Give your mantel a makeover

Patti Murphy

In our electric world, the aesthetics of a fireplace have become just as important as its function.

A roaring blaze is a welcome respite on a cold, blustery day, but for most of the year, a fireplace is a dormant, if not striking, part of the living or family room.

It is essential for artwork or decorative pieces that hang above the mantel to make a statement, but there are those who would prefer not to spend thousands of dollars on an expensive painting and others seeking variations on the norm — something that will set their fireplace, the focal point of the room, apart.

When interior designer Mary Dluzen of Burr Ridge goes to work, she always takes a few matters into consideration.

“It’s really important to take in the whole room,” Dluzen said. “You have to make sure what you’re working on goes with the architecture and the theme of the room. It’s also good for the pieces to have some personal tie with the family.”

A current style she sees is layering.

“People are using multiple layers and multiple textures,” Dluzen said. “They’re hanging something like a mirror and then overlapping paintings, pottery and candlesticks in front of it.”

Bold pieces that prove cost-effective include handsome maps that may have an old world feel, game boards or large clocks.

“You could put up a map of the world, and then if you happen to like Spain, incorporate elements that support that theme,” she said.

Items need not be framed, but should be affixed to a sturdy background. For framed pieces, Beverly Lambke of Creative Interior Works in Bolingbrook advises going with glare-resistant glass.

“That’s huge,” Lambke said. “It’s about an extra $25, but a lot of times people won’t get it and then you’re getting the flash of sun from any window in the room.”

A picture on canvas eliminates the need for a frame or glass and often has a more expensive look, Lambke said.

Items on the mantel should complement the color scheme of the room and draw from an accent wall or pieces.

“Maybe someone’s whole house is creams and taupes and they want something red, but they can’t bring themselves to paint a whole wall red,” Lambke said. “Then they would want to use that color on their mantel.”

Another interesting style pits the antique charm of a fireplace against the contemporary look of flat screen TVs.

“That trend probably started about five or six years ago,” said Dan Devlin, president of Southwest Fireplace Supply, with offices in Aurora and Willowbrook. “Plasma gets really hot, so if someone is looking to put a TV over their fireplace, we recommend LCD screens.”

Devlin estimates homeowners should expect to pay a minimum of $1,000 for TV installation and understand the risks involved.

“The electronic companies don’t recommend this, but with a shelf underneath, we haven’t had any complaints that the TV has cooked,” he said.

According to Memo Cuadia, manager of Pacey Electrical and Technologies in Elmhurst, units need to be placed at least 2 feet above the mantel to protect the screen from the heat.

Another trend that can hold water is waterfalls. Yes, waterfalls, which come in all shapes and sizes.

“They’re one piece so they can be installed anywhere,” Devlin said.

The fountains, which are manufactured by Napoleon Waterfalls, cost anywhere from $1,000 to $3,000, and at least $1,000 to install.

“They clean the air and provide the sound of running water,” Devlin said.

Controls can adjust the speed at which the water falls and recessed lighting highlights the feature.