5 WAYS TO STYLE A MANTEL
Updated: May 13, 2019
The fireplace is a natural focal point of any room and if you're lucky enough to not need to mount the TV above it, the mantel can be a lot of fun to style. Unlikely to be required to serve a variety of functions, a fireplace mantel can be one of those rare, purely decorative locations in our homes.
If you have kids like I do, most of your perfectly styled tabletops become a breeding ground for kid junk, toys and clutter. Those once clean and decorative surfaces quickly become bogged down with school bags, child art, and probably those car keys no one can seem to find. Our perfectly selected centerpieces now only peeking through the aftermath of homework, dinner, and life with littles.
But in comes the glorious fireplace mantel. Too high for the kids to destroy (unless they throw something, which of course never happens in my house), the mantel welcomes those "just because it's pretty" elements. So why then, do so many of us struggle to decorate this empty space over our fireplace?
If you find yourself stuck or just bored with what you've had showcased for the past 10 years, this post is for you. I restyled my mantel 5 different ways using only what I already had on hand to hopefully inspire you to change it up and embrace a new look. The best part? You can always change it again. (And again.)
MANTEL STYLE #1: KEEP IT SIMPLE
First is a styling option that anyone can recreate using items found around the house. Start with one main focal point centered above the mantel. I used a mirror, but a clock or piece of artwork would have worked just as easily. Don't overthink it, friend.
Next, add a small grouping of items on each side. These little vignettes could be identical setups or, like in my example, completely varied and balanced asymmetrically.
The cute wooden vases (Target) were already on my mantel which made selecting them for this setup easy. Unfortunately, they've been without greenery since the day I purchased them and I knew I wanted a natural element as well as height added to this simple styling option. So what's a girl to do?
Cut some branches off a tree in the yard, that's what. (Oh, yeah. When there's a free option, let's go with that, shall we?.)
After adding the branches to the vases, it was time to add some interest to the right side of the mirror. Rather than attempting to mimic the height of the branches on this side, I opted to stick with something short and with more visual weight.
This globe fit the bill perfectly. The base repeats the gold found on the mirror and I personally like the subtle connection between the natural branches and the imagery of the earth. Although a great fit, the globe on it's own lacked enough presence to fully balance the left side of the mantel. It honestly looked a bit lonely. The couple books stacked below added height, interest and completed that always lovely "groups of three" general design rule. (When in doubt, go with groups of three.)
Pretty simple, right?
MANTEL STYLE #2: MONOCHROMATIC LAYERS
This version is quite similar to the first styling option in that it all began with one item centered above the mantel. But this time, rather than just starting with a random item (the mirror) and making my choices around that, I decided on a color scheme first.
Looking at my available art, photos and accessories, I landed on a monochromatic blue toned color scheme. After hanging the first watercolor painting, I began layering other frames in similar tones and colors over the top careful to not hide too much of the original image.
My main tip for layering frames is to ensure there are a variety of heights. The variations in height (and switching from portrait to landscape) are what allow your eye to move smoothly from one piece to the next. Your gaze cascades from one item to the next letting you take in each individually and then as a whole.
After layering the art and photos, I added a few decorative items to fill more of the mantel while adding further interest and texture. There are a multitude of ways I could have rounded out this collection, but here's why these particular items made the cut:
The faux plant (Target) on the left is a favorite that can literally work anywhere in the house. Here it added great texture and its light wood base/greenery combo played well with the overall monochromatic scheme.
The tiny faux grass (Yes, faux again because I always kill plants.) on the right was a perfect filler. It pulls the greenery from the left over and is small enough not to overpower the canvas image.
The large glass vase added height, but being translucent, didn't add too much weight. And its pale blue/green glass hue was the perfect addition to this monochrome look.
I was really happy with this combination, likely because of the personal touches. The watercolor painting is one I've always loved and has yet to be hung in this new house. The canvas photo was taken by by my husband while in Ethiopia and the picture of my kiddos was our first family photo session after our son, Jace, came home.
Sometimes the sentimental items are just the way to go.
MANTEL STYLE #3: DON'T TAKE YOURSELF TOO SERIOUSLY
Ok, friend. This option is just plain fun and I'm HERE. FOR. IT!
Sorry for yelling, but decorating your home should be fun. Here I went with wild color using an old DIY painting from our previous home (kids' room), a playful sign, family photos and a pink turtle succulent because WHY NOT?!
So here's why this works:
1. Tame it. I didn't go crazy with the color. Yes, the painting is loud and colorful, but other than the playful pink dino plant, everything else is black and white.
Select one "star" and let everything else support.
2. Layers, layers, layers. Again, just as in our previous option, I layered frames over top one another which creates interest and also helps tame the large artwork a bit.
3. Repeats. Remember the "work in threes" suggestion from earlier? In this collection, I repeated the black frame element three times and the plants three times. This repetition brings a sense of unity and cohesiveness to the overall look which could have been lacking otherwise.
Don't be afraid to be bold. If you're drawn to a bright piece of art, go for it! Just keep in mind that it may need to stand alone or be paired with less loud and outgoing friends.
MANTEL STYLE #4: MAKE JOANNA PROUD
Oh yes, we're going full farmhouse vibes this round. This clock is one I'm sure would make Joanna proud and was the starting point for this mantel set up. Just as in our first mantel styling, I started by hanging a center piece - the clock.
I then began pulling items for two vignettes on either side of the mantel. Although not identical, these two grouping collections are much more similar in visual weight than the first design because I wanted this overall look to be more evenly balanced rather than asymmetric.
I selected the items for my collections for a few reasons:
1. They were all in my house within close range. (Yep, totally valid reason.)
2. They were similar colors/tones.
3. They all lended themselves to the farmhouse feel of the clock.
Placement of each item was determined by a desire to balance everything fairly evenly. Black on one side meant black on the other. The height of one grouping determine the height of the other.
The greenery elements aren't identical, but bring color and life to each side of the mantel. The wooden K brings needed height to the right vignette and mimics the light wood tone in the plant on the left. The black ampersand is balanced by the black metal decorative item on the right. (Y'all, I seriously have no idea what that is. I just liked it so I bought it. If you have a suggested name for it, please reach out.)
Elements like the books come in to play when i need additional height or if an item seems a little dinky (formal design term) on its own. I love having books wrapped in brown paper on hand for decorating. Easy to add in the mix without pulling focus away from the main design elements.
MANTEL STYLE #5: SPARK JOY
Oh, yes. We had to end on a minimalist option and not just because I'm getting lazy.
One great piece of art that you love (or that sparks joy?) can be featured on your mantel with absolutely nothing else and work beautifully. There is no need to add extra fluff. Just be sure that it is an appropriate size in comparison to your fireplace and mantel. (Not sure? Email me anytime.)
Here I created a minimalist look using a white mirror on top of the white brick paired with nothing but the large glass vase and yard branches. (If keeping this look long term I would invest in better greenery or faux branches.) Incredibly simple and incredibly calming. I love that this option simply gives your eye a place to rest. It's not begging for attention, but rather lets the mantel itself, chunky, unfinished cedar, be the star of the show.
Empty space is not the enemy of design. Negative space (the space around the objects or open spaces) can actually play a big role in making your home more welcoming and beautiful. Just think of how clutter can negatively affect your mood. Intentionally leaving empty walls and clean surfaces can leave breathing room for you to truly take in and enjoy what is present in your design.
That's it, friend. Let me know which design you'd want to recreate in your home.