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AROUND HOME : Mantel as Centerpiece

October 29, 1989|MARTIN ZIMMERMAN

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.

Style is the next choice. "Today, people want plain mantels; 20 years ago they wanted extensive routing and detailing," says Don Goodenough of Long Beach. Zografides, as do most mantel retailers, agrees: "Most want pretty simple lines--not Gothic, not heavy-traditional like back East, but more contemporary." And simple lines get simple treatment: Most contemporary mantels get either a light stain or a coat of paint.

A caveat: One man's "custom-made" is another man's "factory prebuilt." In many shops, the customer chooses from a catalogue of models and styles that can be ordered from the manufacturer. The mantels are assembled from solid moldings; sometimes carvings are attached to the front of the mantel. Although they are built to order, they are not exactly one-of-a-kind models.

Mantels can be found at Newport Mantel & Panel Co. in Newport Beach (mail order); Don Goodenough Custom Wood Mantels in Long Beach; Korth's Patio & Fireside in Granada Hills; Mantel Magic in Carlsbad; The Fireplace Shop in Glendale; Arroyo Hardwoods in Pasadena; Mission Moulding in San Diego.

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