If you are a fan of home restoration programs as I am, I’m sure you have seen antique mantels used in newer homes or restoration of older homes. They certainly can add a lot of character and come in many styles and materials. Most older mantels are made of wood or plaster. Certainly there are marble fireplace surrounds and mantels as well. That was one of my favorite parts of the Hay House in Macon, Georgia. The owner commissioned Italian craftsmen and imported the materials to make a one of a kind fireplace mantel in each room of the house. Each one was carved in a different design and they were so beautiful. Most of us do not have the budget for that kind of indulgence, but antique mantels can be found in a number of price ranges.
There was a time when you could go and talk to a contractor who was tearing down an old home and get some of the architectural details for little to no money. You could even find the removed mantels sitting on the curb on trash day. Due to the popularity of restoring and reusing antique fixtures; you will seldom be that lucky today. Most major cities have an architectural salvage warehouse or two and there are a lot to be found online. EBay and Craig’s List are popular sites and there are many salvage companies that have web sites as well.
When choosing an antique mantel; keep in mind that although they can be altered to fit, you should choose something as close to the measurement of your fireplace as possible to avoid ruining the proportions of the piece. Fireplaces in older homes were often taller and narrower than what you would use in a newer house. You should also keep in mind the style of your home. A very elaborate mantel, while beautiful, may look out of place in a modern dwelling. You might want to consider something in a simpler style.
If you are buying an antique mantel from a salvage company, they may or may not be cleaned and restored. Fireplaces were much more utilitarian in years past and are often coated with a layer of soot and grime that requires a lot of elbow grease to remove. For those of you who do not enjoy that sort of work, choose from a company that has done it for you or take it to someone who can refinish it. If you like to do it yourself, Murphy’s Oil Soap will be your best friend. It will remove the grime without damaging the finish. Just be prepared; the more elaborate the carving, the longer it will take. If you are impatient enlist someone to help you with the process. Once it is clean, the finish can be restored and protected.
Antique mantels can add a custom touch to any home and make the fireplace a real focal point. I have also seen them used without a fireplace as an architectural detail or even a spectacular headboard for a bed. If you love it, you’ll find a way to make it work in your space.
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