Mantel Decorating Ideas
Is your fireplace mantel being eaten alive by framed photos, candle holders and that old brass clock? (oh you are so busted…)
It’s time to crack the whip and get your mantel into shape with a few little things that we Decorators call ‘guidelines’. These guidelines have been created to keep those of you in check who think that the mantel is a platform for everything small, shiny, glass, papery, with a wick, that holds flowers and that doubles as a photo frame, cheese grinder, as well as a keepsake from that trip to Mexico in 1974.
And please keep in mind, I rely 110% on my paint consulting client’s photos for examples, so please be patient if things aren’t perfectly magazine ready!
So, I have a challenge for you my friends…
TAKE IT ALL OFF, BABY!
That’s right, I want you to take every single little thing off of your mantel, grab a glass of wine and start reading!
Of course, a fireplace like this is always nekkid!
And while there are many wild and wonderful ways to decorate a mantel, these steps and guidelines keep thing simple and leave room for you to explore from there!
Step 1 Find your Center
No, this does not mean you need to bust into the downward dog yoga pose, I mean find the center of your mantel – your ‘key piece’. Your key piece will be the foundation to your well-dressed mantel.
Key Piece Ideas
1 piece of Artwork
- Layered Artwork (usually 2-3 pieces in different size frames)
And yes, the fireplace insert is off-center on the fireplace, which is why I added an ottoman to the left to balance it off a bit. The art and center piece are where the ACTUAL center is!
One thing to remember about artwork is that it will set the ‘theme’ for your space. For example, if you have a beach themed piece of artwork your room will end up being a beach themed room, as dictated by your key piece – style is one thing, but an actual ‘theme’ can be limiting. If you choose artwork, think abstract if you want flexibility.
A mirror is more ‘unisex’ when it comes to decorating as it will allow you to change your theme seasonally – or even weekly if you’re OCD like me! (Oh I make it sound so thrilling don’t I…) Accessories are fun, easy and affordable to change, whereas key pieces tend to involve a bit more money so they don’t get changed as often.
See this lovely country home here
In this next photo, it’s the TV that is the center, with the ‘balanced’ decor around it (you’ll read about balance below). It’s also a great example of seasonal decor that can be changed out on a whim!
If you don’t have a key piece – go buy one, you’re going to need it…
Step 2 Choose a Colour Palette or Theme
When choosing a colour palette/theme, consider the following elements:
Texture (branches, plants, woven items, wood, fabric, books)
Sheen (vases, frames, accessories)
1 or 2 main accent colours that visually connect with items in the rest of your room
In this next photo, my client went a touch TOO shiny on the mirror as it falls out of theme with the rest of the decor, but the IDEA is right and in general, the display is great from bookcase to mantel! You can actually see which pieces make sense with the general them and which ones don’t (white frame, mirror, white vase, red candle).
See the project here
Whether you’re inspired by your key piece, your fireplace brick/stone or other accents in your room, choose a colour/palette that works with your space. If you have a versatile key piece, you’ll be able to change your colour palette seasonally or whenever you get your period if you’re like me.
So now that you’ve chosen your palette, look at your pile of accessories and see what you have that fits within your chosen colour scheme. Pack away the items that no longer fit into your plans and focus on the pieces that work the best. If nothing works, then it’s shoppin’ time baby!
Step 3 Choose Balance or Symmetry
People often think that symmetry and balance are the same things when it comes to the world of decorating. In fact, while they have the same ‘end result’, they each go about it in very different ways.
Read more: Decorating with Symmetry and Balance
See the whole project here
The bookcases on either side of this fireplace are a good example of balance. The bottom shelves (left and right) are CLOSE to being symmetrical, but not quiet there!
A Symmetrical Mantel
A symmetrical mantel, if divided in half, would have the exact same thing on the left as on the right – so not only will both sides ‘visually’ be the same, they will also visually ‘weigh’ the same.
Aside from the small detail on the right, the above shows a symmetrical and simple mantel display.
(Visual weight means that items might be different from each other in size and colour, but they carry the same ‘visual weight’ so that one doesn’t appear stronger than the other)
A Balanced Mantel
This is a balanced mantel…
See this lovely country home here
A balanced mantel, if divided in half, will have different things on the left and right of the center so that they will ‘look’ different from each other, but the ‘visual weight’ of these items will be comparable to each other. This means that one side won’t look heavier than the other when it comes to accessories and colour/texture placement.
Step 4 Create Decorative Triangles
When accessorizing your fireplace mantel try to make ‘decorative triangles’. These triangles will encourage your eyes to take in the display in a way that appears effortless.
There are 2 types of decorative triangles that you will create:
The Main Triangle
The main triangle creates the ‘overall flow’ of your arrangement as your eye will take in the top edge of each main piece.
Your main triangle has a peak with 2 sides.
Secondary Decorative Triangles
Secondary decorative triangles establish flow on the lower corners of your main triangle. An effective secondary triangle can be made up of the following:
1 taller item placed at the back
1 medium height item placed to one side of the tall piece
1 short item placed to the other side of the small piece
As shown in this example above, you can add more than 1 of each piece and still create a beautifully balanced triangle. Just keep in mind that less is usually more and add one thing at a time until you find your ‘happy place’.
So that’s it! Here’s a quick re-cap of Steps 1-4
Step 1 – Choose a key piece – if you don’t have one, buy one
Step 2 – Choose a colour palette that gets you excited and that reflects your style and tastes
Step 3 – Decide whether you want balance or symmetry
Step 4 – Create decorative triangles (1 main one and 2 or more small ones)
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