History of Overmantels

Many people embrace an urban, minimalist look these days. But overmantels have a rich tradition of elaborately complementing a fireplace. Today we’ll look at the history of these works of art.

European Roots


An ornate overmantel from the Royal Albert memorial Museum and Gallery

Early surviving overmantels could be made of stone or wood. Sizergh Castle and Garden, an English estate located in Cumbria, boasts an ornate carved wood overmantel dating back to 1569. Appropriately, it’s in the Queen’s Room. In nearby Scotland, the National Museum owns a stone overmantel from the early 1600s depicting the courtship of Atalanta and Hippomenes from Greek mythology. This hefty piece weights more than 600 pounds! At Old World Stoneworks, we believe one of the best reasons to visit Europe is to tour historic homes and catch glimpses of amazing old hearths.

Overmantel Mirror Craze

While overmantel mirrors began appearing much earlier, they became de rigeur during the Regency Period, 1811 to 1820. This nine-year time span refers to the years when Prince Regent ruled because his father, King George III, was deemed unfit.

Architects began to lower fireplace mantels to make room for ever-larger horizontal mirrors. Often these were enhanced by gold frames, elaborate carvings, wall sconces, candelabras and additional smaller mirrors. Vanity was alive and well long before celebrity culture, but our noble forebears had to settle for mega mirrors rather than selfies.

An Early American Overmantel Enthusiast

King's Chapel
King’s Chapel, Boston

Upscale Americans also embraced overmantels. The British-born Renaissance man Peter Harrison helped spread their popularity. After his early years as a sea captain, he settled in Newport, Rhode Island in 1740 where he made a living in agricultural and rum. Architecture was a hobby for him, which he learned out of books. Many of the buildings he designed around New England had ornate carved overmantels, such as the Bowler House in Newport, which features a broken ogee design. Some of his other best-known buildings include the Touro Synagogue, Christ Church in Cambridge and King’s Chapel in Boston.

Our Overmantels

At Old World Stoneworks, we still believe in the power of the overmantel. These stately works of art draw viewers’ eyes heavenward, becoming the focal point of any room. However, we move with the times, so our overmantels are not quite so ornate as what you see in 18th century British homes or the National Museum of Scotland. Instead, they fit nicely into the modern home while hinting at the elegance of a bygone era.

Need a little more elegance in your life? Call us today.