|Prefabricated fireplace units such as this one typically have|
smaller fireboxes than their masonry predecessors.
Here, a stone veneer surround helps gives
the small firebox more oomph.
Strictly speaking, the mantel is only the shelf or lintel across the fireplace opening; the mantelpiece is the entire structure including the side elements. The recess in which the actual fire is built is called—surprise—the firebox. The material on the floor in front of the firebox is the hearth, and the facing around the edge of the firebox is the surround.
Both the hearth and the surround must be of noncombustible materials (such as brick, tile, stone or stone veneer, marble, or cement). Consult your local building department for the exact requirements.
Now the suggestions:
|A full-width raised hearth makes a small firebox more visible and provides|
a lovely place to sit as well. This trick works well in contemporary
home styles, but may look out of place in traditional homes.
The mantelpiece itself can be of any appropriate material—wood, marble, plaster, vitreous tile, and stainless steel have all been used to good effect. The mantelpiece can be nearly flat against the wall, or it can project from it. The projecting portion can be topped with a mantel shelf or continue up to the ceiling (in which case, the part above the mantel is called the "overmantel"—reasonable enough, no?
• Mind your proportions. A common mistake is to design a really wimpy mantelpiece that looks entirely lost in a large room. Because today’s prefabricated fireplaces have smaller fireboxes than their masonry predecessors, you may need to use a big, bold surround to bring the mantelpiece into scale with the room.
|You don't need fancy materuaks to create a|
perfectly charming fireplace—this one is just plain red brick
with a big slab of lumber for a mantel shelf.
• Finally, if you’re hesitant to design the mantelpiece yourself, you can choose from among a great variety of stock mantelpieces and surrounds. Remember that the same cautions regarding proportion and material still apply.
And speaking of fireplaces, don’t forget to leave Santa some cookies. Merry Christmas.