Properly “styling” the fireplace mantel is an aspect of interior decorating that confounds many homeowners, which is a shame, since the fireplace is typically the centerpiece of a room. What’s more, creating visual interest on the mantel is often easy and fun.
Think of your mantel as a stage of sorts, a place where all eyes are focused at least part of the time. Visitors expect to see something special there. Don’t send them home disappointed!
Countless items can be displayed on a mantel: mirrors, clocks, candlesticks, vases, vintage books, pottery, statuary, natural objects, fresh flowers, collectibles, curiosities, and many, many more.
Occasionally, just a single striking piece is all that’s needed to make a design statement on a fireplace mantel – that can sometimes be the case with a fine painting or ornate mirror leaned easel-style against the wall. More often, an arrangement of several objects works best.
As with anything in life, it’s sometimes a snap to create an eye-pleasing mantel arrangement, but other times, it can take a little fiddling. If you’re having trouble coming up with an arrangement that you like, here are some tips:
First, take into account the character of your fireplace surround. If it’s beautiful in and of itself – made of exquisitely carved wood, for example – then let it be the star of your stage and display only a few simple items on top of the mantel. But if your surround is plain, then by all means embellish the mantel with some appealing accessories.
Second, strive for balance on your mantel-top. The simplest approach is to center a large item as the focal point of your display and arrange smaller objects around it. If you want something less “expected”, then move your largest item to the side of the mantel and offset it with a group smaller accessories on the opposite side.
Third, remember that odd numbers of mantelpiece accessories are always to be favored. When possible, work with groupings of three or five, rather than two or four items. That will make your arrangement feel more fluid and harmonious.
Fourth, vary the height of the items for the most pleasant presentation. Tall in the center, short on the sides is the most popular look, but short in the middle and tall on the sides works, too. Keep experimenting until you find your zen.
Fifth, “layer” items to unify your tableau. In other words, position your accessories at different depths on the mantel and allow them to overlap slightly. That will help pull together even diverse collections of things.
Sixth, work with a theme. Mantel-top arrangements look more cohesive when all of the items share something in common – a rustic character, seasonal symbolism, a classical look, or whatever. Of course, true collections of just about anything are tailor-made for the mantel, since the items have an inherent affinity for one another.
After perfecting the appearance of your mantel, you may want to pump up the prominence of your hearth. Try flanking your fireplace with tall vertical items (plants, candle-stands, or furnishings) to make it even more of a focal point. Or, paint the wall behind the fireplace in a different color to draw the eye in that direction.
What if your home doesn’t have a fireplace? No problem. Just fake it!
You can easily create a mantel-like effect by hanging a wide shelf on the wall and adorning it with art and collectibles. Go even further by attaching an entire surround to a wall to create a “faux” fireplace (a friend did this, and it’s hard to tell his “fake” from the real thing).
If you’re lucky enough to have a fireplace, make the most of it; if you don’t have one, then think about faking it. Either way, you’ll find that a properly accessorized hearth will add more warmth to your home than you ever imagined.