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Kachelöfen Coming Up

It sounds like a sneeze, but a kachelöfen—a clay, highly-efficient, wood-burning stove used in Germany for hundreds of years—is a very modern option for radiant heating in one's home. Dwell chats with Jessica Steinhäuser, the owner of Stonehouse Pottery, to learn more. 

Red kachelofen by Jessica Steinhauser.
Steinhäuser can add cooking options to kachelöfen, making them multi-purpose tools in the home.

Growing up in Nürnberg, Germany, Steinhäuser spent many hours sitting by her family’s kachelöfen. During a three-year apprenticeship to become a potter, Steinhäuser learned how to make bricks used to construct the traditional stove. Fascinated by the concept and design process, Steinhäuser decided that one day she wanted to make and design her own line, yet the idea was shelved until Steinhäuser moved to Canada and realized that not only were kachelöfen virtually unheard of, but there was also no one who knew how to install them (it's a long and technically complicated process). Continuing her career as a successful potter, she decided to return to her original idea of designing and making kachelöfen. 

Seven years ago, Steinhäuser went to Austria to work alongside two oven builders, to further study how the kachelöfen was made and installed. The process requires two people: Someone who makes it and someone who installs it. In 2007, she had her first customer and has slowly been gaining ground ever since.

How does it work? 

Kachelöfen have a very small fire chamber, so you make your fire with about five logs of wood. The resulting fire burns very quickly (about one to two hours), then warms up the surrounding brick, which stores the heat. The heat is then distributed through a flue network to warm the surrounding rooms. After I design the kachelöfen and consult with a Hafner (a professional kachelöfen installer) I work with in Austria, I can tell you often you can make a fire and how much wood should be used. Kachelöfen are designed to use the least amount of wood possible and usually only need to be lit twice a day. 

Why should someone install a kachelöfen in their home? 

They are one of the most efficient ways of using wood, the heat is stored in the kachelöfen’s thermal mass. They can also be touched at all times without burning the skin, many of them have benches attached so people can sit around them. The surface of kachelöfen is smooth and they can be designed to match the interiors of any home. 

This kachelöfen was part of an art exhibition, "Oven of Fire and Myth" at Macdonald Stewart Art Centre in Guelph, Canada.
This kachelöfen was part of an art exhibition, "Oven of Fire and Myth" at Macdonald Stewart Art Centre in Guelph, Canada.
How do you make them? 

After I make the design, I calculate how much the clay will shrink, and then make plaster molds for the individual pieces. Once they are leather-hard, I can take them out, and use the mold again for multiple pieces. After they are dry, I glaze them. Then, I work with a Hafner to install the kachelöfens, which can take about eight days, depending on the size. 

A close up illustration from the the kachelöfen in the exhibition.
A close up illustration from the kachelöfen in the exhibition.
What is your latest project? 

I am installing one in an old heritage house in the Chesapeake area. I designed it after an antique Swiss oven from the early 1800s so it will match its interiors and added a cooking option as well as bench. 

Is it a growing trend? 

I hope so, I think people are interested in the green aspect of the kachelöfen, as well as its beautiful design. In Europe, it used to be a piece of art that also heated your home and that is how I would like to make it. Kachelöfen have been around for hundreds of years. They can be a special and beautiful part of a house, the heart of a home. 

To see more examples of Steinhäuser's kachelöfens, view her Facebook or website

 

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