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What is a Mantlepiece?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 10 November 2016
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A mantlepiece, or mantle, is a shelf mounted above an open fireplace. The term is used to refer to the surrounding decorative facing as well in some cases. These shelves come in a wide range of designs and materials to add decorative accents to open fireplaces. The mantlepiece itself is a useful place to display photographs and decorative objects, although potential heat damage should be considered when placing them in close proximity to a fire.

Open fireplaces can be installed without a mantlepiece when a simple and unadorned aesthetic is desired. In other cases, the mantle may be restricted to a plain shelf above the fireplace. Full mantles which act as a facing for the entire fireplace are also available, although they tend to be more costly. Usually, a mantlepiece is designed and installed with the overall look of a room in mind. Especially in homes which reflect a certain historical period, a mantle should be chosen with care. If uncomfortable with installing a mantlepiece, homeowners should hire an experienced contractor.

There are a number of materials for mantlepiece construction to choose from, including wood, plaster, and stone. Wooden mantles can be simple or ornately carved from a variety of woods. Generally, hard woods with a smooth grain are used and can be painted or stained. A wood mantle can be a cost effective and attractive option which will have a long life if well cared for.

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Stone mantlepieces tend to be more expensive, due to the more intensive work involved in stone carving. A wide variety of stone materials can be used, including marble, slate, and limestone. A stone mantle can be carved or left plain, depending on the desired effect. Homeowners attempting to achieve a rustic look may use mounted river rocks as a mantle. Stone ones tend to be more durable than the wooden variety.

Plaster mantlepieces can range widely in cost. Plaster is an excellent material for ornate mantle design because it can be easily shaped and molded. Plaster also has the added benefit of being patchable in the case of damage. Reproduction Victorian plaster and modern mantles are available from interior decoration companies.

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