Modern fireplace mantels primarily serve as decorative accents for rooms. They are used to display photos, seasonal decorations, collectibles or family objects. The fireplace mantel is not just the hood on top of the fireplace; it includes all attachments surrounding the fireplace. Modern mantels are made from a variety of materials, including clay bricks, wood and marble.
In the past, the fireplace mantel was combined with a metal grate and helped catch smoke from the fire within. This smoke was then redirected up into the fireplace chimney, preventing damage to the interior of the room. While early mantels were simple additions to fireplaces that served a functional purpose only, the mantel eventually evolved into a decorative centerpiece for the room.
As a decorative piece, the fireplace mantel often extended from the top of the fireplace to the ceiling during the 17th century. By the 18th century, mantels reached their highest prominence, with some carved pieces covering entire walls. After the turn of the 20th century, however, the need for fireplaces diminished. Central heating took over as the main method of heating homes, and fireplaces began to shrink in size. The smaller fireplaces were then topped with smaller, less elaborate mantels.