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The Many Lives of Our Decorative Fireplace Mantel

February 18, 2016

As proven by the toasty sensation you get when the smell of crackling bonfire cuts through cold air, or when a sliver of clear sunshine is what wakes you up on a chilly morning, the simple illusion of warmth can be enough to make you feel it when it's frigid out. Often, it's just as warming as the real thing.

Don't those candles make you feel warm inside? Photo by Bobbi Lin

Last fall, our art director Alexis Anthony was on the hunt for a way to recreate this warmth and coziness in our winter visuals. She wanted an anchoring feature for our "Cozy Up" Shop collection that included blankets, popcorn roasters, cuppable mugs, and the like; a way to give Christmas products like ornaments and stockings a sense of place; and something that would make our N.Y.C. Holiday Market feel like a real home. What she needed was a fireplace.

Or rather, a mantle!

Photo by Bobbi Lin

It's actually not that hard to find authentic mantles for sale—a quick Craig's List search of the New York City area returned 61 results for "fireplace mantle" earlier today. The trouble is that they're not cheap (prices from that search hover around the $3,900 range)—and if they are cheap, there's a reason.

Even so, it wasn't entirely about the money. "I didn’t want to get a super nice one and paint it grey, because that would be heartbreaking!" Alexis explains, alluding to her grand scheme of painting it to match the studio wall we were using in those shoots. She looked at a salvage yard in her neighborhood in Brooklyn, known for its fair prices and quality, and still no options seemed quite right.

Our mantle in its original home.

"Finally I saw this post on Crag's List for a mantle for sale in Ditmas Park," she remembers. "It was an original from the building, a mansion, and it was in the basement when [the seller] bought the house. He didn’t have any need for it." Better still, the price was right, so Alexis piled her family in the car one fall evening and drove to pick it up.

Back at Food52 HQ, Alexis painted right over an existing layer of paint, with a deep grey-blue that already had primer in it. For pictures, she simply stood it up against the wall with a piece of black paper where the fire would be. It was even handy for events long before the pop up (how cozy is Merrill's shot from our Feed Supper back in October?

It's decorative gourd season...and we're hosting the @food52 #feedsupper tonight! @feedprojects #f52life

A photo posted by Merrill Stubbs Dorman (@merrillstubbs) on

After starring in so much of our holiday photography, the mantle took a field trip to its new home in the Food52 Hoilday Market down the road.

"In photo fantasy land, it didn’t need to stand up for too long," Alexis explains, "but in the pop up it had this little attachment on the back that would have attached to the wall in the first place—so we just screwed it into the wall!" Add in a vintage faux crackling fire device, and the room positively glowed with welcome and warmth.

Photo by Rocky Luten

Our Food52 mantle is now tucked away until we call on it again. But what we learned from it, besides that your pop-up guests will love huddling nearby whether there's a real fire in it or not, is that decorative mantles are wholly DIY-able. Some tips, if you're considering your own:

  • Hold out for the right price. You've got all year!
  • Attach it to the wall properly. You don't want all those pretty decorations to come crashing off.
  • Add candles or a glowing faux set of logs. It's basically a fireplace!

And if you need a little extra help cuddling up.

How do you decorate your mantle after the holidays have come and gone? Share your seasonal ideas in the comments.

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Amanda Sims

Written by: Amanda Sims

Professional trespasser.