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A fireplace is often the focal point of the room, and the main feature of the fireplace is a decorative mantel. The mantel is the shelf above the fireplace that usually holds assorted knick-knacks and family photos and mementos. It is also the place we hang our stocking for Christmas.


While fireplaces were a necessity in Colonial America for heating and cooking, it was rare to see a mantel before the 1800s, according to historians. Early mantels were simple wooden trim work. As homes became grander, the fireplace became a feature in the home during the Georgian period, and large columns and pilasters and a carved shelf above the fireplace created a showpiece.

Fireplace mantels became quite ornate during the Victorian period with elaborate carvings and detailed columns and pilasters. Today, fireplace mantels run from primitive to traditional to modern to reflect the style of the home.

outdoor fireplace

Most mantels are made of wood. The most popular wood is Oak. Other choices are Walnut, Poplar, Maple, and Cherry. Many mantel makers say Hickory is a good choice. It is an exceptionally hard, strong wood with straight grain that stains well. Be careful, it does split easily.


In addition to wood, many early mantels were made of copper. Copper was easy to form into shapes and reflected the heat from the fireplace. Steel mantels are used in modern homes and give an industrial look. Stone was a popular choice in the 1800s and is still used on Craftsman and Primitive style fireplaces.

Van Dyke’s recently began selling composite shelves that come in widths up to 60 inches wide in a number of styles including classic, dentil, and egg and dart. There is also a corner shelf with egg and dart or dentil accent for corner fireplaces. These durable shelves can withstand temperatures of about 140 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the manufacturer. You can also add a clear coat to the mantel with a fire-retardant mixed in.

fireplace trim mold

Van Dyke’s also has carved wood fireplace mantel leg corbels that will be centerpiece of any fireplace. These beautifully detailed legs are available in Acanthus Leaf, Fluted, Traditional, Romanesque, and Baroque styles.


A commonly asked question is, “How wide should my mantel be in relation to the width of the fireplace?”

Most fireplaces are a standard width of 36 inches or 48 inches. Designers recommend a mantel of 42 inches for a 36 inch fireplace and 54 inches for a 48 inch fireplace.

The mantel height is generally between 52 to 58 inches from the floor. Most mantels are 7-8 inches deep, but this varies depending on the style of mantel and what will be placed on the mantel.

Visit to view our selection of mantels, corbels, and fireplace surrounds.