and inspirational designs, materials and fuel options.

Cozy up. No fair visualizing blazing-days swimming pools quite yet. (Although … hmm, again … that could make a mighty refreshing topic for Spring Home Design 2023.)