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In Conversation: Arthur Lasky of HearthCabinet Ventless Fireplaces

Each year when we return Home for the Holidays, we call on HearthCabinet Ventless Fireplaces to add a little spark to our space. They provide custom-tailored “no chimney” fireplaces that are fueled by eco-friendly alcohol gel cartridges – no venting required! Having worked with HearthCabinet year after year, we took a little time out to chat with founder Arthur Lasky about how he got into the “ventless fireplace” business, and what it is about fireplaces that bring a special je ne sais quoi into every room. Here are some highlights of our talk, below.

Tell us a little bit about your background in design, and how you got into the ventless fireplace business.

I studied government and theatre as an undergrad at Harvard, and then after traveling around, I went to graduate school in architecture at Colombia and received my license in architecture. I had been doing some residential and hospitality work for a couple of decades, when Michael Weinberger, an inventor and product liability attorney, walked into my office with a potential solution to a common problem. I was used to working with people who wanted a fire place in urban areas. Say, on the 7th floor of a 15-story building that didn’t have a chimney or flue. Normally there’s no way to do that unless everyone in the building doesn’t mind you drilling through all of their floors. That was usually the end of the conversation. But Michael Weinberger had this notion of how we could do it by making use of a fuel cartridge and alcohol gel. I agreed to work with him, but it was only under the condition that I had full freedom of design for the surround. I wanted it to be something that would be up to the quality of design that I was accustomed to doing. We spent two years in product development, and we’ve been a full-blown business ever since 2008 with interest across the country, and a little interest overseas.

Why is the presence of a fire place so significant when designing a space?

People naturally gravitate towards fireplaces. They’re communal spaces that are often the center of the home. Fire is attractive to us – it’s innate in us. The Greeks had this notion of hearth – Hestia, one of the earliest Gods was the Goddess of the Hearth. There’s something about the way the flame gives you a visual attraction – you can watch it forever. In Renaissance times, people would gaze at fire and try to find “the salamander” – this notion that there was something alive in it. It’s baked into us as humans – we used to keep warm with it and cook with it. It’s in our genetic code. It’s something we’ve mastered and controlled. And even if we don’t use it for those purposes any more, it’s part of our DNA as people.

You’ve worked with STORY over the last few “Home for the Holidays.” What are some of the specific factors that you take into account when designing a fireplace for a retail concept, as opposed to a home?

Fire can have a very salubrious effect for people in all kinds of spaces. It often becomes a main attraction no matter where you are situated. In conference rooms it’s been found to lower blood pressure. In home furnishing stores, it can remind people of what building a home is really about – it’s a place where they want to create memories. And the notion of building a home can be combined with the retail experience when you’re doing things that aren’t quite as homey, like picking out hardware. In restaurants it’s pretty obvious – when there’s a fire present, people want to hang out and have another cocktail. We’ve put them into other hospitality spaces, such as corporate boxes in Madison Square Garden. Because we always do custom work, the fireplace will always fit into the custom goal of what the design aims to accomplish.
Are there any specific challenges that come with designing STORY’s surround, specifically?

I wouldn’t even say challenges – there are plenty of opportunities. It’s so much fun to work with Rachel and Jennifer. I love the mood that they bring to everything – enthusiastic and creative. They often know the design in advance so we have ample time to know what kind of unit and color is needed. And we enjoy talking to the Storytellers to help them understand how to explain the fireplace to any visitors who might be asking about it.

What is one thing we can’t learn about you by googling?

Pulling weeds is my favorite meditative practice. There’s ample weed-pulling to engage in at our home in Columbia County.

Favorite NYC spot?

I’ll give you two. As a youth, growing up in Brooklyn, my favorite spot was Canarsie pier. It was Little known to Manhattanites and Williamsburg people. We would get some live bait, and fish for hours, and we usually caught something in Jamaica Bay. Now, as a grownup, I live at the other end of the city in the Bronx, fishing. I love walking through all of the gardens at Wave Hill.