Although fireplace mantels were originally used for cooking and heating,
contemporary mantels have become the key focal point for setting the
decorative style and atmosphere of a room. You can utilize simple
accessories to enhance the room, or go all out with themed holiday
decorations to transform the entire space for any special occasion.
Paying attention to basic design elements such as color, texture, balance,
and size will help pull your decorations together into a beautiful display.
Professional designers often start decorating projects by jotting down ideas
for the mood they?d like to create, and then collect an assortment of items
to emphasize that style. They might not use everything they?ve found, but
having things on hand means they can play with different combinations until
hitting on the best design.
Spend some time considering how you?d like the type of event you?ll be
hosting. Are you having a flashy black tie cocktail party, or a relaxing
springtime brunch? Maybe you?d just like to find new ways to freshen up the
everyday look of a room? Either way, remember that different combinations of
colors as well as the style (Victorian, modern, retro, country) of items you
use will affect the overall mood of your room.
Choosing a Backdrop
To begin, you?ll want to select an item to be the focal point of the
display. Often this will be a painting or wall hanging that is placed on the
wall just above the mantel, or even resting on the mantel. You can even
change the focal point to match the occasion or season.
If you?d rather group several paintings together you?ll want to only use a
few items on the mantel itself to keep things from being overwhelming. The
larger the item or grouping the more attention it will draw. A mirror is
always a good choice to use as a large backdrop. It not only helps make the
room feel larger, but reflects and draws attention to the other pieces
you?ve placed on your mantel.
Don?t forget to light your backdrop. Whether you use candles or install spot
lighting, you?ll want to make sure that the focal point isn?t lost in the
Placement & Shape
The next step is to create a ?path? for the eye to follow, moving from the
main focal point down and across the mantel. By using a variety of heights
and sizes, and even texture, you can develop an interesting landscape that
You can create a symmetrical design by centering one item on or above the
mantel, and surround it with a series of identical items on either side.
Each half of the mantel is a mirror image of the other. You can also layer
items by height, with shorter items overlapping larger pieces. This style is
often used to create a sense of formality.
Asymmetrical designs are usually the most popular, as they create a sense of
motion by having different items on each side of the mantle. The key to this
form is to keep the weight of items balanced visually. For instance you
might have two larger objects on one end of the mantel, with a grouping of
five small objects on the other end.
A radial design is created by placing objects around a central. The center
item, regardless of shape, acts as an anchor. This kind of arrangement is
best done similar to a symmetrical format; otherwise it can become too busy.
A layered look with lots of pieces and filler (such as greenery or garlands)
works well for fall and winter, but is often too heavy for other seasons.
One exception might be if your mantel is located in a large banquet or great
room with high ceilings, otherwise keep things minimal by leaving breathing
space between items.
Wrapping It Up
Whatever design style you select always be sure to follow safety precautions
when using the fireplace. Do not place any items too close to the hearth
itself, and use a protective screen to prevent ignition from sparks.
If you don?t actually use your fireplace that often try placing decorations
below in addition to on the mantel. You certainly wouldn?t want a black void
to detract from your display. A layered arrangement of white candles and
greenery can be stunning for any occasion, but you could also do something
as simple as a stack birch logs. Another alternative is to cover the hearth
with a painted fireplace screen.
There are hundreds of options to choose from when decorating your mantel,
but the same basic principles always apply. Using these designer techniques
can help turn a ho-hum room into a memorable space that can easily be
changed for any type of occasion.