Originating in medieval times as a hood that hung over a grate to catch smoke from the fire, the fireplace mantel, or mantelpiece has had many incarnations over time. The term mantelpiece has come to encompass the mantelpiece that is often a type of shelf over the header of the fireplace and the jambs or legs that are usually made of the same material.
During various times in history, the mantelpiece was extremely elaborate in design because the fireplace was the focal point of the room. Nowadays, this is less the case, but this doesn’t diminish the value or appropriateness of the fireplace in a home. In fact, the number of fireplaces in such rooms as the master bedroom, family room or den, in addition to the formal living room add considerable value to a home for resale.
Older mantel designs sometimes included a large panel that extended up towards the ceiling and were typically called chimney breasts or over-mantels. Sometimes these over-mantels were made of the same material as the paneling in the balance of the room, or were designed as a place for the family portrait.
Major influences on the historical designs of fireplaces began during the Renaissance and later from England, where the famed architect Inigo Jones introduced the purer Italian designs. Later, fireplace mantels evolved to the more elaborate styles popular during the reign of the French kings, Louis XIV and XV and still later styles of elaborate carved wood originated from the Scottish Adams brothers.
While many mantelpieces were made of carved oak wood in the United States from the 1600s to the 1800s, the common material of the more luxurious fireplaces today are marble and various types of other stone, including granite and limestone. Other fireproof materials, such as glass tile and mosaic tile may also be used for unusual and dramatic designs.
Actually, a fireplace may be as elaborate or simple and made of virtually any material that you wish. There are no “musts” in fireplace mantelpiece design. The most important consideration when deciding to remodel a fireplace is to keep in mind that the design of the mantelpiece should complement the overall design of the room in which it is located.
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