Mantels get no respect. For most, mantels are a mere afterthought to the big decision about the kind of chimney stone. Yet your mantel can be an engaging focal point that amplifies the look of your fireplace, both in its own right and to display an array of items that set the tone for the entire room. Mantels are the ideal finishing touch.
Mantels originated as hoods projecting above the fireplace to keep smoke from the grate from escaping into the room. A simple beam above the fireplace also served to hang wet clothes to dry. Today, mantels are decorative. Fortunately, they’re available in a variety of styles to go with or, in some cases, establish every decor.
There are two mantel configurations: the shelf, which is what we usually think of as the mantel, and the surround, which frames the sides as well as the top of the firebox.
The shelf mantel is positioned right above the firebox. It’s either attached to the chimney with nails or glue or integrated into the stonework. A common built-in arrangement is for two appropriately spaced projections from the chimney to support the shelf.
Surrounds generally don’t look right with a towering stone fireplace but are more at home with fireplaces that vent behind the wall. They create a finished look that the chimney otherwise would. The sides of a mantel surround can be decorative, adding curves and fluting, sometimes even high-relief sculpted columns.
Timber homes present an opportunity to handle mantels by incorporating the shelf into the timber frame whose posts flank the fireplace. Don’t overdo it by using the frame to create secondary shelves, or the result may look like scaffolding.
The two most common mantel materials are wood and stone. The latter encompasses a broad range, from rough-cut slabs or raw rock to polished marble with bull nosed edges and corners. The material and degree of finishing determine a mantel’s price. Mantels cost from a few hundred dollars for a basic wooden shelf to thousands for elegantly carved stone.
Wood and stone used for mantels are sometimes recycled, occasionally from old-growth trees. Often, you can find already-made mantels in architectural salvage yards. Remember that existing mantels can be reworked and refinished to fit your fireplace.
You can save substantially on the cost of your mantel with materials from your home or property. When you clear your
land for your home site, look for tree branches or uncovered rocks that might, with little effort, add character above your fireplace. An end cut off your timber frame also works well.
Mantels set the stage for any look you choose for your timber home, from simple to ornate and rustic to sophisticated. Moldings and design details differ considerably, too. The bigger and more intricate your mantel, the more prominent it will appear.
Keep in mind that if, down the road, you decide to redecorate, swapping one style mantel for another isn’t that difficult. In many cases, it’s a do-ityourself task.
The best time to choose mantels is when you’re planning your fireplace so you can coordinate the look of the mantel with the stone and surrounding wall. You’ll find the greatest variety of mantels online. Search using specific terms such as “rustic wood mantels” or “custom stone mantels.” Just about any term will yield thousands of results for your timberhome hearth.
ABOVE: A carved mantel like this one from Specialty Woodworks Co. brings a touch of detail to your hearth. LEFT: A rugged reclaimed-wood mantel can reinforce the rustic look of your fireplace and serve as a focal point.