A mantel is an architectural element that often acts as a focal point within a room. While some mantels may be used to frame a fireplace, others are independent units that serve a purely decorative function. Most mantels are surrounded by molding or trim to create a finished appearance or to contribute to the room's décor. Homeowners will find mantel moldings ranging from simple to elaborate, with an infinite number of profiles and materials available. Because mantels are a focal point, a well-chosen set of mantel moldings can set the tone for the entire room.
The sides of a mantel may be formed from pillars or pilasters to create a formal, elegant look. Chair rail or flat trim can also be used for a simpler finish to complement more modern décor schemes. Mantels may be topped with a flat display shelf, which is then trimmed with simple, rounded base or a more complex profile design [source: Vandervort]. Some mantel molding will only extend as high as the display shelf, while others extend all the way to the ceiling.