The other day I received this comment from Sue. It’s regarding the correct fireplace mantel proportions.
But, I also want to discuss styles. I see so much that I feel is thoroughly wrong when it comes to fireplace mantels proportions as well as classic styling.
Here’s what Sue said:
I have a question about my fireplace mantel. Maybe you can do a blog post about fireplace mantel proportions? The original fireplace was a 1970s flagstone horror with a raised hearth and concrete mantel. I don’t recall the original height.
But, the new mantel is 63″ high. And, I’m not a pro, but it really seems a bit bossy, don’t you think? I can replace it with something that has a lower profile. (or maybe fix this one?)
I just don’t know how close to ideal I can get if I replace it. So, I don’t know if it’s worth the expense.
What would the best height be for a fireplace mantel in a home with eight-foot ceilings? The home is a typical developer’s tract-style home. Of course, all building codes regarding the firebox need to be in compliance.
First of all, yes, 63″ tall for a fireplace mantel in a room with an eight-foot ceiling is a little high. The highest I have ever seen is 59″ but most fireplace mantels range between 52″-57″ for an eight-foot ceiling.
The thing is, the mantel height is not going to change that much in room with a higher ceiling, either. That is, unless the firebox size gets larger. We’ll be talking about that a little later on.
So, this is a good topic because a lot of people have asked me about fireplace mantels and especially about fireplace mantel proportions.
And, it’s kind of funny. There are several posts featuring mantels and I will link them at the end. But, the one thing I haven’t gone over are the precise fireplace mantel proportions– and scale.
But, here’s the thing.
There’s definitely some wiggle room when it comes to fireplace mantel proportions.
***However, the one that’s critical is the scale of the fireplace in the room.***
And, particularly the height.
That is especially so with a room with an eight-foot ceiling.
Now, for a little entertainment.
In my internet travels, I happened on some fireplace mantels that clearly do not come close to following any meaningful classical proportions. So, I thought some of you would love to see what I unearthed.
I was debating whether I should ease you into the water slowly or just hit you straight between the eyes. But, I’ll be gentle and begin with some fireplaces that aren’t hideous but miss the mark and why.
(please do not pin the bad examples to pinterest unless it’s for a folder of what not to do.)
Remember our discussion of the classical orders and proportions? If you missed the post or need a refresher, click here.
Below the mantel shelf is the “entablature,” the same as in the classical orders. However, in the case of the mantel above, there isn’t enough of one. The entablature below the shelf and crown should be deeper than the stiles (legs of the mantel) are wide. OR, at least the same width. But never less than the width of the stiles.
And, since this is a nice tall ceiling, this mantel definitely needs that extra piece.
Another issue is that there only needs to be six inches of fireproof material (usually, but could be more if the mantel body, excluding the shelf is deeper than 1.5″. Always double check that! But, it looks not-so-great to have more than one foot of stone or brick– usually.)
I love that the fireplace wall, above, is nicely furred out. However, I still prefer that there’s a little breathing room on the sides. So, I’d make this mantel about four inches less wide. That’s not crucial, but I think it looks better.
This is so close, but the entablature and the base blocks are too large and maybe protrude a little too much. Standard depth for the mantel is 1.5,” not including the shelf. Most shelves are 7″-8″ deep. The width on this one is fine, I think. Ideally, the hearth should reach to the ends of the mantel, as well.
An “over-mantel” can be very elegant.
This one is preposterously large. So are the crowns topping the pilasters. And, underneath the mantel shelf. The rounded moulding and middle window, some know is a particular peeve of mine. Ask yourself, this.
Would Ben Pentreath do this in one of his rooms? If the answer is no, then, please don’t do it. :]
How should it be?
I would do a third window like the two upper ones on the sides. And, then use a picture frame moulding for the over mantel. It could also be a real panel, but probably not in this house.
Precious, isn’t it? Ummm… no.
But, now, you will need to prepare yourself. Please swallow your coffee/wine/mimosa.
And, ready your barf bags. Or, look away if it’s too much. ;]
This isn’t really a fireplace mantel, is it? I would say more as a shrine to their televison.
You know, I’ve always wanted to have an alter in my kitchen complete with niches and badly proportioned Corinthian columns.
They say that this is granite. hmmmm… I’m pretty sure this would be stunning in the mcmansion home with the entry painted baby barf beige. Remember, with the death-trap spiral staircase?
But, while we’re here. The island top. Oh My Freaking Gagawful!!! It’s undulating so wildly, I’m getting car sick. I’m not going to discuss the huuuuuuge corbels. The security lights are a nice touch, though.
The marketing on their website is even more comical.
You can proudly show off your house…and be instantly showered with praise and remarks about your good taste.
The overall concept is very much in the Italian tradition of architecture that can be found in the Palazzo Ducale in St. Marks Square in Venice.
Okay, if you say so.
Oh, yes, I see it now.
(where’s that eye rolling emoji?)
But, we’re not done. Or, I mean, I’m not done. ;]
Be sure to have that watermark nice and big.
This will be perfect for the nursery.
Those Corinthian capitals have goosebumps!
Oh man… Well, enough of this.
Time to get more serious about fireplace mantel proportions. And, what you do need to do. Plus, some wonderful sources.
First, let’s bring back Sue’s image.
I think that she can do better. The first thing that’s bugging me is the arch. It’s the ubiquitous arch that doesn’t exist anywhere except in American furniture.
Of course, y’all are welcome to your arches. But, just know that this is an affectation and not classical.
Second, the bases are too high. So, yes, Sue could have it cut down.
But, I’d just start afresh.
In addition, usually the mantel is painted the same as the trim. It doesn’t have to be, but this bleached wood doesn’t look so great IMO with the marble. And, the linen white walls.
I would prefer to see something more classical (painted to match the trim) but not formal, like this lovely from Wood Your Way Mantels on Etsy. However, they have numerous styles to choose from. And the prices are wonderful.
But, the very best part is that they do custom. Oh, and their reviews are glowing.
I made a quick widget of some my favorites. Please click on the images for more information.
How gorgeous is that!
This is an architectural drawing I found. I don’t know where it’s from. But, this shows what interior designers and architects do before anything is built.
The above is from a wonderful company I discovered recently, in New Jersey, Kuiken brothers, who make the most gorgeous mouldings. And, they have some beautiful, detailed catalogs, as well as instructions on how to make these beautiful classical fireplace mantels.
But, they have mouldings for everything and many, beautiful and inspirational images, as well.
Oh, and they’ve proportioned everything out for eight-foot, nine-foot and ten-foot ceilings with moulding packages.
So, see, you don’t need me after-all. haha
I swiped this beautiful detail from their instagram account @kuikenbrothers. So, please follow them there. And, no, they are not paying me to say that, but I like promoting companies with excellent products, no matter.
Below are a few more images with some perfect fireplace mantel proportions
beautiful English Georgian-style mantel – perfect fireplace mantel proportions via this is carpentry
Georgian Fireplace mantel – classical proportions – source unknown
Above and below are two new images from Serena & Lily.
When you have a sec, please check them out because they just brought in over 500 new things like this stunning chair above. But, let’s look at this fireplace mantel, above. hmmm… It goes against the rules. But, this looks like a nice high ceiling and the mantel is very simple, so I’d give it a pass. I would like it better, however, if the mantel shelf came out another inch or so, on each side.
This is a wonderful fireplace mantel in the Georgian style. Beautifully styled living room, as well! But, their rooms always are!
Below, I made a graphic with some possible dimensions for good fireplace mantel proportions. This would be good for most rooms with an eight-foot ceiling or higher.
Please note, however, that these dimensions are not written in stone. It’s merely a guideline.
please pin to pinterest for reference
And now for those links to previous fireplace mantel posts
mantels on a big living room wall
Well, that should keep you busy for a while! And, I hope that this has answered some of your questions about fireplace mantel proportions!
PS: Please check out the newly updated hot sales. Many beautiful new things to see this week in all of the hot sales pages.
They are a local store, Laurel! If you ever visit them in person- you have to come and visit me- they are a few, short miles ‘down the road’!
Not only does Kuiken Brothers have wonderful moldings, but their store is staffed by incredibly knowledgeable people, and so it’s a joy to shop there.
Hi Laurel – you mentioned “the ubiquitous arch that doesn’t exist anywhere”. What do you think of eyebrow arched doorways being built in new houses?
same thing. wrong.
Great post- great timing. Furniture buying groups for designers, any recs, posts? Thoughts? LOL
How to get best deals for real. Best deals ethically possible. Better than scholarships.
I don’t know of any buying groups, but if you’re in the trade you can join the interior design community on facebook.(Laurie Laizure’s group) That’s a great place to ask questions like that.
I am drooling over the Kuiken Brothers website. I have long wanted to add moulding to my plain boxy little rooms, but have been deterred by the amount of work + the fear of doing it wrong. Their packages eliminate the fear and reduce the work, so maybe it will actually happen now! Thank you so much, Laurel, for the link!
One question–my house is a 1941 Cape Cod, but I don’t want the interior style to look 1940s. Our furniture and fabrics lean Arts & Crafts. Would Craftsman mouldings in a 1940s house look dumb? (ersatz, inauthentic, pretentious…)
I wish I could say, Anne-Marie, but I can’t see what you’re talking about.
How to make decorating dreams into reality? Would you draw your furniture or not really… Laurel, could you write about communication with trades… How to make it right? If you’re not from design school and can’t do elevations drawings…
Well, I’m hearing two questions. One is about understanding architectural drawings. If you haven’t been trained, then it’s more difficult. It’s just like any other skill. But, it doesn’t take long to learn.
As for working with trades people, I’m assuming that you’re renovating or building. Some are terrific at communication and some are horrible. Some are REALLY horrible. And, believe me, I hear all of the time on interior design forums from many of my female colleagues how rude and inappropriate some of the guys are. There are lots of reasons that this could be happening and none of them are good.
However, my point is that it’s a problem even for us with years of experience. So, sorry for the pain. I understand. But, my rec is always to stay polite– exactly like a GPS. lol Repeat what it is that you want and PUT EVERYTHING IN WRITING.
Interesting post. I ran right down and measured my mantel- it passes.
About painting the inside black, I’ve thought about doing that, but I’m afraid the paint might be toxic and give off harmful fumes when we actually use it to have a fire. So, what kind of paint is safe to use on the fire bricks inside?
Yes, chances are, 99% of your mantels are fine. You know, I would have to research that. I’ve had clients who’ve had that done and most likely left it to the painter to figure out. A great place to ask questions like that is where they sell paint. Or, you could also do a search online.
Love this Laurel! Pinned many images (and not the ugly ones) – LOL
Thanks so much Sheri!
Being rich does not mean taste. This is why you must never run away. It’s difficult when you go to a mcmansion and they want raves. I compare it to looking at a new very ugly baby, the best statement is “now, that’s a baby!!!”
No hurt feelings and they can smile.
Do you think that parents with an ugly baby know that their baby is ugly? However, I’ve seen some “ugly babies” grow up to be handsome adults and definitely the opposite to be true, as well.
As for rich not equaling taste. I’ll never forget in my “salad days” about 35 +/- years ago, I sometimes worked as a server for a catering company for some extra cash. These events were held at places like Rockefeller or Lincoln Center. Being the highly visual person that I am, I was horrified by the hideous dresses these well-healed women were wearing. Granted, it was the 80s; a decade known for its propensity for the tacky.
One time, every single woman except for one; just one out of maybe 50 was wearing one of these puffy, overweight, bejeweled the nth degree atrocities. The one woman was wearing a simple dark blue silk taffeta with a V neck, normal sleeves and beautiful cut through the bodice which flowed naturally into a fully skirt.
I couldn’t take my eyes off of her. That’s how sensational that dress was in a sea of jewel toned sequins and ruching for days!
My husband built our mantel many years ago. He replicated the lines & detailing of the sideboard I inherited from my grandfather.
I’m afraid to take a tape measure to it now to see if it’s done correctly. Oh well…I’ve lived with it this long & I’ve never questioned it. And if I told him he needed to rectify it he might throw something at me. 😂
I love that your husband did that! I’m sure that it’s fine, Mary. The measurements I gave are only a guideline.
Thank you, Laurel.
Another informative post. How do you feel about faux fireplace surrounds? Let’s say a beautiful antique surround that is salvaged and used where there is no chimney – for aesthetic purposes only? Guess why I’m asking….
I love them if they are well-done. That’s another post!
I love your posts! So much great information, and funny as well. Since this one was about predominantly wood fireplace surrounds, I was wondering if you would offer some advice about all-stone fireplaces, including if you think they are generally a poor choice. I would really appreciate any comments on this and I suspect other readers would also be interested.
I believe there’s a link at the end to some stone fireplace mantels I like. But, here it is, if I didn’t. I can’t see the post from where I am.
OMG that kitchen picture! Where DO you find these things?! The barf bag warning was indeed needed! Great post and great explanations of what went wrong vs how to get it right! I’m hoping you can rid the world of bad taste, but it seems to be an epidemic if that mantel/shrine company is any indication!
Believe it or not, I found it while researching the post. I googled “best proportions fireplace mantel.”
And, here we are. Isn’t that outrageous? I went, OMG, they can’t be serious. But, apparently, they are.
Well no, actually I don’t hahahaha!!! Ok Let’s be honest, maybe I just can’t afford them lol.
how were you able to get a photo of President Trump’s TV and mantel? 😉
I appreciate your emphasis on classic and timeless, in both architecture and decor.
Doing anything with a home is expensive, whether it is done correctly or incorrectly. It is so much better to do it right the first time, so it doesn’t have to be redone later.
You are performing a public service because most of us don’t have limitless funds , yet want homes that feel comfortable and attractive. You help us work toward that.
Thank you so much Risa! Yes, that’s the goal!
Do these proportions stay the same regardless of the width of the fireplace opening? My opening is 36″ wide (46″ with the surrounding fireproofing). My mantel is 79″ long. It’s one of those 70’s flagstone wonders. 🙂
Well, I can’t see what you’re talking about but yes, if your opening is 36″ including tile, brick or metal, then that’s the same as a 48″ opening which is average. 79″ sounds a little long for that size firebox. I would say, most likely a maximum of 72.” But, you would need professional in person advice because there might be a structural reason for the length of the mantel.
Thanks for the great post about mantels. Aside from the mantels, you didn’t say much about a raised hearth concept, and when a raised hearth is appropriate and enhances things, or if they can be classical. it’s probably a given that most people don’t want to change. I have a fireplace insert (yes, I know) and during an upcoming remodel it wouldn’t be too difficult to lower it and the hearth to floor level.
Super good point. It’s impossible to cover everything! My old townhouse had a raised hearth and an insert with glass doors. It was black and not too objectionable. And I think it was just in the front of the firebox.
But, usually, they can be removed as seen in this post on Young House Love.
Given a choice, I would always say to lower the hearth. Originally hearths were always at floor level. I’m sure there’s a cost-cutting reason to raise them up. But aesthetically, I’m not a fan.
I lived in an attached townhouse and in the middle, so our options were exceedingly limited.
I have led a simple life, and looking at that monstrous kitchen-altar mantle makes me grateful I have been so blessed. I had no idea such things existed. You are a jewel.
I had no idea such a thing existed either. Of course, this is the company’s showroom. But still…I don’t care what anyone says; there is nothing tasteful about it. And, it’s rare of me to not care what anyone says! Of course, if having that in one’s home makes them happy, I would say that trumps taste. lol
As to Ralph Lauren quality… I mean mostly that chandelier. Like from one of your previous posts, when someone got injured by it;] Their architecture is great but not everything they do is about quality, I mean. Their merchandise is overpriced and …cheap crap sometimes. No offense though! And Serena &Lily is great actually.
Well, you winked, so you know that’s a joke about the injury. Well, not a joke, but they ordered a piece that’s too large for the room and table. I will admit that RL is overpriced, at full retail, but I haven’t found the quality to be lacking. Do you have a particular piece or pieces in mind?
Hi Laurel! Just wondering, and maybe you’e addressed this before, but whenever I use the OKL20CARD code on One Kings Lane website it won’t apply it. It says something to the effect that it’s used too many times. What gives? Thanks – love the blog and the sale info!
Please email me privately (admin at laurel bern interiors dot com) I have to spell it out because of spammers! I have some suggestions that are a work around. I feel it’s kind of tacky to put it on the internet on my website. But, I have the answer all ready to go to paste into an email.
Laurel, you have a spelling error in your pin!
…for anD eight foot
Thank you so much. Someone kindly emailed me about that. Fortunately, picmonkey automatically saves graphics now. It took them long enough! So, that was an easy fix. The corrected graphic is there now. So, if anyone who pinned the graphic in error sees this comment, please kindly remove the graphic with the booboo and replace with the new one. Thanks, all!
yeah, people think ornate equals classy but really ornate equals gross. Hope everyone is having a good summer!!
Thank you Susie!
Great post- great timing. How do proportions change with 1. open concepts? 2. 10′ ceilings? 3. Rustic decor?
So many details. Thank you..
Well, those are good questions. The fireplace mantel changes with the size of the opening. So, the question is… How large should the opening be? 48″ wide (before the tile) is a standard size. But, if it’s a big two story great room with a 30 foot wall with a double story ceiling, that might look a tad dinky. This is why architects and interior designers do elevations. So, without seeing the specific situation, it’s difficult to say. Yes, so many details!
One time, I had a client who had a fireplace in their living room. It was a cool, old home but the previous owners had put one foot of marble over the mantel and two feet on either side– before the mantel! It looked awful.
I think they missed a trick with the TV shrine: what it really needs is fountains in the side niches for ritual ablutions.
Amazing information! I love architecture series. What about fake mantels?
I’ve always wondered how serena&lily, restoration hardware, Ralph Lauren do such incredible pictures and design for their stores. They can sell buyers any chandelier or a curtain rod. But I’ve noticed that they put it in a beautiful room at first with cool architecture etc, so you’re buying the overall look in your head and then you come to home and it’s not the same… lol.
They’re so clever. And they flip their showrooms so fast. I wonder how they do it, they never mess around presentation… but they mess with quality often. I’m your Italian reader, but with my American husband I live in the USA, apologies for my English mistakes!
Can you write about marble thresholds, how to get them right? We have so many of them in Capri. Villa San Michele has so many various floors and there are always some kind of marble threshold between them. Last question or rather theme I’d love to discuss – Gil Schaffer fire mantels.
Is there any difference between something well made like Kuiken Brothers molding and mantels and moldings and mantels from great architects for their projects? You say we don’t need you Laurel, but we do need you like a lot! If you ever have a writing block, just ask me lol. I need you so much!
I’m not aware that Ralph Lauren and S & L mess with their quality. I have always found it to be superb!
I’m sorry, but marble thresholds are not really my domain. However, they are there as a transition between two floors that are slightly different heights. That often occurs between a tile floor and a wood floor. However, if they are the same height, having one might not be necessary.
Architects don’t make mouldings. They don’t even purchase them. They do specify, however, just like interior designers and decorators do. And, they very likely specify from Kuiken Brothers and other fine sources such as Metrie and Dykes Lumber. What I love about Kukien Bros is that that they’ve taken great pains (meaning expense) to put together their packages. Of course, it’s brilliant marketing because it makes it so much easier for the consumer to visualize which translates into orders. I’m so happy that I’ve discovered them!