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Q: I’m looking to replace my builder-grade fireplace mantel with something more beautiful. Any ideas?
A: With or without roaring blazes in them, fireplaces are natural focal points in a room, frequently anchoring a seating area. When it comes to mantels, surrounds, and hearths, it’s important to choose elements whose style and scale suit the setting.
The Tile Gallery (555 N. Franklin St., 312-467-9590, tilegallerychicago.com) offers an interesting alternative to traditional mantels. Owner Barbara Warren designs tile surrounds that are flush to the wall; they add a dose of texture—and sometimes color—to a room without protruding into it or eating up floor space. Warren helps clients choose from a wide assortment of ceramic, stone, and glass tile; rustic wall cladding incorporating a variety of stones, such as sandstone and quartzite, is also popular. She has designed both fully tiled walls and smaller surrounds that mimic the silhouette of a traditional mantel (prices depend on the materials and the scope of the design). If this option sounds attractive, plan to hire a contractor, as The Tile Gallery doesn’t offer installation services and it’s not really a do-it-yourself job. Warren and her staff can recommend some professionals to you.
In another direction entirely, but still at The Tile Gallery, are hand-carved stone mantelpieces by London-based Chesney’s. If you’re in the market for a clean-lined minimalist mantel, they’ve got ’em, but the firm’s meticulous reproductions of elaborate period chimneypieces (from about $3,500) are its real specialty. Most of the mantels are made from limestone, bathstone, or statuary marble. You can also go full-tilt custom and commission a bespoke piece in the style and materials of your choosing. Warren says a client recently specified a reproduction 18th-century French-style mantel to fit the curve of a circular room in a historic Lake Geneva home. Chesney’s also sells genuine antiques; The Tile Gallery can help you sort through those options, too.
Speaking of authentic, salvaged antiques, a good place to look locally is Architectural Artifacts (4325 N. Ravenswood Ave., 773-348-0622, architecturalartifacts.com), which has an impressive collection of lovely old surrounds made from wood, marble, limestone, iron, and other materials, from about $925. “I set out to have the best collection of fireplace mantels in the nation,” says owner Stuart Grannen. He regularly travels to Ireland and the U.K. to scoop up pieces from antique dealers.
More than 400 mantels are on display at his shop; browse about a third of the inventory online. There are plenty of eye-catching pieces, such as an English mahogany number with marquetry details and an attached mirror ($9,800). Also find some cast- and wrought-iron Art Deco firescreens and French carved-stone mantels.
Finally, check out the Au Coin du Feu offerings at Kneen & Co. (400 W. Erie St., 312-787-7003, kneenandco.com). Though Mary Jeanne Kneen’s collection of exquisite antique European surrounds is not on display here, she can walk you through the many options available to order—she has a big inventory warehoused in Belgium.