Touching the Sky
By Bill Sendelback
Today’s fireplaces are just like today’s new automobiles, they all look alike. Except, of course, for the unique creations from French fireplace manufacturer Focus Fires. Focus’ founder and owner is as unique as his creations; he’s certainly not your average CEO.
After producing 200 units in its first year, Focus now has manufactured more than 60,000 units, mostly handcrafted, unique, wood-burning and gas-burning, indoor and outdoor fireplaces. Several of its 70 designs have won prestigious awards and honors around the world.
Now with 100 employees, Focus sells into 70 countries including the U.S. and Canada; 60% of its creations are sold internationally. Focus models sold in North America are UL and ULC Listed, and are being imported and distributed by European Home.
Dominique Imbert, born in 1940 in the south of France, created Focus Fires in 1968 after a background as unique as his creations. As a teenager, he grew up forging, sculpting, and hammering iron furniture at the village blacksmith. After studying literature in London and Paris, Imbert became an ethnologist – a branch of anthropology that analyzes cultures – with Inuit natives in Alaska.
Later, he was awarded a doctorate of sociology, and finally was a professor of literature in a Paris high school. After four years of teaching, he says he “preferred shaping metal to molding young minds” and returned to an anvil and a welding torch to begin Focus Fires in the medieval village of Viols-le-Fort, France.
“We continue to try to ignore fashion or market demands,” says Imbert. “I am lucky to be able to continue to respond to intuitions and to do it with pleasure. What interests me is that which moves me, and I am moved by discovering, hidden in the depths of certain shapes and angles, the inner life, the soul of a material. I want my fireplaces to touch the sky, even hang from it. I want the fire to defy gravity.”
In 1967, while restoring a ruined stone farmhouse that now is Imbert’s head offices, adjacent to Focus’ 60,000 sq. ft. factory, Imbert salvaged scrap metal to create his first fireplace. This was his Antefocus, a suspended, wood-burning fireplace with a very wide opening that Imbert describes as a “smoldering smile of iron hanging from the sky.”
Next up was his Gyrofocus, a similar style, but now that “smiling” firebox was able to be pivoted 360 degrees. “This aerial fireplace broke all the rules,” says Imbert. “It was thoroughly mocked by others in the field.” The iconic Gyrofocus continues as Focus’ best selling model worldwide, and the “symbol” of Focus Fires.
An updated version of the Gyrofocus is a direct-vent wood-burner that can be suspended or wall mounted. It’s available in a new satin white finish. “This offers a lighter touch to interior schemes,” says Imbert. “The whiteness shines out and provides a delicate contrast to the roaring flames inside.”
Imbert’s creations have won more than their share of prestigious accolades worldwide. Besides the Gyrofocus model being displayed in New York City’s Guggenheim Museum, as well as in the Museums of Contemporary Art in Bordeaux and Grenoble, France, and Stockholm, Sweden, Focus models were designated “classic designs of the 20th century” by Germany’s Callwey Design Encyclopedia. They won the French National Prize for Creation, and were awarded gold medals in Paris’ Design Awards three years in a row. The Italian public voted the Gyrofocus model the “world’s most beautiful object” in that country’s Pulchra Design Awards.
Eat your heart out, Ferrari!
European Home, based in Massachusetts, distributes 19 Focus Fires wood models and seven gas models in North America, including the Gyrofocus, Ergofocus, Filiofocus, and Heterofocus. Suggested retail U.S. prices start at $9,800. For 2020, the Gyrofocus will be available in North America as a gas model, and Focus will introduce its Paxfocus for commercial and hospitality projects.
See Focus models on its website, www.focus-creation.com, or on European Home’s website at www.europeanhome.com/brand/focus-fires.