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The fireplace is usually considered the heart of the home, where people gather to enjoy its warmth. What makes a fireplace truly special is its mantle, its defining characteristic. Mantles can make a fireplace understated and warm, or a dramatic showpiece. When building a new fireplace or updating your existing one, there are countless types of mantles to choose from.
Mantles come in a variety of materials and styles. Whether your taste is modern or traditional, there is a mantle out there that can set the mood for your entire home. The basic types of mantle materials include stone, antique, wood and cast stone. In addition to the basic mantle, there are accessories available such as mantle shelves, caps and overmantles, which extend the mantle to the ceiling.
If you tend towards the dramatic and stately, stone is a good choice for a mantle. Stone is very versatile and can fit any style, from modern to Victorian to rustic. Since there are so many types of stone, such as sandstone, granite, limestone and marble, there are endless options for color and texture. Stone mantles are a good choice if you have a large fireplace. Most stone mantles are either extremely heavy or require a mason to install, so the homeowner should leave installation to a professional.
The homeowner who wants a one-of-a-kind fireplace mantle with history doesn’t have to look any further than the local architectural salvage store or yard. Countless antique mantles have been rescued from stately old homes, historic manors and castles to find a new place in a new home or fireplace.
The price of an antique mantle ranges from cheap — if you’re an adept dumpster diver or happen to come across an unwanted mantle — to staggeringly expensive. Price depends, of course, on the material and the condition. Another factor is the mantle’s history — buyers are willing to pay a premium for a mantle with an impressive pedigree. The cost of restoration also depends on the condition of the mantle and can far exceed the cost of a brand new mantle. In addition, adapting an antique mantle to fit your existing space and firebox can pose some problems, so a carpenter or mason may be required to make the necessary modifications.
Wood is another popular choice for fireplace mantles. It is easy to work with, can fit nearly any style, may be less expensive than stone and lends a traditional, elegant air to any fireplace. Oak, maple and cherry are favorite types of wood that are used in mantles. Wood can be painted or stained to fit your décor. There are many mantle kits that can be purchased at local home improvement stores for easy installation by homeowners with minimal carpentry experience.
Cast stone is becoming very popular as a material used in mantles. Because cast stone mantles are usually custom made, they are easily adaptable for any size firebox. A cast stone mantle, while heavy, tends to be lighter than other types of stone mantles. Cast stone mantles can be handsome and simple or dramatic and ornate. Many centuries-old mantles have been copied and cast so that homeowners with newly constructed homes can lend an old-world charm to their fireplace. The material is non-combustible and usually comprised of ground marble, cement, granite silica sand, fiberglass strand and ferric oxide colorants.