Tips on Decorating the Fireplace Mantel

Even when not in use, a fireplace is a natural focal point in a room that can’t be ignored. Decorating the fireplace mantel is a wonderful place to incorporate your room’s overall design scheme. Determining what décor is going to be showcased and how is often a challenge for many homeowners. Here are a few tips to help you determine what look is right for your space.

The first step is to select décor that will convey the kind of feeling you want the room to have – formal, casual, clean lines/minimalist or eclectic/busy. You will need to work with the fireplace’s existing architecture and decide if you’d like to enhance it or subdue it. Another important consideration when decorating a fireplace mantel is to keep the design balanced and proportional.

Symmetrical design is the most popular way to decorate a fireplace mantel. Formal rooms typically follow symmetry when arranging mantel décor, but it works in a more casual setting as well. In this master bedroom above, the fireplace mantel by Norman Davenport Askins is symmetrically decorated with British 19th century botanical prints centered on the wall and antique Chinese vases on either side.

Symmetry is easy on the eye and conveys a sense of calm throughout this formal living room designed by Dana Lyon. The fireplace mantel is also symmetrically designed with original artwork flanked by candlesticks.

Dallas, Texas-based designer Shannon Bowers created a gorgeous living room in a neutral palette collection of European furnishings and accessories. The Louis XV inspired limestone mantel is also decorated symmetrically. The large mirror is in perfect proportion and nicely balanced by vases of fresh pink roses.

 

An asymmetrical layout is another way to arrange your mantel. It conveys a less formal and more rigid feeling, yet still requires balance to achieve an aesthetic design. Objects on both sides of the mantel can vary, but should still be proportional – in the center you may have a mirror with a set of smaller candlesticks on one side and a single taller vase on the other.

 

The fireplace mantel (above) in this Normandy-style house in Atlanta decorated by Suzanne Kasler demonstrates an asymmetrical design. A dreamy mixed-media work on wood and Plexiglas by Dusty Griffith is centered over the fireplace and is flanked by a tall candlestick and smaller crystal figurines. The powder blue pair of 19th-century painted bergères in the Louis XVI style are divine and further emphasizes the room’s fireplace focal point.

 

Designed by Stephen Shubel, this living room’s fireplace mantel is also asymmetrical. Gorgeous 19th-century girandoles sit on either side of the mirror by Two’s Company. Alone these items would be symmetrical, however Shubel brilliantly adds a pair of seashells on one side and a small bird figurine on the other. On another note, the walls painted in Benjamin Moore’s Bridal Pink and perfectly balanced by the deep browns in the room. I particularly like the Hanna chairs in leather flank from Oly.

 

Another option is to create an eclectic mantel by displaying décor of varying size. If this is the look you are trying to achieve, it is still important to arrange the objects to ensure it has balance and flow.

In this contemporary sitting room designed by Eric Cohler, the mantel decor is busy, but inviting. It showcases an eclectic mix of art and photography in various sizes and frames. The small sculpture centered on the mantle is a critical element that balances out the frames. This busy style works here because the room already has lots of visual activity throughout, like the Han dynasty figurines atop the gilded bookshelves. Cohler also brings some old world charm by adding an antique English fireplace grate. I must say, the macassar ebony klismos-style chair by Hinson & Company is fabulous!

This mantel in this casual living room designed by Cristine Gillespie is also eclectic. The 1930s Eiffel Tower model on the mantel is from Indigo Seas. Gillespie and her sons made the small silver one from an Erector set and magnets.

Some fireplaces may have little or no mantel. This is most common in contemporary design. If you do not have a mantel simply hang art or a mirror centered above the fireplace to draw your eye up. However, you may decide to keep the space bare especially if you have a stunning stone fireplace that you don’t want to detract from. In either instance keeping the mantel decor minimalistic will convey a sense of calm and order.
In the contemporary living room by Shirley Parks Design (above), artwork was hung off center and a pair of simple white vases were added to balance out the look.
Before hanging artwork or mirrors above your mantel, it is best if you play around with different designs to find what arrangement works best for you and your room. Have fun with it!

 

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32 Responses to Tips on Decorating the Fireplace Mantel

  1. Porch Days September 18, 2009 at 2:04 am #

    I see lots of fireplaces in the real estate listings that don't have mantels. What a missed opportunity. Mantels are just the perfect place to decorate.

  2. Kim @ Everything Etsy September 18, 2009 at 2:06 am #

    My house doesn't have a fireplace, but our old one did…you're making me miss it! :-)

    Kim

  3. DesignTies September 18, 2009 at 2:08 am #

    I like the uncluttered, asymmetrical mantels best.

    Accessorizing isn't easy — it takes a lot of work and trial & error to get a mantel vignette (or any other vignette) just right.

    Kelly

  4. Heartfire At Home September 18, 2009 at 2:12 am #

    Hi Cristin,

    What a beautiful selection of pictures – thank you!

    I love symmetry, I'm a bit of a fuss pot about that when it comes to mantels. I don't have any where I live at the moment and I really miss that chance to make up a lovely display like the ones in these pics.

    Beautiful blog too. Will be back to browse some more!

    Linda. :)

  5. Terry September 18, 2009 at 2:27 am #

    I can't choose. You've picked great ones. I'd be happy with any of them. But I like the challenge of asymmetrical. It's harder to do and more fun for the eye I think.

  6. rosecottagegardensandfarm September 18, 2009 at 2:36 am #

    Love all the mantel ideas! I adore white mantels and your examples are fabulous!

    Best,
    Debbykay @ Rose Cottage Gardens and Farm

  7. Things That Inspire September 18, 2009 at 2:43 am #

    I love, love, love this post.

    I have found myself gravitating to assymetrical arrangements on the mantel, but I think it depends on the architectural strength of the mantel itself – the stronger the architectural integrity of the mantel, the less that it needs 'stuff' on it.

    My favorite mantel is from a magazine cover – I think it was House Beautiful – on which the designer used three tortoise shell balls and a seafan. After seeing that picture, I thought about buying a seafan but it seemed strange to have in landlocked Atlanta, plus the seafans I found smelled horrible!

  8. Tracy @ comfortandluxury September 18, 2009 at 3:20 am #

    My fireplace is shoved over into the corner of the living room… not angled, just crammed into the corner on one side of the end wall with a big window taking up the remaining width of the wall. Weird and difficult to decorate. Oh, and the opening is off-center too that it's over toward the center of the room (instead of in the center of the hearth itself… extra weird!) Asymmetrical is the only way to go.
    Love Christine Gillespie's mantel… the whole room actually.
    Found you at Julia's blog… I'll be back to see more!

  9. black eyed susans kitchen September 18, 2009 at 3:20 am #

    I love a traditional mantel with an uncluttered look to it. A few well placed items and a big mirror or picture are perfect.

  10. Pat September 18, 2009 at 5:55 am #

    wow…all very refined. Mine is brick with a nice big beam for the mantle and much more rustic.

  11. Erin September 18, 2009 at 6:41 am #

    Such great inspiration! Oh how I wish I had a fireplace! I'll have to settle for beautiful images like these for now…

  12. Arlene September 18, 2009 at 7:10 am #

    Oh, they just look gorgeous…me…I have a woodburning stove, with a big black pipe straight up to the ceiling, centered against a large wall…I just can't seem to find any way to make it look good, but hey, it keeps me very warm!

  13. Struggler September 18, 2009 at 4:33 pm #

    Wow, brave to hang the art off-center in that last photo.

    I'm with Terry, asymmetrical seems more interesting but I know it's harder to do well.

  14. Jenny @ Words on Wendhurst September 18, 2009 at 6:48 pm #

    Very nice. I like the assymetry more often then the symmetry. Beautiful blog!

  15. pk September 18, 2009 at 7:51 pm #

    Hi Cristin! Great post as always! I think accessorizing has to be one of the hardest things for people to do so I know they appreciate posts like this. Thanks for stopping by today. Have a good weekend!

  16. Best Life September 19, 2009 at 12:18 am #

    Oh my. You have touched on my sensitive subject. :) In the spring I built a mantel similar to the one in your second photo. I have had quite a time trying to accessorize it. I don't like the symmetrical thing, but if I do anything asymetrical then it looks messy. I wish you were here to drop in and give me some ideas! Lisa~ http://www.livingmybestlifeii-lisa.blogspot.com

  17. Averill September 19, 2009 at 3:00 am #

    Great post — your insights are spot on. I think my favorite way to decorate a fireplace is to start with a symmetrical arrangement and then add one or two elements are are just a bit off/asymemtrical — the overall feeling is still very calming and ordered, but there's some extra interest there with the asymmetry.

  18. Sarah September 19, 2009 at 2:52 pm #

    Nice tips! I tend to like the more eclectic fireplaces, but in a very formal room I would probably do a more symmetrical layout. I really like all the examples and descriptions you used. Very helpful!

  19. Karena September 19, 2009 at 2:54 pm #

    Very nice post. I agree mantels are a focal point and original art, a great mirror, and mementos are perfect. I like symmetry and not to much cluttering the “focal point”.

  20. Chic Coles (Cole Design) September 19, 2009 at 3:18 pm #

    Thanks for the design tips! Mantles can be hard to decorate and incorporate with the rest of the room, but once you get it right, it ties everything together! Thanks again and I hope you have a great weekend.

  21. solsticehome September 19, 2009 at 4:53 pm #

    wonderful timely ideas..time to decorate the mantle for fall..nice way to handle the last one without a mantle
    Thank you for the visit to my blog..i'll be visiting here often :)

  22. Rebecca@Harmony and Home September 20, 2009 at 12:18 am #

    Great post. I have a painting of my children above my fireplace, but about once a year I move things around in my living room and that painting finds a new wall. Above all, I get bored easily with looking at the same design set-up everyday, so I have to shake things up now and then.

  23. Maria Killam September 21, 2009 at 3:27 am #

    I like the symmetrical advice for a formal space.

  24. Kimba September 22, 2009 at 1:08 pm #

    I love this post! So many great tips for decorating a fireplace mantle. I get more questions on this topic than probably any other.
    Kimba

  25. Jennifer Ramos September 23, 2009 at 9:45 pm #

    Good ideas…I prefer an assymetrical look for my own. :)
    Jen Ramos
    'Cards & Prints You'll Love…'
    http://www.madebygirl.com
    madebygirl.blogspot.com

  26. Linda January 22, 2010 at 6:07 am #

    Awesome tips…thanks soooo much for sharing with all of us in blogosphere!

    Blessings,
    Linda

  27. Beth@The Stories of A to Z January 22, 2010 at 3:00 pm #

    Thanks so much for linking up and giving some fantastic mantel tips!

  28. Chari January 22, 2010 at 7:49 pm #

    Hi Cristin…

    Awesome post, my friend! Loved all of the beautiful photos and great tips! I'm more of a symetrical kind of gal but I do enjoy seeing the asymetrical mantels as well! Thank you for sharing this with us!!!

    Warmest winter wishes,
    Chari @Happy To Design

  29. Chari January 22, 2010 at 7:52 pm #

    Oops…just me again! I do have a question that you may be able to answer. You mentioned in your post in regards to the mantel and mirror…that the mirror was the perfect proportional size for that mantel. What are the guidelines on this…is there some sort of formula to go by when trying to determine if the art, mirror, etc. is the right size for a certain size of mantel? I would love to know!

    Thank you,
    Chari @Happy To Design

  30. Sonja, Queen of Crafts January 23, 2010 at 12:31 am #

    What a great and informative post. THanks! I am totally into symmetry, myself. I think it adds calm and balance to the whole room. Even if tehre is a mess on my dresser – the symmetrical mantlepiece decor always makes the whole room look tidy and balanced. Or is it just me??? Anyway, thanks for the tips.

  31. Grace @ Ruby Moon Designs January 24, 2010 at 3:32 pm #

    I like the eclectic mantles the best…the ones that don't look like they're out of a catalog, and have a lot of character in the pieces that are displayed.

    Blessings, Grace

  32. mindy mancuso November 14, 2011 at 2:44 pm #

    help. i often look for inspiration to decorate my fireplace wall and mantle. But it is so big and off center i don't know where to begin! The entire wall is stone with the mantle and hearth running the length of almost the room; a total of 14 feet. 11 feet-3foot fireplace opening-2feet. The opening IS in the center of the room. Centered w/ adjacent window, sofa and coffee table. ????suggestion??