The addition of a beautiful mantel can turn any fireplace into the focal point of a room. Whether your décor is classic or modern, Colonial or Victorian, you can easily find a model that not only blends well with your existing design scheme but complements and enhances it as well.
Choose from a wide range of different types of wood, or select stone, concrete or other materials. In addition to providing decorative accents, mantels also provide utility, as you can use the shelf to display pictures, decorative items or books.
Some mantels are available as kits that come partially assembled, making them easy to install yourself. More elaborate units may require professional installation and, whether you do it yourself or hire a professional, you'll need to keep fire safety in mind. Consider these questions as you shop for your new mantel:
- What type of material would you prefer?
- Do you want a full-surround or shelf mantel?
- Would you like a finished or unfinished unit?
- Painted or stained?
- What fire safety regulations do you need to bear in mind?
- Do you have the measurements you need to select the right size?
Style, Material and Installation Considerations
Choosing a style and material that make your mantel a good fit is of the utmost importance. If you're building a house, keep in mind the effect a mantel can have on a room and plan accordingly. Choose a material that will hold up well and don't forget to consider the hearth size and material when planning your overall design. When you've decided on a style and material, you'll want to carefully measure your fireplace to ensure that the mantel fits in properly and adheres to any building code regulations that may apply.
Full-Surround and Shelf Mantels. There are two primary mantel designs from which to choose. Full-surround mantels have sides, or legs, that surround all sides of the fireplace. The legs may sit either on the hearth or the floor outside the hearth, depending on how the mantel is designed. Full-surround mantels provide a wealth of opportunities for customization and add a substantial presence to a room. Shelf mantels, also called caps, are installed across the top of a fireplace. Though they lack sides, shelf mantels make an attractive and useful addition and are often fairly easy to install.
- Legs may be simple or ornate to best suit your taste
- Skirts and corbels enhance the appearance of shelf mantels
- Shelf mantels can be configured in different shapes to fit unusual wall contours
Materials. With a vast array of materials to choose from, you'll want to focus on determining what kind of look you're aiming for in the room as a whole. If you elect to purchase a wood mantel, you'll be able to choose from virtually any type of wood, including cherry, mahogany, pine, walnut, oak, maple and poplar. Wood can be either paint- or stain-grade. Paint-grade materials often feature solid poplar moldings and composite flat panels for extra smoothness and stability. Stone, concrete and brick are other common choices, with one advantage being that each is noncombustible. Unworked stone provides a more rustic look while polished marble or slate lends your fireplace a classy appearance.
- Solid oak moldings are often used for stain-grade mantels
- Solid maple moldings are often used for paint-grade mantels
- Large mantels may need to be constructed of composite materials, such as medium-density fiberboard, to provide strength
- Mantels may also be constructed from plaster, gypsum or metal
- Choose noncombustible materials (tile, brick, stone, etc.) for the facing
Fire Safety. Whether you decide to build and install a mantel yourself or hire a professional, you'll need to ensure that it conforms to fire safety regulations if you choose to use a combustible material, such as wood. Check local building codes to obtain the required clearing distances between the fireplace opening and any combustible materials you use. Usually, the distance is approximately 12", but some codes may allow smaller measurements depending on how thick the mantel is.
- Also check building regulations to determine hearth size
- Mantel dimensions start outside the surround, not the firebox
||Width of stone facing|
Depth of stone facing
||Height of stone facing above hearth|
||Hearth width beyond stone facing|
||Hearth height above floor|
||Distance(s) to nearby obstructions|
||Width of firebox opening|
- Combine measurements C and E to obtain total height
- Add a cushion to your measurements to avoid overlapping corners, windows, gas valves and more, as noted below:
- Full-surround mantels: Add 19" to A, 6" to B and 12" to C
- Shelf mantels: Add 8" to A, 4" to B and 4" to C
Overmantel. If you’re looking to add something extra to your fireplace, consider installing an overmantel. Overmantels are ornamental pieces that go above the mantel and extend it further up the wall. Some contain mirrors to further enhance a room’s appearance.
Skirts and Corbels. Skirts (decorative boards) and corbels (decorative braces) can both be installed beneath a shelf mantel to augment it and add dimension.
Non-Wood-Burning Fireplaces. Fireplaces that don’t require venting, such as electric units and gas models that expel gases through horizontal exhaust pipes, allow you to install a mantel that fully encases the firebox, giving it greater depth.