Design Standards: Fireplaces

Every client I've ever worked with who was looking to update, renovate or add a new fireplace asks this question: "so how tall should the mantel be?" Since this is a series of Design Standards, I couldn't leave out the fireplace. Typically speaking most mantels are about 54" from the floor to top of mantel. That said it really depends on the style of fireplace, how you intend to use it and your personal height.

Are you, at a minimum, looking only to showcase beautiful materials an not the family tchotchkes? Or are you looking for drama and want an oversized fireplace? Or, how about the T.V. hmmm... where will you place it? We'll tackle all these questions. Let's first start with the components that make up a fireplace.

Here is a simple graphic to illustrate the different components that make up a fireplace. Each tradesperson may use slightly different terms, but these are the most widely used. Now you can clearly communicate your design idea when talking to your carpenter and sound like you know what you're talking about, hah!

This is one of my favorite type of fireplace designs. I love the the drama the top angles brings to a room. It gives a slight "A frame" cabin feel. However, notice it's not overly rustic, with touches of warm wood, white subway tile and in this illustration, painted white drywall above.

Because a fireplace has several components it provides lots of opportunity to really design and address each surface. Often the fireplace is the focal point, so carefully consider materiality, texture and scale!

It will set the tone for the rest of the furniture and even the color palette in your space. From hearth, surround, mantel and overmantel take the time to sketch out and think through all the components.

Don't forget to keep the code standards on hand. Code requires a minimum of 6" on either side from firebox to the stop of the surround. Keep 1' from from top of firebox to underneath of mantel. The 1' space on the bottom varies depending what your hearth is like. Traditionally, the firebox would sit on the "floor hearth" but in more modern applications the lower floor hearth is removed.

Do you love modern clean lines and solid surface materials like marble, or natural stone? Then this modern stone surround is for you. Clean, minimal but very sophisticated. This does not have a traditional mantel ledge and will not stick out far from the wall making it a great application for smaller spaces or even a electric firebox.

I highly suggest working with a designer to achieve this look. Though simple, you want to make sure you have selected the right slab and color/veining match.

In my personal opinion, you can never go wrong with a vintage cast iron firebox. The arched top is so whimsical. Take note, these are extremely heavy and are typically paired with cast iron or marble surrounds. And you guessed it, yup they are $$$$$ expensive BUT worth every penny. Be sure to check Ebay, Craigslist ad Etsy. I have come across several that were in great condition and could easily be repainted and cleaned up. Use a dark saturated color to modernize it a touch.

The above options are those who like to incorporate an entire wall into their fireplace. Meaning you could tile or brick the entire space and float a mantel as in the first image.

The second one is great for displaying beautiful books and objects. Again think materiality and scale.

Incorporate your firewood storage into the fireplace design. Make it attractive, give it consideration instead of being an after thought. It saves space and it looks awesome!

The bottom option is great for displaying your books and collectibles. I love when the mantel actually becomes an architectural element.

Last, but not least, wallpaper your fireplace, yes! Trust me if you want drama then select a fabulous print wallpaper and, BAM!, instant drama and a real conversation starter. For those wallpaper skeptics out there, wallpaper has come a looooong way. The technology is so advanced, the imagery and graphics are incredible and even the installation is less of a drag. Here are a few of my favorite brands:

Hygee & West / Walls Need Love / Graham & Brown / Ane Wall Decor

Christopher Brooks, Article Fieldstone Hill Design

Christopher Brooks, The Kitchen

Now for a few less traditional applications of a fireplace. Nothing wrong with a cozy fire in the living room but what about a fireplace in your study, office or even in the kitchen? WHAT is happening? I know! How stunning are these kitchens with fireplaces in them. From tall and skinny to chunky and cottage-like. Both are very cool.

I hope this post has inspired you to think differently about fireplaces. You now have a few code standards and the terminology down to start sketching and measuring. You can now think outside outside of the box and place a fireplace in an unexpected unique location. If you would like help with your fireplace wall, fill out DESIGN QUESTIONNAIRE.

Visit our Pinterest Board for tons of inspiration.

Stay warm and cozy these winter months!


Laura Thurman


 I'm Laura Thurman, creator of this blog and owner of Thurman Design Studio LLC. What I love most about interior design is the design process and all the hidden elements that make a space great: color theory, mood boards and textiles.

Inspiration is all around us in various creative fields; interiors, architecture, graphics design & fashion.

The purpose of my blog is to educate my readers by sharing the "inside scoop" on the design world and, in turn, provide helpful insights that will inspire you to elevate and love the spaces you inhabit.                I hope you leave educated and inspired! 

In need of interior design help? View are services here, or contact us

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