A FIREPLACE, ONCE the home's primary source of heat, is used today mostly for decorative purposes. Sometimes it is grand enough to be the centerpiece of a room; sometimes it's just a subtle accent to a well-thought-out design.
To fit a new design scheme, an old fireplace may need to be altered--a task that is not as difficult as it may seem. According to Anthony Zografides, owner of Newport Mantel & Panel Co. in Newport Beach, a custom-made wooden mantel can be "designed to fit the ambience of a house and built to order. We pick up where the contractors leave off, and do the finishing touches."
When considering a new mantel, the first things you need to decide are exactly how much you want to replace and how much you want to spend. A relatively plain 5-foot mantel shelf costs from $150 to $300; a full surround (shelf, skirt and legs) from $400 to $650. A hand-carved version can go for as much as $3,000. Most mantels are made from oak, alder or birch.
Installing a wood mantelpiece is actually not as intimidating as it seems. Still, most homeowners opt for installation by a professional, usually adding $150 to $200 to the tab. Removing old mantels is a relatively simple job; they are attached by screws or nails. The new mantel attaches to a support board mounted on the wall studs or brick backing.