Photo Pool Challenge: Replacing a Mantel

It’s not House Beautiful yet, but here’s our new salvage living room mantel. The mantel it replaced, below, did not appear to be original to the house. We found this slate mantel, which is much more like the other mantels in the house, at Build It Green for only $250. We sold the wood mantel to an architect who needed it for a project for $800, and we paid a mason $1,000 to remove the old one and install the new one. The room looks better, feels calmer, and seems more itself.

This is the mantel that came with the house. It’s transitional Queen Anne-Renaissance Revival-Arts and Crafts style and could date from the 1890s to the 1910s. One clue that it is not original to the house is that it’s made in pieces and is adjustable. Also, the proportions don’t work with the room. Nor does the wood match. (It is probably mahogany.) Incidentally, the tile is not real squares, either, but three large rectangular pieces scored to look like individual tiles. Pretty funny to think there was a mantel replacement market back in 1900 or so, so people could upgrade their houses with the latest thing.


Here’s the parlor mantel in the third floor rental. Our original parlor mantel almost certainly was the same. (The rear rooms on the second and third floors have identical mantels.) This one has been painted over, so we have no idea what the original colors were, although we can guess at the decorations based on the incised lines. We should excavate a slice with a razor to find out.


Here’s the old mantel out and the new mantel going in.

The replacement replacement mantel with primer over the plaster. We would have loved to have fixed the chimney so we could have a real fire in this fireplace, but all the flues are being used by our boiler.


Here’s a detail of the new mantel, with the center painted off black. The original faux painting and incised lines show butterflies and stalks of wheat — very Aesthetic Movement. The colors are very typical late Victorian. Unfortunately, the designs were installed upside down. Oh well.

Here’s another mantel that’s original to the house. This is on the same floor as the one we replaced, in the rear of the house. As you can see, it’s in much better condition than the salvage mantel. Installing a mantel is a relatively easy and inexpensive project. Has anyone else here done it or is considering it? Please post photos and stories here.


18 Comment

  • MANTEL. MANTEL. MANTEL. When will you people learn this?
    A mantle is something you wear.

  • yikes. it looked much better before.

  • cate, this is your place?

  • Whoops, thanks for the spell check! Fixed. No-permits, yes this is our place. The wood mantel doesn’t look half bad in the photo above, the only photo I have of it, but it did look terrible in the context of the entire room. The proportions were wrong for the room, it didn’t go with the screen, and the color stood out. Plus, as wood mantels go, it was an odd looking one because it was a replacement and made in pieces. I hope the new owners like it.

  • The mantel is a little beat up, but when we get around to re-doing the walls with paint or wallpaper, it will look more integrated in the room. Perhaps we can add a summer cover too, and no one will know it’s not a working fireplace.

  • “The mantel is a little beat up, but when we get around to re-doing the walls with paint or wallpaper, it will look more integrated in the room.”

    You’re going to faux finish the walls to look beat up?

  • “The mantel is a little beat up, but when we get around to re-doing the walls with paint or wallpaper, it will look more integrated in the room.”

    You’re going to faux finish the walls to look beat up?

  • The previous wooden mantel is similar to the ones in my house but, since my house was built in 1899, they’re both original and [by definition, I guess] appropriate. I’m glad your wood mantel has new owners.

    I took a close look at the tiles in four of my six mantels and it’s possible that they might also have been made in three large pieces. If so, that might have been common practice for turn-of-the-century middle class spec houses like mine. Of course I’m not going to try removing any tiles to check, I already know that the [very]decorative woodwork was pre-fabricated and ordered from catalogues.

  • As a purist, I like the first one much better. It was much grander. New one is cool in a shabby chic sort of way, just not my taste.

  • I love it and think it’s a big improvement (not crazy about those columned colonial revival style mantels). I put a very similar salvaged slate mantel in the living room of my house. There never was a fireplace, so it is purely decorative. Mine has some scratches too, but that’s part of its charm. I did touch up some spots with hobby/model paint – the “military green” colors provide a wide assortment of shades. I coated the whole thing with a matte sealer. I think a lot of 19th century mantels were never meant to have functioning hearths.

  • That’s cool that the old one wasn’t original, and was replaceable. Your new-old one looks like the ones I had in my old apartment. I wonder if you could just wash it and then wax it to bring out the shine of that faux painting?

    I admit, I loved the old-unoriginal too though. But it was dominating the room in a way this one will not. And I do like that painting.

  • I should probably clarify: We would never have removed the mantel if it were original to the house, regardless of the style. I’m going to add another photo to the post that shows another original mantel.

  • Part of the poor proportions of your (not-)original surround stems from the stubby short horizontal overmantel mirror in a room that otherwise supports verticality (as the windows, chimney breast, height to width of room do). Also oddly attenuated columns to either side – this is cabinet-making, not architecture. My vote is that you made a wise decision for the room – as long as you keep surrounding finishes muted and rustic.

  • PS – the installation of the side pieces looks right, frankly. One’s eye is accustomed to seeing a plinth block at the base of the pilaster, after all.