In college, the choir that I belonged to spent every spring break touring one section of the country. We would perform in churches and then divide up into pairs to stay the night with the brave parishioners who were willing to host us. Some nights I stayed in suburban mansions and other nights the accommodations were a little less roomy (a trailer in Indianapolis comes to mind). The very first night on a tour of the Midwest my freshman year is the one I remember best. The house was average and the family was welcoming -- fixing hot cocoa and inviting us into the kitchen for conversation. That night, my friend was placed in a small guest room while I was put up on a mattress in the living room. I might have been disappointed if it weren't for the fact that the fireplace was lit and its warmth kept me company most of the night. Since then, the dream house in my mind has always included a working fireplace (though the house itself has morphed from a city loft to a lodge to a stone cottage throughout the years). Even when there is no possibility of setting a real fire, a mantel can add a focal point and architectural interest to an otherwise bland room. In the summer, it can house a giant bouquet of dried hydrangeas. In the winter, a mass of candles approximates the effect of a real fireplace. Fitting a mantel with an upholstered piece of plywood turns it into a headboard with a handy shelf for books. A mantel headboard gives new meaning to the idea of falling asleep in front of the fireplace.