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The Magic Of Mantels And Fireplaces

Sitting around the fireplace on a cold winter's night is simply magical. The roaring fire helps take the chill out of the room while creating a special ambience. For many years, fireplaces have provided warmth and, for years before that, a place to cook as well. They have never lost their popularity and, in fact, have made substantial gains. In my lifetime, fireplaces have been marching southward where winters are short and summers are long. And although the latest advances have been made in climate control for our homes, fireplaces continue to be in style.

I suspect you’ll agree that with the advances in climate control the purpose of the fireplace has markedly changed. It’s definitely not about simply warming your the home. Nor is it about cooking. Stoves have been around for some time. So why do we have this ever growing love for fireplaces? My guess is that fireplaces provide that special ambience when they’re lit. And when they are not lit they continue to add interest and focus and character to a room. Should I add “charm” as well? It would seem that fireplaces, and the mantels that frame them, have been, for some time, one of the distinct architectural elements that enhance the flavor of our homes much like embellished stairways, arched entry ways, or ornamental range hoods. In these examples, there is a wonderful marriage (in many cases) of function and art.

“Wonderful marriage” has to be qualified because not all “marriages of art and function are happy, wonderful marriages. I recently had the opportunity to walk through home that was probably 80 percent completed and saw some pretty awful “marriages”. There was a kitchen island that had incredibly large ornate corbels supporting the counter top. The fireplace had oversized stone columns supporting the mantel shelf. The most gracious think that could be said is:”More is not necessarily better”. Thankfully, there are many beautiful examples of form and function-just not in that home.

Over the years millworks suppliers have specialized in mantels shelves and surrounds. Cabinet makers, in my area, have become adept at building mantels. (Need is always jogging ahead of supply). And since the “media” of cabinet makers is wood, most mantels are made of wood-which is fine with me since wood is my “media”. Thick wooden slabs, under laid with crown mold supported by ornate corbels and fluted legs are a common style for many cabinet makers. Not so common are the hand carved variety still made available by artisan carvers in foreign lands. The beauty of these carved masterpieces is unmatched by the latest 21st century technological marvels. The slight variations and minor imperfections are a signature that says “hand carved” and adds a special charm and unique quality. Mass production methodology will, in my humble opinion, never match the techniques of the masters. Carvers can undercut and form sharp interior cuts that are presently not possible with CNC tooling.

The question has to be asked, “What would a fireplace be without a mantel?” The mantel serves to draw the eye in, to focus ones attention. It adds interest to a room. Keepsakes and family pictures are shelved there. The fireplace a mantel is a marriage in itself-sort of a marriage within a marriage-(if you’re keeping up with my analogies). Without a doubt they will increase the value of a room and so a home.

Submitted by:

Kim Vedros

Kim Vedros is a professional wood turner and owner of Architectural Wood Designs, an ecommerce store that sells hand carved mantels and other hand carved components.




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