What Is A Fireplace Mantel?

There is a lot of confusion when it comes to what exactly a fireplace mantel is. I grew up in a household where we often referenced our “mantel” when we were decorating for the holidays. It wasn’t until I started working for a fireplace retailer that I found out … it wasn’t a mantel at all. It was just a mantel shelf. It turns out “What is a fireplace mantel?” is actually a pretty common question on Google, so I thought I would set out to answer it. It wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be!

When people think of their mantels, they are most likely thinking of a fireplace cabinet, a fireplaceĀ surround, or a mantel shelf. (It’s okay if you blame your parents for thinking this way. I totally blame mine! [Kidding! Kind of ...]) So what do the aforementioned terms mean? And which one do you have? Or: which one are you searching for? See below!

Fireplace Cabinets
Fireplace cabinets are for fireplaces that are not recessed into the wall. They enclose the fireplace & are left open in the back so that if venting is necessary, it is made easier. (In the case of a vent free fireplace, no venting is needed – but the cabinet will be open in the back regardless.) They are placed directly against a wall. The front of your fireplace will of course be left exposed so that you can enjoy your fire! You also have the option to get a corner fireplace cabinet which will allow you to place your fireplace into any corner of your home!

An example of a Corner Fireplace Cabinet. No special fireplace required!

Fun fact: Some manufacturers use the terms fireplace cabinet & fireplace surround interchangeably. I think they’re crazy. See a little further below for what a surround really is!

Flush Mantels
Flush mantels are used with fireplaces that are recessed into the wall. If my family had actually wanted a mantel instead of just a mantel shelf when I was growing up, we would have needed a flush mantel. Because your fireplace is recessed into the wall, there is no way to enclose it … so instead, we just make it look like it is! A flush mantel is mounted flush to wall (hence the name). In the picture to the left, you can see that the fireplace is recessed into the wall and the mantel surrounding it is flush against the wall. Pretty, right?

Mantel/Cabinet Surround

The stone between the fireplace & the mantel is the Surround!

A surround is the “filler” between a fireplace & the mantel/cabinet. When purchasing a flush mantel or cabinet for your fireplace, you need to see what the minimum required distance is to combustible materials from the front of your fireplace. Each fireplace is different, so this is not a standard number. If you have a fireplace with very minimal required distance to combustibles, you might not need to purchase a surround or a cabinet with a surround included. However, if you enjoy the look of a surround, you can certainly size your flush mantel or cabinet to leave space for one! Some fireplaces will “require” a surround simply because they have large required distances to combustibles. (Okay, it’s notĀ required but it would look funny otherwise!) In this case, you will need to make sure that your fireplace is the appropriate distance from your flush mantel or cabinet … and you will need to use a surround to fill in the gap!

Fireplace Mantel Shelf

Dear Mom and Dad,
This is a fireplace mantel SHELF. Just FYI.
Love, Me

If you have a fireplace mantel shelf by itself, it is just the shelf that sits above your fireplace. If you’ve been calling it a mantel for roughly three decades … welcome to my world! And just to further confuse the issue, most cabinets & flush mantels have a mantel shelf built into them. Basically … if you have a place that you can decorate for any and every occasion, you have a mantel shelf. Whether that shelf stands alone or is part of a cabinet or a flush mantel is up to you!



What do YOU refer to as a fireplace mantel?
Please tell me I’m not alone in this!

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