I’ve had a couple of people ask me for advice on how to decorate a fireplace mantel so today I’m going to address this issue. I’ll keep it simple by touching on some basic concepts to remember when decorating a mantel, and then show some examples of these strategies in photos.
In general, these are some things to consider when decorating a mantel…
Obviously, the items displayed on your mantel should match the decor in your room, but don’t feel like they have to match perfectly. You can use objects in various shades of the colors in your room, and you can always add neutral colored items to give more depth.
While most people easily remember to consider color, many forget about texture. Look to add items of various textures to bring diversity and interest to your mantel. Find items like patterned vases and frames, fresh greenery, branches, pine cones, baskets, fabrics or candles to include in your arrangement.
One of the most important elements in creating an aesthetically pleasing mantel arrangement is maintaining balance among the group of items you display. The visual triangle is a great way to achieve this (see below), but it’s not the only option.
Creating balance is similar to using a weighted scale. If you place a large item on the right of the mantel, you then need to “balance that out” with another item on the left. For example, if the item on the right is tall and wide then you could balance it out with a long and low item (or items) on the left.
You might think the perfectly balanced layout would be a traditional symmetrical arrangement where every item on one side of the mantel is mirrored on the other side, but asymmetrical layouts tend to be more interesting and dynamic.
You also want to remember to balance your colors, materials and textures too. For instance, you don’t want all of the blue items or metal items clumped on one side of the mantel.
The visual triangle is an easy way to create balance and cohesion among a group of objects. You simply arrange your items in a way that visually creates a triangle. You can have one large triangle arrangement on the mantel or a bunch of smaller triangle arrangements. Make sure each triangle arrangement is balanced with each other though. A common use of the visual triangle with a mantel arrangement is to put a triangle grouping at each end of the mantel with a large anchor element (see below) in the middle.
You don’t have to include a visual triangle in your mantel vignette to make it look fabulous, there are many other ways to visually balance an arrangement. But if you’re struggling to create a good composition then the visual triangle is a great place to start.
Stacking up items is another visual technique that brings interest to a vignette. It can be used in visual triangle arrangements or stand alone. Stacking generally looks best when you start with flat items like a tray and/or books, and then place a contrasting item on top of it like a round vase or organic shaped sculpture.
Layering various items like mirrors, trays, photos or framed artwork vertically in front of each other is a great way to create an engaging mantel. Try playing with different sizes, shapes and textures until you find a combination you like. You can also create visual triangles with layered items.
An anchor is a large element that visually grounds a group of smaller items. The large item helps balance out the smaller ojects around it by visually connecting them to each other. A large mirror, old window, huge vase, big piece of artwork or framed photo work well as anchors for a mantel.
a personal touch
It’s good to use as many personal items as you can. By personal, I mean something like a photo you took, a memento from a special occasion, something your child made you, a souvenir you picked up from a noteworthy trip, or an object that was a gift from a friend. Nothing is better than having a story to tell about an item displayed on your mantel, or being reminded of a special memory every time you walk into the room.
Don’t feel like you need to spend a lot of money to make your mantel look fabulous. Scour your house for items you already own that would work well in a mantel vignette. Buy a thrift store item and give it a makeover, or check the clearance section of your local Target or department store.
Now, let’s look at these concepts in photos. Below are some examples of well-styled fireplace mantels. I have pointed out some of the above strategies they used well.
This mantel is a great example of being well balanced with color, texture and shape. It shows an example of layering, and also has a visual triangle on the left with another one that overlaps it on the right. The photo of the hands is a nice personal touch…
The colors in this vignette are perfectly dispersed and there’s some nice layering happening. The branch, the gold paint on the artwork, and the long bowl add some necessary texture to the decor. The tall branch on the right is balanced by the long low group of items on the left, and the large painting anchors everything…
The two large pieces of art anchor this mantel arrangement, and they could easily be a personal touch if they’re a quote that means something to you. There’s some layering and stacking happening here, and the color is dispersed well too. This mantel is an example of two small visual triangles on each end with a large anchor in the middle. Some of these items are things that may already be lying around your house, thus making an arrangement like this budget-friendly…
There is a visual triangle and some layering on the left of this mantel. I like the use of color here. Everything is white with a touch of color on each end. The texture from the white vases and the tree branch were great additions to this vignette…
Sometimes less is more. While the decor on this mantel may seem too simple, it really does work in this modern minimal room. The three vases have the right height and distance between them to create a balanced look. The greens add some nice color and texture to the room too. Plus this is a budget-friendly option…
This mantel uses a variety of materials and textures well. It has stacking on both the left and the right, and is an overall large visual triangle with smaller visual triangles on each end. The mirror acts as an anchor connecting the smaller groupings to each other. There is a little layering happening here too…
This is a simple but well balanced arrangement. The colors mesh well with the room, and there is a lot of texture. The overall composition is a visual triangle, and the three vases on the left form a smaller visual triangle within that. The painting in the middle anchors the other items around it. The decor all seems pretty affordable too…