the fireplace
and its mantel.

Thomas M. Beeton & Associates.,

In days gone by, it was not common to have a fireplace mantel in your home. Fireplaces were practical- serving as heat and cooking sources in a home. They needed to be open and large enough to accommodate cooking pots and utensils and heat as much area as possible, and were not considered focal points of beauty like they are today.

Most fireplaces in common homes did not even have a hearth rug for fear of flying embers causing a fire. A fireplace screen certainly would have come in handy against sparks, but then again, that would have largely gotten in the way of practical chores such as cooking and the need to frequently add wood for warmth.

Ted Muehling's home. The white brick fireplace.

Until the twelfth century, fires were simply made in the middle of a home and smoke was vented out through the roof. As time went on, the placement of fireplaces moved to the wall, incorporating chimneys to vent the smoke. This permitted the design of very elaborate chimney pieces used in castles and homes of wealthy people. These pieces would be elaborately carved from wood and enriched with ornamentation.

Many European sculptors were hired to design and carve these magnificent mantels, some of which are on display in the world's great museums.

In the eighteenth century, it became common for a framed family portrait to hang over the fireplace. Today, more fireplaces are lit with a flick of a switch, rather than a match. A modern fireplace primarily serves to enhance the grandeur of an interior space rather than as a heat source. And because our homes are so varied in style, furnishings, size, and decor, fireplace mantels today can be as fancy or as plain as the homeowner wishes.

Fireplaces mantels can be the focus of custom interior decoration, or thought of simply as a place to display framed family photographs. A fireplace mantel offers an opportunity to create a personal statement unique to the room and enhance the architectural style, especially when adding elements such as capitals, moldings, and brackets. On the other hand, a wood fireplace mantel might be quite simple and plain, allowing the beauty of the wood grain to serve as its only decoration.

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