Fireplace Mantle Shelves
When someone mentions a fireplace mantle, the first thing you think of is the mantle shelf. You think of the flat surface at the top where one puts pictures, candles, figurines, or whatever else you want to have on display. Technically, the whole framing device is called a mantle (sometimes spelled "mantel"), even the legs going down each side. In fact, it's possible to have a mantle that is flush against the wall and doesn't provide a shelf of any sort. Other mantles may stick out from the wall slightly, perhaps as much as a door frame, but not enough for anything to be displayed on top of them.
If you want to display things on your mantle, you need to make sure that the mantle you are purchasing has an honest shelf. Get the measurements of the flat surface on top to make sure that whatever you want to put there will actually fit. If you're going to be putting up free-standing picture frames, make sure the mantle goes far enough back for the frame's stand to actually open up and support the picture. If you have a vase that will be perfect for the mantle, you want to know that the vase will not only sit on the mantle shelf but sit far enough back that it won't accidentally get knocked off when someone walks by or straightens up in front of the fireplace after having lit the fire.
If your current mantle doesn't have a shelf, and you want one, you don't necessarily have to replace the entire mantle. It is possible to purchase a mantle shelf only and have it installed above the existing mantle. This will provide plenty of space for you to set out your display items without forcing you to tear out and replace the mantle that's already there.
The other advantage to this is cost. A standalone mantle shelf won't hurt your bank account nearly as much. It can cost less than $300. That's a great savings over the $650 to $2,000 that you can expect to pay for an entire new mantle. (And that price doesn't even include tearing out the old mantle and installing the new one!)
The mantle shelf should be flat on its top, of course. But it can come in all sorts of designs along its front. A standard style is simply to have it slope in to meet the rest of the mantle. That slope can also be broken into a series of steps, like an upside down staircase. Other mantle designs don't require a slope at all since the legs of the mantle stick out fully as far as the shelf that sits atop them.
More ornate designs are also possible. Leaves and flowers carved into wood or stone create a traditional, lovely look. A more rustic look is available with scenes of mountains, trees, and wood. Or a more classical look may appeal to you with ornate Greek or Roman designs.
Whatever mantle shelf you choose, you'll be sure to have an enjoyable time deciding what goes on top of it to show off to whoever visits your home.