Many years ago, I bought an amazing yellow mantle, salvaged from an old house in Maine, to surround the fireplace in an apartment I thought I’d live in forever. Then things changed (life’s operating principle) and I had to leave that beautiful space, and make a new home amidst the the harsh realities of the New York real estate market. My new apartment had no fireplace. Still, I thought: Why not have a mantle without any notion of a fireplace at all?
So I took the yellow mantle with me to the new space and leaned it against the living room wall. Although my “country” pine mantle has nothing to do with the 1950′s or 60′s, it’s spare lines somehow fit perfectly with my mostly moderne furniture. It acts sort of like a sculpture or large painting to define and focus the space, and provides a platform for ever-changing still-lives, not to mention, somehow giving a sense of “hearth”.
The vast range of mantle styles makes for lots of possibilities for using a mantle as furniture, without an actual fireplace. You can find old mantles at flea markets, antique stores and salvage sites (like my favorite Salvage One), thrift stores, or Ebay. And any wood mantle can be painted an interesting color.
The key is finding the mantle that works with rest of your furniture, and with the feeling you want to achieve, for it will definitely set the tone for the room. That might mean choosing a mantle of a completely different style to create an unexpected harmony, like the pairing of this over-the-top mantle “wedding-cake” with some cool modern chairs; together they make an inspired contrast that lends a wonderful feeling to the room and really makes you look everything in it in a new way.