The mantel shelf over the fireplace is one of the most important elements in integrating a fireplace into a room's decor. A good mantel can complement the fireplace’s aesthetic while simultaneously making its own decorative statement.
However, in order to fully reap the benefits of a mantel shelf, it is important that you properly place it.
Step 1 – Know Your Local Fire Codes
Research your local fire codes. Depending on what material your mantel is made from, there may be specific laws about how high and how far you can place a wood, stone, or metal shelf from the actual flames in the fireplace.
If possible, do this before purchasing your mantel. It would be very unfortunate if you were set on a wooden mantelpiece only to discover that you can’t display it as you’d like due to safety reasons.
Step 2 - Mantel Purpose
Consider what role you actually want your mantel to play. The shelf either be a clean framing piece for your fireplace or it can function as an actual display shelf. If you plan to store any objects on the mantel that are flammable, then you may want to factor that into your plans and raise the mantel even farther from the fireplace opening.
Step 3 – Measure Shelf Width
Even though much of the decision about the mantel placement has to do with the height it will rest at once it's stuck on your wall, the width and the depth of the mantlepiece are also important factors.
A good rule of thumb, which may vary depending on specific rules in your local code, is the 1 1/2-inch rule. Essentially, if your shelf protrudes fewer than 1 1/2 inches outward from your wall, then the spot that you place the shelf must leave a height of at least 6 inches between the shelf and the topmost part of the fireplace.
If the mantel will stick out from the wall more than 1 1/2 inches, the height between the top of the fireplace and the shelf must be 12 inches or more. Always check with your local planning and building office for code requirements.
Step 4 – Aesthetic
Last, but certainly not least, consider how you want the room to look. Once the safety concerns have been dealt with the sky’s the limit. Or in this case the ceiling. If your ceiling is particularly high, placing a mantel too close to the fireplace can make things look awkward and cramped. Similarly, lower ceilings that have mantel shelves high on the wall can make the shelf seem too divorced from the fireplace itself.
Consider the surrounding furniture and the room as a whole to ensure the fireplace mantel is an attractive addition to your home.