Fireplace mantel shelves have originated in the 5th century A.D. and have evolved gracefully since then. Though the concept of fire place mantel shelves came into existence out of the necessity to survive the cold waves, it soon became a matter of flaunt and now occupies a dignified position in architecture.
A fireplace mantel shelf, also known as a chimney-piece, is a hood-like projection over the fire grate that vents the smoke rising from the fire. A mantel shelf is built decoratively around the fireplace to conceal the walls blackened from the soot rising from the fire. Fireplaces are preferably installed in big homes with spacious living rooms.
Usually, family members gather around the fireplace to indulge in fun activities. This is why, the mantelpiece shelf is ornamented with prized artifacts like family heirlooms, decorative showpieces, photographs, etc.
The history of fireplace mantel shelf dates back to the time when art and beauty was at its peak. A fireplace mantel shelf proves to be a perfect blend of history and art.
Modern Fireplace Mantel Shelves
Just having a rustic fireplace to keep your living room warm is not enough. You might be looking forward to showcase the warmth and love of your family by adorning the fireplace mantel with family photographs.
Shelves act as an accent piece for the fireplace mantel and you can also use it for Christmas decoration or for adorning your living room in a more festive manner during other holidays.
Basically, there are two types of fireplace shelves. One is open fireplace shelf and the other is fireplace mantel shelf. Open shelves are those which are not right on the top of the mantel, but add a sophisticated look to the whole decor.
The Closed mantel shelves are more intricate and are a part of the frame of the fireplace.
A framed fireplace, complete with mantel and shelves, complementing a particular decor theme is nothing short of a piece of art. Most homeowners prefer wooden work for their fireplace as it renders a country look and bring about a refined charm to the place.
Wooden mantel shelves are built from mahogany, alder, pine, oak, maple and cherry wood. However, you can also find other materials like brick, marble, granite and metal for fireplace shelves which can act as a gorgeous addition to your hearth.
You can also opt for a stone mantel shelf which bring in the old world's understated look in your contemporary living room. Stone is an excellent choice for fireplace shelves even if they are somewhat expensive.
It is a safer option than wood and score high on durability and maintenance scale. Those who prefer stone for mantel-piece construction, opt for the antique designs carved in marble, limestone and granite.
A stone mantelpiece erected by stacking the stone blocks one above the other, in a creative pattern, is considered to be a contemporary piece of art. It draws attention to itself and needless to say, becomes the focal point of the room.
As a homeowner (who loves spending time in the room with fireplace while curled up in the sofa and reading a book), this kind of fireplace mantel shelf will add the much-needed visual appeal to the whole room. You can also keep your books on this shelf to encourage the whole library-cum-living-room image!
History of Fireplace Mantel Shelves
Fireplace mantel shelves are an ethnic gift of the Europeans to the world. The variations in the designs of the early modern-period mantel shelves, exhibit the tremendous alterations in the art and culture of those times.
15th Century Fireplace Mantel Shelves
During the 15th century, homes had open hearths in the center of the living room with canopies erected to vent the rising smoke. Later, the hearth was shifted towards the wall, where the canopy could get a better support.
16th Century Fireplace Mantel Shelves
In the 16th century the fireplaces were treated as a part of the wall and had a support or a mantelpiece built around it.
The support or mantelpiece architecture was greatly inspired by the Greek and Roman culture. Although, mantelpiece designs have altered according to many cultural influences, their artistic beauty makes them an inherent part of the living room furnishing.
17th Century Fireplace Mantel Shelves
In the 17th century, the mantelpieces were mostly carved out of oak wood. The chimney-piece of the Palais de Justice at Bruges, carved in oak, occupies the whole width of the room, with the statues of Charles V and others of the royal family of Spain.
The mantelpieces by Inigo Jones were illustrious in the early 17th century, whereas those by G. B. Piranesi became quite famous during 1765.
18th Century Fireplace Mantel Shelves
The mantelpieces during this period exhibited a combination of the Italian style of Inigo Jones as well as the French style of Louis XIV and Louis V.
This style displayed finely sculptured figures on the side columns and equally exquisite frame on the top, to hold a portrait. In the later half of the 18th century, Adam Brothers became well-known for their mantelpieces carved in rich wood.
19th Century Fireplace Mantel Shelves
In the early 19th century, the mantelpiece designs reflected the structure of the Greek temples with the over-mantel portraits of the 18th century being replaced by massive mirrors.
In the mid 19th century, the craftsmen adopted the ornamental Victorian style for shaping the mantelpieces. The firebox and surrounding panels were molded from copper and brass.
In the late 19th century, the mantelpiece designs were simplified. Some mantelpieces were made of stones, tiles and bricks while some were even carved out of limestone.
The late 19th century trend was carried forward in the early 20th century. Later, as the houses became smaller, the space for fireplace became inadequate and they were replaced by modern heating devices. For those who like to have fireplaces in their homes, the mantel shelves are available in many styles and designs. Modern-day fireplace mantel shelves are also available in ready-to-install packages and can be erected without any professional help.