The Main Focus of a House is the Fireplace

For as long as man has been drawn to fire, the hearth as been a magical place – a place of comfort, a place to tell stories, or just sit back and reflect on a day well spent. Today, there are as many approaches to fireplace mantels (the shelf above the hearth opening) and surrounds (the materials that surround the hearth stone work and transition between it and the wall materials) as there are types of homes.

In old-world style homes, mantles are often massive and supported by stonework or stucco vertical members. Or they can be a more delicate shelf sitting atop fluted half columns with elaborate bases and caps. In romantic homes that reflect motifs from Italy, Greece, or France, they may consist of a series of shadow box style frames-one inside the other, with shallow mantel shelf hanging without appearance support, above the boxes.

When designing a mantel and fireplace surrounding for your home, you have a wide range of options to choose from. The mantel shelf can be massively thick or delicately thin. It may extend beyond either side of the immediate stone or brick surround. It can be supported by square or round half columns, with or without bases and capitals, tapered or straight and fluted or plain.

You can build vertical cabinetry sections that sit on either side of a hearth accentuated with arched wooded frames-topped by a dog bone shaped mantel shelf that is wider over the cabinet sections and shallower immediately over the fire itself. For a suspended shelf look, but with a little more decorative appeal, you can support the shelf with hidden corbels and build an under-shelf-surrounding out of corner molding that give the mantel mass and distinctive character.

If a cottage look is more your style, explore the possibility of capturing the hearth with a bead-board sidewall, with elaborate picture framing around the actual fireplace opening, and simple multi-tier shelf support system for a tiny mantel shelf. Or you can pick out one of the mix media (wood and plaster) carved hearth surrounds with matching shelf.

For homes more in the tradition of Arts and Crafts, you can build a squared-off, planter-box style, under mantel support, or use a couple of larger block corbels to support your thicker-than average shelf using stain-grade materials with interesting grains and natural color character.

Even in a lodge-style lodging, mantel shelves do not have to be massive slabs of rough wood sitting on posts that simply thrust out of the wall. The mantel can be made of a refined piece of wood that is trimmed with simple matching wood moldings and placed on stained wood columns or appropriately weighed corbels.

Because your fireplace or wood stove is often the central feature of the room; sometimes even the whole house; it is advisable to carefully plan the rest of your molding treatments around your mantel and hearth surround. Before you start, visit your molding dealer, or call a representative to come out to your house so that you can look at samples while you design your mantel. If possible, it is often useful to cut a rough prototype of what you have in mind out of cardboard and put it in place before finally deciding on the size and scope of the mantel and surround.

If you are really unsure about the style and shape of your mantel and the kind of surround that will make you happy for years to come, check out an idea book or other sites that specialize in Fireplace Mantels.