FOR CENTURIES, fireplace mantels have reflected the design of their times. Early American mantels were either elaborately carved from marble or fabricated in stone, wood or plaster and were puritanically devoid of ornament.
The 19th-Century cast-iron mantel was subject to the whims of fashion--faced with a vaulted Gothic arch one year, topped by a Colonial eagle the next, sometimes covered with ornate rococo carving or marbleized, fringed, wood-grained, painted with scenes of French court life, buried in Delft or Moorish tile, laden with bric-a-brac, smothered by paisley shawls and decorated with peacock fans. Fire screens, fenders, andirons, tools and scuttles grew equally fanciful. In the '20s, Art Deco fireplaces were decorated with granite sunbursts, stainless-steel curves, black or pastel marble banded with brass or inlaid with ivory zigzags. Reproductions of period and Art Deco mantels, surrounds and fireplace accessories can be custom-ordered through local fireplace stores. Salvaged mantels are usually less expensive than newly made models.
For salvaged mantels , Globe Marble in Van Nuys stocks magnificent Victorian and Art Deco antiques crafted in Europe. Helen Williams in North Hollywood has old Delft tiles and Dutch firebacks. MRM Contractors in Los Angeles has salvaged Victorian wood mantels, and Off the Wall in Laguna Beach sells century-old wooden, cast-iron and marble mantels with arched openings.