Homes and Gardens Magazine, UK
I was inspired by a friend's apartment. She hired a decorator to help her with her pre-war rental in New York City. Her dining room was transformed by a fireplace mantle and a chandelier (and wonderful red walls). No fireplace - just the mantle. It immediately gave the room warmth and a great shelf to place flowers and decorative objects.
Art et Decoration, France
Mantles can be simple or elaborate, and are made of all types of materials from wood to marble to granite. To buy a mantle will likely be a bit of an investment, but it will transform the room. Of course, I will search out what I can find at auction, but architectural salvage places are a good resource as well.
I thought I'd search past auction results to see how much we might need to spend.
This Italian Art Deco style mosaic mantle sold at New Orleans Auction in May for $615. Not bad. Maybe we don't need to 'invest' as much as I thought. I love this mantle for it's original style and lack of predictability!
This lovely simple blue painted Federal style wood mantlepiece sold at a Stair Galleries auction for $100! This would lend charm to any room.
This circa 1900 metal fireplace surround was offered at a Dawson and Nye auction for an estimate of $500 - $700. They didn't post the result. It's more elaborate design makes this like a sculpture.
This 19th century Southern green painted wood mantle sold at a Brunk Auction for $300 earlier this year. This classically styled mantlepiece has simple lines and would work in any decor style. For this amount of money, you could paint it another color without guilt if you don't like green.
Thus, I was wrong. Buying a mantle need not be a big investment. It seems like a wonderful way to add architectural character without spending a lot. Also, you might think about adding a gas insert to make it more real, and these days there are quite a few flueless options.