Dear Fireplace Diary,
There is a time honored question literally every single person who has a decorative (nonfunctioning) fireplace must ask themselves at some point. “WHAT SHOULD I PUT IN THE FIREPLACE???” It is a question I get from clients all the time. And there are about a million answers. None of them are totally satisfying to be fully honest. Because what you really want in a fireplace is – wait for it – A FIRE.
When I stopped by (read: basically broke in) to check out Chateaulando, the first thing I noticed was the fireplace. Because I was moving from the organic modern Orcondo (a vibe I’m still into), I was looking for an apartment that had beautiful architectural details, something totally different and unique I could shoot for my book. The fireplace seemed a little over-the-top, but I loved how curvaceous and feminine it was.
I’m not entirely sure if this fireplace was ever functional or not. On the other side of that wall behind it is the kitchen, so if there had been a chimney at any point the kitchen would have been wildly different than it is today. I guess I’ll never know. The past is a mystery sometimes. I guess I could ask the landlord but we hate each other. Oh well.
It might not surprise you to know that I am not the first blogger to contemplate what to do with a fireplace that doesn’t actually burn fires. There are plenty of great (and totally hideous) ideas out there for making your awkward empty fireplace less awkward and empty. My go-to for filling fireplaces are simple andirons and birch logs (see below).
In slightly related news, Crate & Barrel sells sets of birch logs for $19.99. I know that probably sounds ridiculous, but if you’ve ever tried to source cute birch logs, you might actually find the convenience of being able to order them online worth it. If you live in a city with a good flower market, you can buy them there. But they’re not cheap. I spent about $300 on the 3′ tall stack of logs I bought for Orcondo, and I used to freak out when people threatened to burn them. Now that I’m thinking about it, I’m mad I left those there. Like part of me wants to go back and demand my logs back. YOU BROKE MY HEART CAN I HAVE THOSE LOGS??? I’m totally fine guys I swear.
When I was twenty I dreamed of being a college professor who lived on the Upper West Side in a house filled with books and artifacts from my travels around the world. My life turned out slightly different when I went to grad school and found out academia was terrible. So I may never have that crazy apartment filled with books, but that doesn’t mean I can’t take inspiration from it. I love the look of fireplaces filled with books. It says “I’m a hoarder, but I hoard things that are socially acceptable to hoard – books!” Also, this is as good a time as any to remind you to pre-order my book, Get it Together! on Amazon. I probably won’t stop blabbing about it until it comes out April 17.
Another solution for a fireplace is a mirror. I don’t think it’s a particularly good solution unless you have a major shoe/foot fetish and you need a place to ogle your shoes and feet. Also, it makes it kind of weird to put a mirror above the fireplace (the only reason that works in the above photo is that the color is amazing and the styling looks good). I love this simple fan-in-fireplace solution I found on Instagram. It has the added benefit of creating a pretty place to display your fan collection (you have one, right?).
Okay, now to the task at hand. My stupid fireplace. As you can see in the above photo, Chateaulando was totally sad and lame before I moved here. Like honestly thank God for me because if someone else had moved in it would probably still be this nasty butter yellow color and those dumb sconces would probably be there.
Before I moved in, I had the mirror removed from the inside of the fireplace and had the space inside painted the same color as the walls. The mirror above the fireplace is from CB2 and the sconces that flank it are from my friends at Park Studio (they were actually a prototype we designed together that ended up being too annoying to manufacture so I’m the only one who has them now).
Two of these items are gifts from Emily (the brass alligator and the lucite photo of my family). I found the pottery in Ojai and the lady vase in Palm Springs.
For months, this blank canvas stared at me, screaming directly at my face “WHAT ARE YOU GONNA DO WITH ME???”
And this is where the story takes an unexpected turn.
You know how some times you know something but then you forget you know it until you’re reminded that you know it? That’s kind of the journey I had with ACT UP (I’ll explain what this is in a minute if you’re not familiar). I’ve known about them forever but I hadn’t really thought about them (or expressed any gratitude for them) in years.
I was at my parents’ house watching an amazing CNN documentary about the eighties, aptly titled The Eighties. If you haven’t seen this CNN series you should check it out (I think they’ve done a lot of the decades, I’ve only seen the 70s, 80s, and 90s). There was a whole segment in The Eighties about the AIDS crisis, the Reagan administrations disgustingly inhumane response to it, and a group of incredible activists that fought like hell to raise awareness about the disease. The AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) was founded in 1987, a group that fought tirelessly to force the government to wake up and do something about a disease that killed an entire generation of gay men.
I don’t fully know how to express the importance of this. If I were born twenty years earlier it’s likely I’d be dead. I am continually thankful to have been born when I was born.
In order to understand exactly why ACT UP was so amazing, you kind of have to understand what was going on with AIDS at the time. The Reagan administration basically ignored it until 1985 and didn’t do anything to begin to address is until 1987 (first cases were reported in 1981, though it’s traced back to the 1930s). There are recordings of Reagan’s press secretary laughing about the disease in 1982. By the time Reagan even started to do anything about AIDS in 1987, there were already 50,378 reported cases of the disease. By that same year 40,849 people had died.
It’s difficult to imagine what this scenario would be like. Basically imagine everyone in your friend group dies. Or maybe more appropriate everyone in your “type” group dies. Say you’re a white mom who lives in the suburbs. And there’s a disease that’s killing only white moms in the suburbs. No one knows what’s going, the president hasn’t acknowledged that all your friends are dead, and his press secretary is laughing at you. There are drugs being developed in other countries to help white suburban moms not die but they aren’t available because the FDA hasn’t fast tracked them for approval.
That was AIDS. People were scared for their lives, they were losing everything. And nobody cared because they were viewed as deviants getting what they deserved. Enter ACT UP, screaming.
Because someone needed to scream.
The pink triangle associated with ACT UP was based on the pink triangles homosexuals were forced to wear in concentration camps during the Holocaust. The silence of the Reagan administration was seen as a death sentence to those suffering from the disease. Silence = Death was shorthand for a longer slogan. ‘Silence about the oppression and annihilation of gay people, then and now, must be broken as a matter of our survival.’ [Source]
Breaking that silence was ACT UP’s number one goal.
Sorry, by the way, for this extensive history lesson. I realize a lot of you know what ACT UP is. I’m writing this because one of my very with-it friends had never heard of it so I want to be as informative as possible. Everyone should know about ACT UP. They are one of the most important activist groups in American history. Their activism was crucial to getting people to actually do some thing to address not only fighting the disease, but also helping those infected live out their lives with dignity (this was at time when AIDS was still a death sentence, which is thankfully not the case today).
The number of artists lost to the AIDS crisis is innumerable. An entire generation was lost. Of course, a lasting favorite it Keith Haring. I’ve loved his work since childhood and he continues to be an inspiration to me in my art and my design work. He was diagnosed with AIDS in 1988 and died two years later.
But not before contributing to the cannon of activist art that helped spread messages about AIDS awareness, safe sex, and tolerance.
Haring’s work has found its way onto a number of products. I myself have bought tote bags, t-shirts, and wallpaper all emblazoned with this cartoony drawings. I always wonder if everyone who buys this stuff knows much about him and his activism. It is my belief that if you don’t have any interest in the political nature of his work or if you don’t care that he died of a disease the U.S. government did little to address, you don’t really deserve to have his work in your house or on your body. You can’t just take his aesthetic and leave his politics. So if you’re a Reagan or Trump supporter, you don’t deserve this beauty. The policies of both men go directly against the rights of gay people and artists like Keith Haring.
The ACT UP triangle has found its way onto countless posters and products, including the below t-shirt. It has become a cultural symbol for gay rights and the kind of punk rock activism that eventually paved the road for strides in AIDS research and treatment.
Now back to my fireplace. I’m not entirely sure where the idea to paint a shape in there came from, but my original plan was to paint a perfect circle in there. I decided against this because I wasn’t sure if I liked the repetition of the circle inside the fireplace and the circle mirror above it. In retrospect the circle totally would have worked, but I liked the idea of incorporating another shape and I also had ACT UP fresh on my mind having just seen the CNN documentary.
The process of adding the triangle was simple but I’m going to show it here just for fun. Basically it entails figuring out the maximum size triangle that will fit into your, measuring it out, taping it off, and filling in with paint. I left a little breathing room on the top and the bottom so it would look like it was suspended inside the fireplace.
I’ve learned a fun trick for creating clean lines while taping off for painting. One of the biggest issues with taping off is that paint can seep under the tape and create a ragged edge. This normally happens during the first coat of paint because that coat actually seals the edge. So I like to paint around the perimeter with the wall color or a clear coat. This means that whatever seeps through the tape won’t contrast with the wall color. Once that’s dry you can paint the actual color you originally planned on taping off. I CAN’T TELL IF THAT DESCRIPTION MADE SENSE OR NOT I’M SORRY.
Pro-Tip! If you don’t have newspaper, you can use grocery bags as a barrier to protect the floor from paint splatters. I’ve been going to Whole Foods quite a bit lately. Not because I’m fancy or need to, but because there’s one two blocks away and I don’t have to go into a parking garage to shop there. Sidenote: the longer I’ve lived in LA the more I hate going into parking garages underneath buildings. Just adds so much to the process of getting in and out of a building. I will literally pay twice the price for groceries just to avoid going into a parking garage. There is a Trader Joe’s up the street from me but I rarely shop there because it has an annoying parking garage. Okay I’ll stop talking about grocery store parking now. ALSO PLEASE ALLOW ME TO TAKE THIS MOMENT TO THANK ACT UP FOR MAKING IT POSSIBLE FOR MY BIGGEST GAY PROBLEM BEING THAT SOMETIMES I HAVE TO DRIVE UNDERGROUND INTO PARKING GARAGES.
Painting inside tape isn’t rocket science so I don’t have a ton of tips. I guess the main thing is to make sure you’re not laying it on too thick. Do multiple thin layers so your brushstrokes aren’t too prominent.
I did three coats to get the color to be consistent. The color I used is discontinued but I found a very close match in Jessie by Pratt & Lambert.
It’s a scientific fact that pulling blue tape off paint is the most satisfying thing on earth. If I was forced to live in a room doing only one thing for the rest of my life it would be pulling blue tape off paint edges and seeing the beautiful clean line underneath.
I’m happy with the end result of the fireplace triangle. The reason it works is that it gives the eye something vibrant to focus on. Because we’re used to seeing crackling fires inside fireplaces, the fiery color feels appropriate and right at home inside that space.
I know that painting a pink triangle inside my fireplace is a rather superficial, passive way to express my appreciation for ACT UP, but I love looking at it every day. It is a reminder of the incredible work of a group that basically made it possible for me to live a life where I’m not constantly in fear of dying or of losing all my friends.
One of the tenets of my design practice is that if you have an opportunity to add something meaningful to your space, you should do it. Your space should be a reflection of your personal history and identity. Adding this triangle to my fireplace was a small way of expressing gratitude for the activists whose work made living as a gay person a whole lot easier, maybe even made my survival possible. THANK YOU, ACT UP!