antique fireplace mantelTraditional Style c. 1780

Photos courtesy of Greg Roth.

This beautiful antique marble mantel comes from Bowcliffe Hall, England.

The Detroit Institute of Arts list the artist as “unknown.” Whoever the artist was, however, it seems that he was influenced by the work of Robert Adam.

And that’s a very good thing.

Period Style

Robert Adam was so influential during England’s Georgian era that it reached across the pond to be the primary influence of what we call the Federal style.

These are loose definitions, for sure, and an architectural historian will surely find fault. But I’m more of a “lumper” than a “splitter” when it comes to defining period styles. It’s just simpler for our purposes here.

oakland county firplace mantel

Ornament is Not Dead

I read some stuffy architectural essay not long ago where the modernist architect declared that “ornament is dead!”

Really? Dead?

I don’t recall the author’s name, but I beg to differ.

antique fireplace mantel

This fireplace mantel, the one I’m featuring on this page, is on public display, adored by thousands of people every day and guarded behind the protective walls of the Detroit Institute of Arts.

I ask you, Mr. Ornaments Are Dead, where are the fireplace mantels you designed now?

Are they on public display? Are they protected and cherished? Or, are they the detritus of some landfill.

For the Love of Ornament

Just look at the fine detail of these ornaments. These were carved, from stone, by hand.

Today, architectural ornaments (the kind you buy at your big box stores) are produced by thoughtless machines in a factory. And it shows.

antique fireplace mantel

The female figure in the medallion above, flanked by swags, is of a classical nature.

I’m a very new student of classical stories, so if you know who this figure is supposed represent, I’d love for you to share that with me.

urn fireplace ornament

While I find most classical figures charming, the lion-ladies flanking the above urn are odd.

Is the head of the lion the image of the lady of the house during the time this mantel was commissioned?

This Mantel Pattern as a DIY Template

You can make a mantel similar to this one with simple materials you can go out and buy at your local lumber yard.

The first step is to look at it with simple eyes that filter out these items and replace them with a plain profile:

  • the dentiling under the hood
  • the ornaments on the frieze
  • the fluted pilasters
  • the fretwork and rosettes on the scriber
detroit finish carpenter

I’m going to build my own version of this mantel some time soon.

With this simpler fireplace mantel in your mind’s eye, you can see that what remains is still a profoundly beautiful mantel. And you can build it out of a few sheets of mdf and simple molding profiles.

Knowing that, you can now rebuild it to suit your own desires.

That’s what I’m going to do.

In the mean time, if you need ideas to help you along, you can read through my step by step installation tutorial for FIREPLACE MANTEL-102.

Good luck!