A fireplace mantel can be different things to different people. At holiday time, it can be the place where you hang your stockings with care with hopes of waking up to something other than lumps of coal. It can also be a shelf for displaying your family photos and decorative pieces. Or the mantel can underscore a large mirror or artwork hanging above it. However you look at it, the space is important, so your choice of mantel shelves is an essential detail to complete the look.
Although just a single piece that is mounted above your fireplace, mantel shelves add definition and enhance any hearth. The designs of mantel shelves are as diverse as the fireplace styles themselves, running the gamut from rustic to elegant. Crafted in wood, stone, or marble, you have many choices, depending on your personal taste.
Your first decision is based on the material. Marble adds elegance, as does polished hardwood. Some woods and stone lend a sturdy, rustic feel. Choose the material that best accents the fireplace and the room. Mantel shelves should blend, not overpower, and they should not add such startling contrast that they disrupt the comfortable flow of the area.
If you decide that wood is the best fit, look for quality hardwoods, like maple, oak, and cherry. The wood should be as lasting as the fireplace itself.
Because of the placement directly above a heat source, be sure that the mantel’s material meets the National Fire Code standards for safety.
When deciding on the design, think of mantel shelves as a piece of furniture. Because it is a focal point of the room, you need to give as much consideration to the mantel shelf as to the sofa, tables, and other furnishings in the room. They should all complement one another, from the style to the finish (rough hewn, polished, painted, or stained).
Luckily, the popularity of mantel shelvesmeans you have a wide range of styles to choose from, so you can certainly find the shelf that is aesthetically pleasing in your décor. Your shelf can be simple, elegant, dramatic, or even country cottage chic.
Wooden mantel shelves are available in an array of natural colors. You can also choose a shelf that is ready to paint in your desired color, giving you the option to change your mantel’s look when you redecorate the room.
Some mantel shelves reflect more colonial style-like the Lexington from Pearl Mantels. This broad pine mantel is ideal for homes that want their mantel to reflect a heritage of sturdy simplicity. Pearl’s other mantels cover the full design spectrum, with the classically beautiful Auburn and the Devonshire which looks like a carved antique.
Mantel shelves can also incorporate more function, like Pearl Mantel’s Abingdon, which has a sliding center drawer-great for storing candles, matches, and keepsakes.
Sizing it up
Before making your final decision among the many mantel shelves available, consider the size that will fit best in your space. Most standard mantel shelves come in lengths from 50 to 90 inches, but custom shelves can be crafted to your specifications.
Measure the height and width of the fireplace and hearth. The height is important because your mantel shelf should be in proportion to the fireplace below. A deep shelf above a smaller fireplace will only serve to dwarf it.
Next, look at the length of wall space surrounding it. Your mantel shelf does not need to be limited to the length of your hearth. For a more dramatic look, consider mantel shelves that extend far beyond the edges of the fireplace, particularly if you have a long wall to accommodate more length.
Most mantel shelves are easy to install, as long as you follow the instructions and have the necessary tools. You need to ensure that you mount it to wood studs and that the shelf is mounted a safe distance above the fireplace. The National Fire Protection Association recommends at least six inches above your fireplace opening. Deeper shelves that extend outward more than one and a half inches beyond that opening should be installed at least one foot above to avoid fire hazards. These are minimums; you can certainly move your mantel shelf higher, but keep it to eye level if you are going to display items there.
Finally, remember that mantel shelves aren’t limited to the fireplace. These beautiful shelves can add stylish display to any room in your home.