How to Size a Fireplace Mantel to a Room

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There is no exact science to sizing a mantel in a room, but several factors can help a room maintain its harmonious design. An over-size mantel in a small room can make the room seem crowded and uncomfortable. On the other hand, a tiny mantel can lose its dramatic visual appeal in a room design. Sizing a fireplace mantel for a room requires selecting the materials in the mantel design, measuring the fireplace, analyzing the available wall space, assessing the room decor and installing the mantel according to safety codes.

How to Size a Fireplace Mantel to a Room
Image Credit: ValentynVolkov/iStock/GettyImages

Material Matters

When it comes to selecting a fireplace mantel that coordinates in size and shape with the overall room design, there are several material choices, including wood, stone, marble, faux finish and pre-constructed surrounds. Select properly sized materials that harmonize with the room's layout. Each type of material influences the size of the mantel in the room design. Ornate wood designs provide a large decorative appeal, stone requires solid support because if its weight, marble is smooth and streamlined for an elegant appeal, faux materials are lightweight and versatile and surrounds are manufactured to fit an exact fireplace shape. The goal is to choose a medium that coordinates with the decorative appeal and the size of the room.

Size It Up

Proportions matter when sizing up your mantel. The mantel should not be shorter than the length of the fireplace, and should leave at least 3 feet above the mantel for decor. Start by measuring the size of the fireplace. Accurate sizing of the inner fireplace, often referred to as the firebox, and accurate measurements of the facing around the firebox provide a basis for sizing the mantel to a room. Measure the length, height, and width of the firebox and facing. A mantel should extend a minimum of 3 inches beyond the firebox opening. If the fireplace has facing around the opening, the mantel can also extend 3 or more inches beyond that. Do not guess when sizing the mantel to a room, or the mantel could wind up being too long or too short.

For a quick reference, a 36-inch fireplace will probably have a mantel width of 48 inches. A 42-inch fireplace will probably have a mantel width of 54 inches. The mantel should not be so wide that it reaches anything else, like a wall, window or door. For a quick calculation on size, make sure that the mantel shelf width divided by 2 is less than the width from the fireplace center to any wall, window, door or shelf.

Find the dimensions of the available wall space in order to size a mantel for a room. The amount of wall space above the fireplace will enable decorations and wall art to be displayed above the mantel. Allow 3 or more feet of available space above the fireplace mantel for decorative accents. Make sure there is a minimum of 6 inches of available space on either side of the fireplace mantel surround. A mantel should never touch a window sill, adjoining wall or door frame.

Keep With the Decor

Match the mantel with the interior decorations in the room. Assess the decor of the room where the mantel will be mounted to make sure the mantel harmonizes with the design flow. The fireplace mantel should accent the fireplace and blend with the rest of the room decorations. Size a mantel for a room that allows the mantel design to flow with the room layout and furniture placement. A mantel should balance symmetrically with the furnishings in the living space. Consider the fireplace and mantel as one large furnishing when addressing the sizing for the room.

Keep It Safe

Install the mantel to meet city and county regulations. Follow the building code and fireplace manufacturers' requirements for sufficient clearance from the edge of the fireplace to the mantel. If the fireplace mantel has support legs, make sure they rest on the supporting hearth for added balance. Choose a mantel size that meets the room design needs and exceeds the minimum code clearances. Contact a builder, fireplace dealer or a local building inspector to ensure proper installation requirements for sizing a mantel for a room. Avoid covering any switches or light fixtures with the edge of the mantel. Avoid contacting windows or door ways with the mantel. Install the mantel a safe distance from stray sparks that could potentially ignite.

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Kristine Tucker

As curriculum developer and educator, Kristine Tucker has enjoyed the plethora of English assignments she's read (and graded!) over the years. Her experiences as vice-president of an energy consulting firm have given her the opportunity to explore business writing and HR. Tucker has a BA and holds Ohio teaching credentials.