There is a world of hospitality about the open fireplace. It radiates cheer, friendship and comfort. The glowing embers have long been inspiration for poets and painters the world over, and in Europe some of the best work of famous sculptors is to be found in connection with decorative antique mantle pieces. Georgian, Regency, Victorian, and even Renaissance effects can be artistically reproduced in your living space with the acquisition of an antique mantle or reproduction fireplace mantle. These fireplace pictures show that no matter what the style or design, a fireplace adds depth and charm to any living space.
For centuries fireplaces were tremendous big affairs under which you could stand and look up to the stars. Not until Count Rumford invented the chimney throat in the late 17th century, was any attempt made to stop the down draft or provide flaps and dampers. After this, the antique mantels or chimney pieces became very elaborate and decorative. From the very nature of its purpose the fireplace was of great prominence in any room it occupied. The fireplace pictures illustrate that whether faced with stone, brick or tile, the antique mantel topping was as simple as was consistent with the treatment of the room so that it would be neither too prominent nor unduly subordinated.
In Colonial times fireplaces were a necessity. They supplied the only means of heating the house, and much of the cooking was done by them also. Indeed, the hanging of the crane was regarded as a signal event in establishing a new home, and often a cast iron fire back bore the date of erection of the house and the name or initials of its owner. Each of the principal rooms had its fireplace and often a large parlor, drawing room or library had two fireplaces, usually at opposite ends or sides, though rarely on the same side. The hearthstone was the center of family life, and architects, therefore, very properly made the antique mantels and chimney pieces with which they embellished the fireplace the architectural center of each room, — the gem in a setting of nicely wrought interior woodwork.
The width of the opening in an antique fireplace and the design of the whole depended upon the character of the room and the house. However, the fuel to be used regulated to some extent the size of the opening. The purpose for which an antique mantel was used suggested a size and form for it. The difference between a small fireplace in a Colonial house where coal was used for fuel and a large fireplace in a rustic house where cord wood was burned was decidedly marked. For cord wood an opening of four and one-half feet was required.
Bookcases were often built in nearness to the fireplace in order to have a cozy corner. Built-in seats were used in a great number of ways, and were window seats or fireplace seats. When the fireplace, bookcases and seats were combined, usually an ingle nook resulted, which was simply a small alcove separated from the living room by means of a beam overhead. An ingle nook had a floor,—really the hearth of the fireplace, — made of brick or tile. The ordinary window seat in a house heated by steam or hot water was placed over a radiator, made especially for the purpose. In this case the wood seat was lined with tin and asbestos to protect it and also to throw the heat into the room, the tin having a curved back, thus acting as a heat reflector.
Window seats were sometimes bookcases, magazine cases, wood lifts or storage boxes. Wainscotings and beamed ceilings were used extensively in the treatment of living rooms, and conformed to the architectural furniture. Originally, beams in a ceiling were used to support the floor above, but later they were of box construction, and were not of structural value. Wainscotings were applied to the plaster similarly to beams, were of thin material, and were usually from one foot to seven feet high. They were useful as a protection to the wall. Billiard tables and piano cases were often made to order to match the other woodwork of the room, and were not usually much more costly than when purchased outright from stock. Special cabinets for collections were also built in the living room, matching the antique mantle.