Overmantle mirrors: The not-too-severe approach; excuse me my Lord

Overmantle mirrors can be extremely creative additions to the simplest fireplace. Often, the first question that a potential homeowner will ask is "Does is have a fireplace?" Fair point, really, because what other single feature in a house can truly make it a home – comfortably warm, efficient energy-wise, and cozy enough to cuddle up with a book by? And if you've got a dog and a warm rug, you could complete the picture-perfect postcard look of a warm sanctuary on a cold, dark winter night. The biggest challenge that a homeowner can face, however, is not how to keep the fuel in stock, but what to do with the potentially artistic space above it; a framed print or painting might look good but overly severe, making the room look like it was part of an ancestral home originally owned by Lord Whatchmacallit or somebody. On the other hand, several small photos can make the wall look shorter than it actually is, and cluttered. This is where the overmantle mirror comes in to effectively fill the gap left by those other wannabes - so you can leave your wine glass rack, book display rack, and wrought iron candle holders on your oak end table and save your mantle space for an item that truly belongs there.

Overmantle mirrors: A measure of good spatial sense

One of the first things you need to before shopping for an overmantle mirror is to measure the size of the space available and make provisions for margin spaces above and below. A too-small mirror can look awkward and gives a subconscious sense of a job unfinished, while at the same time, an overly large one will look artificially squeezed in. Both with throw the entire space out of proportion and defeat what you're trying to accomplish – a perfect blend of elegance and space-enhancement. You might want to choose something that leaves a reasonable margin at the top and bottom – at least 2 to 3 inches if possible. Also, if you're planning on putting some complimentary items on either side of the mirror, such as a buddha figurine or decorative candle holders, make sure to take into account the space required for these items on the mantle.

Overmantle mirrors: Only the finest choice will do

Your choice of mirrors will be dictated, or at least guided by, the rest of the furniture and the overall theme of the room. Modern furniture will probably call for a frameless beveled overmantle mirror with a floating frame, giving it the look of a flat-screen TV on the wall. Old, antique or antique-style furniture will need a more elaborate design, perhaps with a gilded frame, or a more muted bronze tone depending on the color scheme of the furniture. Whatever the choice you finally make, even a contrast, try not to clash styles too much at this point; it's hard enough to get the right kind of fluidity in the decor to go well with a fireplace without having a disruption right over it.

Overmantle mirrors: The best decision – your decision

A classic design for overmantle mirrors is the Triptych, which is a three-piece ensemble that may be attached or separate. These were extremely fashionable once upon a time, and several models are still on the market, testament to their resilience against changing times and styles. However, there are many modern designs abound, and you can find just about any shape and style to suit your particular taste. Rectangular mirrors are typical of overmantle mirrors, as are archway shapes and ovals, but don't let trends bully you into choosing something that you really don't like; it's your mantle, your home and it should be "your" mirror. Go with what "feels" right rather than what fashion dictates.

Shopping for an Overmantle Mirror

Assuming you want to save as much money as you can, consider eBay as your first place to shop for an overmantle mirror. Redecorating is extremely common (you're probably doing so if you're in the market for an overmantle mirror as well), and people have to get rid of their old pieces to make room for new ones. eBay is the world's largest marketplace, and on any given day you should be able to find a huge selection of unwanted overmantle mirrors up for auction. At the very least you may discover some designs you like that you were previously unaware of.

"Chandeliers and Mirrors" and "Mirror World" are two UK companies/websites that specialize in mirrors, and are another great place to do some "window" shopping - or making a purchase if you find something you like.

Of course, if you feel like venturing out into the real world (hopefully now armed with some knowledge of what exactly you're looking for), retailers such as Sears and Target stock overmantle mirrors. With all of these resources at your disposal, you'll be able to find a suitable candidate for your mantletop.

Overmantle mirrors: A well-hung ornament will stand the test of time

The last point is how you will position and hang or place your newly acquired overmantle mirror(s). If you've bought a particularly heavy piece, then just make sure you're not using something that's chicken-wire-thin; the thickness of the wire should be sufficient to hold a load that's at least 3 times the weight of your mirror. Even the nail on the wall and the attachment to the mirror frame should be able to carry the weight permanently. Make sure that all fixtures are secure if you don't want a fireplace full of glass shards when you walk in one fine day. If you find that the mirror is reflecting some bright light and is causing an uncomfortable glare, you could consider leaning it against the wall as well. However, a piece of caution here – the space between the wall and the base of the mirror should be enough to give it a good amount of stability without the risk of having it slide off and crash to the ground. Putting a skid-proof mat on the mantle might be a good idea. When you're all set, step back and admire the work of art you've just created; if you've done it well it should last you a lifetime, or at least until your decide to redecorate. See you then!