Whatever their age or origin, fireplace mantels are as individual as the styles that inspired them.
This is a tale of two highly unconventional fireplace mantels — one created with a special intent and one antique used in a special way. One mantel is modern. One could not be more traditional. And yet each has unique characteristics that makes it memorable and noteworthy. As we approach Christmas, and mantels become a focus for holiday decorations, a closer look at this house feature seems natural.
Eccentric or boho (bohemian) is how I’d describe the style of a carved and painted Victorian Montreal antiques store find [top]. Super charming with it’s blue-painted and gilded decoration, this is a small-scale pine mantel used like a tall console table — for display. It occupies an empty stretch of a wall and a painted Aesthetic period bamboo chair sits in front. Because mantels are integrated with the woodwork in a room, they are composed of architectural motifs. Here, the carvings are especially interesting. Stylistically, this a hybrid that suggests the late 19th century Victorian blending of the Rococo and Neoclassical revival styles. It’s an odd couple. Swirly ribbons, just below the shelf, are carved Rococo flourishes. The sky blue color, combined with gold and white, also are typically Rococo. The inside section, with rosettes and beaded border, is Neoclassical, as are the pilasters. My Cinderella Fireplace salvage mantel, also a hybrid, has many similar motifs minus the Rococo flourishes.
You may not know this, but my career started with a series of jobs in New York art galleries, one owned by the legendary dealer and collection Sidney Janis, whose collection now resides in the Museum of Modern Art. So 20th century art and artists are immediately familiar to me. The moment I saw this white fireplace mantel in a redone Northern California beach house, it was immediately clear to me that the inspiration had been the work of the great 20th century sculptor Louise Nevelson.
Using scraps from the renovation, and pieces from other woodworking shops, artisan Alethea Patton created the mantel to resemble one of Nevelson’s iconic works. It’s an incredibly clever idea that works well in the transitional room.
Nevelson assembled wood collages made of found objects and painted them in monochome colors like white, black and gold. This piece is part of her famous Dawn’s Wedding Feast series of 1959-60. The elements of her collages are intricate but mysterious as remnants. The beach house mantel certainly captures the spirit of her work and makes a distinct statement about high level taste as only a mantel can.
(Source: domino, house beautiful, Pace Wildenstein Gallery)
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