A. If you have something specific in mind, consider having a mantel created just for you. Many custom woodworkers take on such projects, and can also create surrounding alcoves, bookshelves, and paneling. A local business that specializes in fireplace woodwork is Emerald Mantels (1901 W. Belmont Ave., 773-244-0041; emeraldmantels.com). Everything Emerald sells is handcrafted and custom-made. You choose the style (contemporary or traditional) and type of wood (mahogany, cherry, walnut, cypress, oak, or poplar, among other choices). Basic mantels start at $500 and range up to $7,000. "We have built mantels for everything from condos with limited space to huge, six-million-dollar mansions," manager Fiona Gallen says. "We can produce a design based on a photograph, sketch, magazine, or a client’s description." Emerald’s showroom displays a selection of styles, to inspire you.

Another place to check out is The Tile Gallery (225 W. Illinois St., 312-467-9590; tilegallerychicago.com), which recently added custom-made natural stone fireplace mantels to its offerings. Bring in your own ideas or peruse a directory of styles, and order anything from a crisply contemporary piece to a curvaceous 18th-century French-style mantel complete with hand-carved cherubs. Expect turnaround time of six to 16 weeks; prices run from $4,000 to about $20,000.

If you’re thinking you’d like an actual antique, architectural salvage stores such as Salvage One (1840 W. Hubbard St., 312-733-0098; salvageone.com), Architectural Artifacts (4325 N. Ravenswood Ave., 773-348-0622; architecturalartifacts.com), and Olde Good Things (1819 W. Grand Ave., 312-492-1485; oldegoodthings.com) often have old mantels on hand, ranging in price from hundreds of dollars for a simple oak piece to many thousands for more elaborate set-ups. There’s also Au Coin du Feu (470 N. Milwaukee Ave., 312-850-2655; aucoindufeultd.com), with its vast stock of centuries-old stone mantels reclaimed from European houses and estates. Their pros will custom-fit a firebox, mantel, and hearth for you, with mantel prices usually running $8,000 to $50,000.