It’s not a stretch to say that the allure of the open flame is hardwired into the human psyche. Fire has been a part of human habitations for thousands of years. Initially relegated to an outdoor pit, fire moved indoors with the advent of fireplaces and quickly became the focal point in a house. Gradually, new technologies like cooking stoves and central heating made the fireplace functionally obsolete. Nevertheless, more than 50% of American homes still have one. Clearly, fireplaces are appreciated and sought after for more than just their practical uses.
As fireplaces evolved from purely functional devices to decorative highlights in the home, their mantels followed suit. Initially, mantels were a utilitarian feature, used to hang cooking utensils or support a candle. Later, their craftsmanship became a way to convey wealth and social status.
Traditional architecture in particular has a history of celebrating fireplaces through mantel design. From simple compositions of raised-wood panels to showy assemblies of ornate trim profiles, the options for detailing a classic mantel are endless. Using the architecture of your home and the characteristics of the room as a guide, you can begin to hone in on a design that will make your fireplace a showstopper. The three examples detailed here demonstrate just a few of the many possibilities for a classic mantel in a traditional home. Like any appropriate mantel, they will help to mark the historical importance that the hearth once played in the home.