History Of Fireplace Mantels And Chimneys

The fireplace was a necessity in early America. It was the heart of the home, with a hearth providing heat, comfort, and fire for cooking to its residents. In many aristocratic households, the fireplace was even considered a status symbol, displaying how rich the homeowner is.

However, the secret behind the glory of a fireplace actually lies in its mantelpiece. The mantelpiece contributes in the overall interior aesthetic, creating elegance and beauty through its design and finish.

The evolution of fireplace mantels in an interesting story. Read on to know how mantels affected the utility and design of fireplaces over the time!

History Of Fireplace Mantels

It was the Georgian period when mantelpieces started getting prominence in homes. The mantelpieces were made up of wood or cast stone and used to have large columns that would lead up to beautifully carved shelves. Not only that, but overmantel also became popular with people during this period. Overmantels were rectangular frames consisting of a second set of columns that would support the pediment above.

The second wave of change came in the Federal period that overlapped the Georgian period. It was a time of elegant fireplace mantels with restrained classical detailing. They were simple, beautifully carved, and had no overmantels. Decorated with garlands, urns, and carved onlays, these mantels were so exceptionally beautiful that even today, their basic forms are used as a standard for many traditional designs.

The mantels in the Victorian Era are characterized by their break with the classical rules of composition. Of course, they had the columns and moldings, but these classical elements were experimented upon and were melded with Gothic shapes and exotic Asian imagery. This resulted in imaginative designs and overmantels with lovely display shelves!

Today, there is no dearth of options for you if you wish to get a mantelpiece for your fireplace. From welded metal to traditional quarter sawn oak, it is easy to find them all!


Chimneys somewhat originated with mantels. They were constructed above fireplaces to let the smoke out of the house. An integral part of our houses today, chimneys are often taken for granted. But have you ever wondered how chimneys came into existence in America?

History Of Chimneys

Before 1796, there were many central chimneys. However, they were built outside, on the exterior walls of the house. Buildings in those times used to have a separation between the chimney and the roof for fire safety.

After 1796, when tall and shallow Rumford fireplace designs became popular in the country, chimneys were built inside the house, as they were easier to establish over the shallow fireplaces.

Victorian chimneys turned out to be different though. They were a whole lot fancier with small coal or gas fireplaces. It won’t be wrong to say that the Victorian chimneys were patented versions of older Rumford fireplaces. Such shallow chimneys lasted up to the 1940s.

By the 1950s, ranch houses became popular and so was the idea of “central heating.” Fireplaces were re-invented thoroughly to look horizontal so that they would fit in the ranch-style architecture. The hearths were deeper compared to the older versions, and because of this, chimneys were again built on the outside of the house.

With time, in the 1970s and 1980s, fireplaces became optional for homeowners and chimneys (sided with wood to hide metal chimneys) were tacked on the outside of the house.

Today, you will find many “period homes,” yet they lack the charm of an old home by the chimney.

In a modern house, if there is a chimney at all, it is probably metal with a wooden or fake-brick exterior. Even if you see a wooden chimney design, looking as if it is coming out of the house, it is usually a covering for a metal pipe.

If there is a chimney in your house that you want to be serviced and cleaned, our experts at Rusty’s Fireplace & Chimney will be happy to help! Contact us at 540-338-1266 today!

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